Vote nears to raise smoking age to 21

As reported by the Riverside Press-Enterprise:

California’s Senate is poised to vote on a sweeping package of anti-smoking measures—including raising the smoking age to 21— as lawmakers try to crack down on tobacco use and the health problems that flow from it.

If the Senate approves Thursday and Gov. Jerry Brown signs off, California would become the second state to move the age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21, and electronic cigarettes would face the same restrictions as tobacco products.

The six bills represent California’s most substantial anti-tobacco push in nearly two decades, the American Cancer Society said. But advocates couldn’t garner enough support to raise cigarette taxes, which requires a two-thirds supermajority. The Cancer Society and other groups are seeking to qualify an initiative for the 2016 ballot. …

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Proposed Minimum Wage Hikes Hurt More Than Just Small Business

Minimum wage1Despite the heavy mudslinging and name-calling that never ceases to accompany an election year (this one clearly setting a new low standard), there’s one thing that Democrats, Republicans and persons of most every political persuasion are likely to agree upon: every red-blooded American deserves the right to and a fair shot at earning more money to realize their dreams.

Work hard, get paid, provide for one’s self and family – something our parents repeatedly hammered into our brains and a cornerstone of the red, white and blue capitalism that makes our country great. Every employee that has met minimum qualifications for a position deserves a reasonable “foot in the door” from day one – something that offers a temporary first plank from which to prove themselves to the employer, customers and workplace.

Now enter the Minimum Wage – a topic that is probably not foreign to you unless you’ve been hopelessly abandoned on the Red Planet a la Matt Damon. Labor unions are pushing the “Fight for $15” without first understanding the empirical data and repercussions of current minimum wage increases that have yet to fully manifest.

As with many government programs and activities that were created with the best intentions – think social security, welfare-to-work and state retirement systems – the minimum wage these days is spinning more out-of-control than The Donald in front of a microphone at an Iowa pep rally. Efforts to push, push, push for a higher minimum wage without seeing the existing ones take shape is making it impossible for small businesses and even many social programs to keep pace. And, at the end of the day, something – or more commonly, someone – will feel the negative fallout.

To put things into perspective, Californians have witnessed a 25 percent increase in the statewide minimum wage over the past two years – an increase from $8 to $9 in 2014, and another $1 increase, spiking it to $10 an hour, this past January.

Peering ahead and atop these already-dramatic increases, we’re witnessing other proposals and jurisdictions taking it even higher without knowing or seeing how the current increase in California will play out. Los Angeles and Santa Monica just hiked their local wage to $15, Long Beach to $13, Pasadena to $13.25 and Sacramento to $12.50. Add to that a legislative proposal to hike the minimum wage to $13 an hour and two measures aimed for the November ballot – one that would hike the wage to $15 over five years, and the second that would raise it to $15 over four years and add six days of mandated paid sick leave — and it leaves many asking “When is enough, enough?” as well as “Why the rush?”

Some in the Capitol and in many council chambers are heard uttering, “We can’t afford to wait – the time is now!” However, we must bear in mind that minimum wage hikes at any level that are too much, too fast, too soon will have negative consequences for many more than just small businesses in our communities.

Our policymakers need to take a careful look at other notable stakeholders that are very likely to be affected by a reckless, ill-conceived, rushed minimum wage increase policy:

In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS)/Persons with Disabilities

According to discussions with experts in the IHSS and disabilities community, a minimum wage hike will unquestionably be passed on to clients with disabilities because the resources simply aren’t there. There are over 300,000 IHSS workers in California, most of them unionized. This will be a higher cost to scores of private clients – yes, our most vulnerable patients – who are on a fixed income and they won’t be able to afford to sustain same level or duration of care. Counties, especially those in rural and disadvantaged regions, will tell you they simply won’t be able to absorb those costs. And keep in mind that many IHSS workers are family members of the clients and are likely to lose hours and in many cases health benefits because of this.

Many Californians with disabilities will be forced into institutions at a major cost to the state rather than keep them in their homes and having people care for them. To put a fine point on it, one person with special needs noted that their agency rate is about $200 a day for 24-hour in-home care, but for many it’s upwards of $350. He noted that a $5 an hour increase would be “a huge hit and for me and many disabled because that money simply isn’t there.”

Education

A representative from one Central Valley school district said a minimum wage increase of this magnitude would impact schools in two ways: (1) raising the wages of everyone who makes less than $15 currently; and (2) the compaction of the salary schedule that will create a ripple effect and force increases up the ladder and competition in the workforce. How can schools compete with others who are offering the same or more? While schools have received funding the past few years, that money isn’t appropriated in the future. By 2019, schools are expected revert to “cut-back mode.” What then? Unlike a small business, schools can’t raise prices on customers.

What are some examples of programs where reductions are likely?

  • Class size reductions
  • Hiring freezes such as grounds, maintenance, custodial staff, resulting in deterioration of facilities
  • Transportation cuts, resulting in decreased number of bus fleet runs and not enough drivers to transport students to events
  • Reduced technology dollars, resulting in network failures and computers and activities simply not there to meet the needs
  • Reduced work days
  • Reduced discretionary budgets for school sites – field trips, copy machines, etc – and other opportunities such as athletics or music.

Career Tech/Workforce Development Programs

According to a notable vocational education leader in California, these programs have already been decimated over the past thirty years, reducing the career prep they’ve been providing California students. Employers are facing untrained, undertrained workers with little or no job skills. Access to good programs is limited – with a minimum wage increase, this access will continue to decline. There will be fewer internships and work experience opportunities. The impact will be a further reduction or elimination in job readiness programs and opportunities for young workers, minority workers and low-skilled workers.

At the end of the day, school boards will face pressure on wage compression to drive wages higher. The boards can’t increase revenues so they must make cuts. The irony is that the very employees who get these raises will be among the first ones to be cut. It’s not just mom-and-pops singing the blues here.

Seniors

Seniors and retirees on fixed incomes are not likely to support any program to increase the minimum wage, as long as their own increase isn’t in the equation.

The federal government – in freezing any increase in social security – are stalling this direction, but maybe there will be a change one day.

Many seniors look for post-retirement jobs, but this would dry those up and edge seniors out of the market. And many others have made it clear that, on a fixed or limited income, they simply cannot afford a minimum wage increase in grocery stores and on the retail goods that sustain them. And remember, many of these individuals also will face higher costs with their in-home workers, making it impossible for them to keep them on their current schedules, thus lowering the quality and time of care.

We’ll all be there one day – why aren’t we thinking about this now before we all must face the grim realities of such pressures on the greying population?

Small Businesses – Our #1 Job Creators

Make no mistake – Main Street gets hit with such a hike, and when that happens, nobody wins. No matter how small and in which distressed neighborhood a small business may be, many politicians make the brash assertion that “You can foot the bill.” If someone has first-hand understanding running a California small business, they’ll tell you that’s simply not the case, especially with the thin operating margins most confront each day.

If unions truly cared about lifting the neediest out of poverty, they would fully embrace the “Total Earnings” concept, which allows employers to exempt from the minimum wage increase those employees already earning $20, $30, $40 or more, well north of the minimum wage in tips and commissions as total earnings/wages. This would actually allow employers to dedicate those scarce labor dollars to those employees who, as it was ruled this past week in the courts, are prohibited from sharing in tips – “heart of the house” employees such as prep cooks, line cooks and others. Why is labor pushing for such inequity – giving a wage increase to the highest-earning employees of a business while leaving those in the back, well,in the back and out to dry? Whose interest are they really looking out for?

The Governor was wise to recently criticize and warn against the two ballot measures that would increase the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour, noting that they would cost the state as much as $4 billion a year by 2021 and return the state budget to annual deficits. The nonpartisan legislative analyst has noted that the first ballot measure proposal would result in “an increase to state and local government spending totaling billions of dollars per year”, with an independent fiscal analysis pegging this annual increase as high as $1.7 billion. Just last week, the American Enterprise Institute revealed the raw numbers revealed through evidence from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the $15 minimum wage increase approved for Seattle by its City Council, with the first increase to $11 an hour taking effect on April 1, 2015. The effect of an eventual 58% increase in labor costs does not look pretty. Since that first phase of the increase went into effect:

  • Seattle’s employment has fallen by more than 11,000
  • The number of unemployed workers has risen by nearly 5,000
  • The city’s jobless rate has increased by more than 1 percentage point

Our policymakers and voters need to heed the Governor’s advice, nonpartisan state numbers, and data that’s trickling in from other cities that are now grappling with grim reality of these hikes before moving forward in any way. Let’s allow the ink to dry, dust to settle and current minimum wage policy – notably our statewide increase – to first play out so we can see what the impacts truly are. Otherwise, instead of branding it a “fair wage” we’ll all see it for what it truly is: a “fare wage”, with every one of us taxpayers – seniors, schools, disabled and many others – paying down an outrageous bill and debt for generations to come.

resident of Kabateck Strategies, and former CA Executive Director of NFIB

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Array of gifts given to California lawmakers in 2015

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

State legislators accepted more than $892,000 in gifts last year, including foreign trips, expensive dinners, concert and sports tickets, golf games, spa treatments, Disneyland admissions and bottles of tequila and wine, according to filings released Wednesday.

Lawmakers had their expenses covered by others for educational and trade trips to France, China, Argentina, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Mexico and Israel.

In fact, travel costs dominate the gift tallies from last year with a large number of lawmakers deciding to fly overseas for conferences or policy meetings paid for entirely by influential interest groups and foundations.

The travel included 21 lawmakers who attended a conference in Maui in November at a cost of about $3,000 per person, paid for by a nonprofit group funded by oil and tobacco firms and other interests lobbying the Legislature. …

Click here to read the full story

Attack on Prop. 13 Abandoned – For Now

property taxThe late songwriter Jim Croce listed a number of imprudent actions in his “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” Along with staying out of Jim’s way, he included the admonition not to tug on Superman’s cape or spit into the wind. Croce might have added to his list the foolishness of taking on Proposition 13.

Promoters of an initiative to impose a $6 billion annual surcharge on both business and residential, property, for the stated purposed of fighting poverty, have abandoned the effort. A measure sponsored by former Board of Equalization member Conway Collis and funded largely by an order of the Catholic Church, the Daughters of Charity, will not appear on the November ballot, as was expected.

It is unclear to Prop. 13 defenders why the effort was halted. Some suggested that the governor intervened, convincing backers that too many measures on the ballot would risk rejection of propositions he favored. Others suggest the all-powerful teachers union threatened to oppose the measure because Collis failed to include a payout to education. But it cannot be overlooked that initiative backers may have become discouraged because Proposition 13 remains extremely popular with the general public and voters are very wary of any effort – no matter how benevolent it may sound – to undermine Prop. 13’s protections. Californians like the safeguards it provides by limiting annual property tax increases, allowing local voters to decide tax issues and requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to increase state taxes, a threshold that has not proven to be insurmountable.

Still, dismantling Proposition 13 will continue as a major industry in political circles. The special interests looking to pry more money from taxpayers, whose burden already ranks the sixth highest in all 50 states, will say and do almost anything to disable or eliminate Proposition 13’s taxpayer protections.

To undermine support for the tax limiting measure, tax raisers try to persuade voters that Proposition 13 is unfair. The “evil rich” and businesses do not deserve these protections, they say. Or, as is the case with the Collis initiative, they appeal to voters’ compassion by pointing to a sympathetic population like “widows and orphans” that will benefit from the proceeds of breaking down Proposition 13.

These special interests, including the unions representing government employees — that the Department of Labor says are the highest paid in all 50 states — will continue to use misinformation and disinformation to try to convince voters to turn their wallets inside out because they know if they are candid about their goal to raise taxes, their efforts will be as productive as tugging on Superman’s cape.

Taxpayers will need to remain vigilant because as long as the tax raisers believe there is the possibility they can put their hands on more taxpayer money, their deceptive efforts to destroy Proposition 13 are certain to continue.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Originally published on HJTA.org

Lowest-Paid Legislators Wear Distinction As Badge of Honor

Richard RothOnly in public office could the distinction of lowest paid be worn as a badge of honor.

But Richard Roth, a Riverside Democrat, has refused every pay increase since being elected to the state Senate in 2012, making $90,526 per year in base salary.

Most members of the California Legislature make $100,113 per year, with leadership drawing checks for as much as $115,129. In fact, Roth is the only senator currently paid below the going rate, although there are several like-minded members of the Assembly.

Roth spokesperson Shrujal Joseph told CalWatchdog that Roth believes he has an obligation to perform his duties at the pay rate voters agreed to when he was elected.

“If fortunate enough to be re-elected, Senator Roth will accept the pay that is in effect then, whether it be higher or lower,” said Joseph.

Members of the Assembly

Fullerton Republican Young Kim is the lowest paid member of the Assembly, earning $95,291 annually. Like Roth, she’s refused every pay increase since being elected in 2014 — including one that passed right before she was elected but came into effect afterwards.

Six other members of the Assembly refused one pay increase, earning $97,197. Four are Republicans: Catharine Baker of San Ramon, Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, David Hadley of Torrance and Tom Lackey of Palmdale. Two are Democrats: Ken Cooley of Rancho Cordova and Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks.

California Citizens Compensation Commission

Pay for legislators, and constitutional officers like governor and attorney general, is determined annually by the California Citizens Compensation Commission, which will meet again on April 27. The CCCC also determines benefits.

The CCCC is a seven-member panel, appointed by the governor, which is supposed to represent different segments of the community and different areas of expertise, including one member with expertise in compensation (like an economist); one representing the general public (like a homemaker/retiree/person of median income); one representing the nonprofit world; one who is an executive at a large CA employer; one who represents small business; and two labor representatives.

According to Tom Dalzell, the CCCC chairman, it’s unclear if another raise will be in order as he hasn’t “begun to think about it,” but noted the sacrifice many legislators make by leaving lucrative careers for public office. And in general, pay is considered one of the biggest lures of top talent.

Dalzell, who is a business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 and occupies one of the CCCC’s labor seats, said that in determining whether to increase, freeze or reduce pay, the CCCC considers the state budget, the consumer price index and survey data on local elected officials.

Pay Scale History

California has the highest paid state legislators in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. They are also paid well above the state’s median income of around $61,084.

On the whole, base salary for legislators has increased since 2005. To be more precise, legislators have received six increases, three freezes and two reductions since 2005. To be even more precise, base salary went from $99,000 in 2005 to the $100,113 base salary it is today — after salaries had been frozen between 1999 to 2005.

The two reductions were largely orchestrated by the former chairman Charles Murray, a holdover appointee from the Schwarzenegger administration. Murray stepped down almost a year ago to the day.

The six increases: 2005 – 12 percent increase; 2006 – 2 percent increase; 2007 – 2.75 percent increase; 2013 – 5 percent increase; 2014 – 2 percent increase; 2015 – 3 percent increase.

The two decreases: 2009 – 18 percent reduction; 2012 – 5 percent reduction.

And the three freezes were in 2008, 2010 and 2011.

As readers can probably imagine, the decreases were unpopular in Sacramento. In fact, one former legislator fought a cut — the 18 percent reduction in 2009 that slashed salaries from $116,208 to $95,291 — by appealing to both Brown and the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board.

Neither appeal was successful.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Judge Sentences Ex-California Senator Leland Yee to Five Years for Racketeering

As reported by NBC Bay Area:

A federal judge sentenced disgraced former California Sen. Leland Yee to five years in prison Wednesday morning after the career politician asked the judge for leniency and to take his whole life of service into account.

Senior District Court Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco imposed the sentence after the 67-year-old Yee pleaded guilty in July to one count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering.

“I don’t feel I should be lenient,” Breyer said during the hearing. “The crimes that you committed have resulted in essentially an attack on democratic institutions. We all deal with the situation that we in our work must be accepted by the public as having done an honest job.”

Still, the judge sided with the defense, who had asked for five years in prison, rather than with prosecutors, who had sought an eight-year sentence …

Click here to read the full article

Swapping Fantasy Bullet Train for Real Water Storage

RB DroughtLike rampaging Godzilla in all those Japanese monster movies, the unpopular and expensive bullet train has proven almost impossible to kill. However, the project’s critics may have a new weapon that will stop it dead in its tracks. Using the initiative process, opponents hope the public will be willing to trade the train for an increased and more reliable water supply, a seemingly attractive proposal after years of drought.

Looking back, it is clear the 2008 campaign that convinced voters to approve a $10 billion bond to kick off the bullet train, was a con. It was built on fantasy. You can almost hear the cigar chomping carnival barker calling out, “Step right up, get on board, we’ll whisk you between Los Angeles and San Francisco in only a couple of hours for the inconsequential sum of just 50 bucks.”

Additionally, voters were promised the entire project would come in at less than $35 billion, the balance of which would come from private sector investment and the federal government.

An independent study of the project, The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report by the respected Reason Foundation, clearly documented that the actual cost of the project would be closer to $100 billion and serve far fewer riders than claimed by backers of the bullet train. Turns out that all the negative predictions about High Speed Rail set forth in that study have not only come to pass, the project is even worse than thought.

Although the critical report was released before the election it was not enough to change the outcome. The duplicitous campaign in favor, paid for by labor unions and contractors that expected to benefit from the project, was augmented by the title and summary for the ballot measure, which were prepared by the Legislature – the same politicians who placed the Proposition 1A bond on the ballot. The title and summary were so over the top favorable to the bond proposal that alert taxpayers sued over its misleading content. The court agreed that the Legislature’s sleazy manipulation of the ballot process violated the Political Reform Act. But the decision was months too late to have any real effect because voters had already approved the new bond.

Over time, the public came to realize that they had been had. Previous support turned to dismay as it was revealed that the train would not be high speed; it would be a “blended” system that would nearly double promised travel times and the cost for tickets would double as well.

When Jerry Brown was returned to the governor’s office in 2010, he adopted the train project as his own legacy. His father, who served as governor from 1959 to 1967, is still revered in many quarters as the great builder of universities and highways. But it proved impossible to entice the private sector to participate because no sane investor thinks the project is based on a sound business model. And when the federal government turned off the spigot, the governor was forced to convince the Legislature to divert cap-and-trade funds to keep his pet project on life support.

But now, thanks to an initiative authored by George Runner, a member of the State Board of Equalization, and Senator Bob Huff, voters in November may have the option of trading in the $8 billion that remains unspent from the bullet train bond, for new water storage facilities and other programs to increase supply.

Of course, like any measure that spends billions of dollars that must be repaid by taxpayers, voters will want to carefully vet this measure. Still, with water consumption limits imposed by state and local agencies that have Californians taking fewer showers and replacing their lawns with rock gardens, voters may be willing to trade the bullet train fantasy for the security of knowing, when they open the tap, water will be there.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Originally published at HJTA.org

June Ballot “Orphaned,” But Likely to Pass

CA-legislatureWhile dozens of measures are vying to make it on the November general election ballot, one proposal is ready for the June primary — even though no one is campaigning for or against it.

Proposition 50 is a constitutional amendment empowering legislators to suspend other legislators without pay with a two-thirds vote of the respective chamber.

The measure is in response to three suspensions with pay in 2014: Democratic state Sens. Roderick Wright of Inglewood, Leland Yee of San Francisco and Ron Calderon of Montebello. Wright was suspended after being convicted of felony perjury and election fraud and the other two were suspended after federal corruption charges were filed.

The measure has a good chance of passing, as public perception of the Legislature took a hit following the rash of incidents in 2014 (in February of 2015, it rebounded a bit but was still in the low 40 percent range).

“From a voter’s perspective, it’s pretty straight forward,” said Kathay Feng, the executive director of the good government group California Common Cause. “There’s not much love for misbehaving legislators.”

Feng said some may question whether this measure violates the spirit of innocent until proven guilty, but others are sure this won’t be an issue.

“Guilty until proven innocent when it comes to legislators,” said Steven Maviglio, a Democratic campaign strategist, noting that the measure is “totally non-controversial.”

Politics and Process

The measure doesn’t have any opponents actively fighting it. But no one is pushing for it either. When contacted by CalWatchdog, former Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who introduced the measure, deferred through an aide to sitting senators or the Senate Rules Committee for more info.

But sitting senators would refer it to an outside group to handle the campaign, yet no such committee has been formed. No one is campaigning for it.

“All of the people who were originally involved seemed to have left this as an orphan for somebody else,” said Feng.

If the measure’s passage is truly inevitable — a slam dunk — then there may be little need to push for it, especially in the absence of opposition. But some observers say it could be that the pressure is off now that no one is in trouble.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” said John J. Pitney, Jr., a Roy P. Crocker professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College. “The idea may regain currency if another legislator gets into major trouble, but until then it is in the political memory hole.”

The measure will appear on the June ballot because it is a constitutional amendment added by the Legislature. Measures that go through the signature gathering process can only appear on the November general election ballot — of which it appears there will be plenty.

How Else Can They Be Punished?

Besides suspension, legislators have other punitive actions they can take against lawmakers, although they are rarely used.

According to Alex Vassar, who runs the California political website One Voter Project, censure (it’s basically a public shaming by peers) was last used in 1982 to strongly condemn comments made about abortion rights protesters by O.C. Republican John G. Schmitz.

Expulsion, according to Vassar, was last used in 1905 against legislators colluding to solicit bribes (Wright was threatened with an expulsion vote). And members can also be stripped of committee assignments, which was used last with Yee, Wright and Calderon.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Capitol Corruption Inspires June Ballot Measure

Photo Credit: kqed.org

Former State Senator Leland Yee. Photo Credit: kqed.org

California Secretary of State Alex Pedilla has assigned a number, Proposition 50, to the only measure to appear on the upcoming June primary ballot.

If passed by the voters, Prop. 50 would amend the state constitution to allow either chamber of the Legislature, by a two-thirds vote, to suspend a member of that body without pay or benefits.

The measure stands as a reminder of the corruption that has gripped the California State Capitol in recent years.

To understand the origin of this measure, placed on the ballot by the Legislature, you need only look back to March 28, 2014. That was just days after State Senator Leland Yee became the third Democrat in the Legislature’s upper chamber to become embroiled in criminal wrong-doing, with the federal government charging Yee with gun-running, illegal sale of firearms, of taking tens of thousands of dollars in cash bribes, and more.

The previous month, State Senator Ron Calderon had been indicted by the federal government on bribery and corruption charges. A month before that, State Senator Rod Wright was convicted by a jury of multiple felony counts of voter fraud and perjury.

Then-State Senate President Darrell Steinberg was part of a bi-partisan Capitol establishment which largely looked the other way, permitting Wright to serve after being charged, and – incredibly – after being found guilty. Calderon was also allowed to continue to serve despite his high-profile charges. Public calls by several Republican Senators to take action, including a formal resolution to expel Wright, were buried by Steinberg and not permitted to come to a vote. It wasn’t until Yee was indicted that finally the pressure on the State Senate leadership was such that they were forced to act.

Yee’s indictment was apparently the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and the Senate voted to suspend Calderon, Wright and Yee. When that was done, it was made clear that there was no authority under the state constitution to stop paying the Senators their $90,526 annual pay–and benefits. At that time the constitutional amendment that would become Prop. 50 was introduced.

Wright remained in the Senate until appeal of his conviction was denied. Calderon and Yee served through the end of their terms in 2014, while suspended from their official duties. Both have criminal trials pending.

California state law allows only for measures placed on the ballot before the Legislature to appear on the June ballot. All measures qualified by gathering signatures must appear in November. It is anticipated that over 15 measures will appear on the general election ballot.

This article was originally published by Brietbart.com/California

New Legislation Targets Encrypted CA Smartphones

cellphonesA worldwide controversy over whether to ban encrypted smartphones has opened a new front in California, where lawmakers introduced legislation that would crack down on the devices.

Assembly Bill 1681, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, would mandate that phones made “on or after January 1, 2017, and sold in California after that date” must be “capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider,” as CNET reported. “Any smartphone that couldn’t be decrypted on demand would subject a seller to a $2,500 fine. If the bill becomes law, there would be a ban on nearly all iPhones and many devices that run Google’s Android software across the state.”

With California home to both Google and Apple, observers quickly declared a broadening trend toward increased legal pressure on tech companies. But competing justifications for the crackdown have emerged, with lawmakers outside California opting to hang their own legislation on a different peg. As Ars Technica remarked of AB1681:

Despite very similar language to a pending New York bill, the stated rationale is to fight human trafficking, rather than terrorism.

AB1681’s language is nearly identical to another bill re-introduced in New York state earlier this month, but Cooper denied that it was based on any model legislation, saying simply that it was researched by his staff. He also noted that the sale of his own iPhone would be made illegal in California under this bill.

World worry

California policymakers have become an intimate part of the global push to prevent smartphone encryption from helping individuals and groups evade law enforcement monitoring and detection. At the Davos Open Forum, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., joined an international panel of public and private-sector officials to air concerns about the potential for over- or under-enforcement. “Governments claim the need for greater security and seek to monitor global communications, while citizens, more willing than ever to share, demand greater protection of their digital privacy,” according to Vice News, whose editor in chief moderated the discussion.

In the U.S., meanwhile, top law enforcement officials have sought to coordinate a nationwide effort patterned after California’s and New York’s, each of which drew support from its respective Attorneys General. “The National District Attorney’s Association hasn’t hidden its intention to mobilize its local offices,” according to The Verge. “The association, along with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, announced in November that they planned to partner with state legislators to enact mandatory smartphone decryption bills around the country. The group wrote in a letter that it looked ‘forward to working with lawmakers to strengthen our current laws, and ensure they are representative of today’s technology and the challenge public safety officials face in preventing crime and safeguarding their communities.’”

An uphill battle

But pushback has already begun from within the crypto and tech communities. On the one hand, advocates and activists have long warned against granting governments a so-called “backdoor” to the data and metadata stored on devices and accessible through them. “There have been people that suggest that we should have a backdoor,” Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said on “60 Minutes,” as the Silicon Valley Business Journal noted. “But the reality is if you put a backdoor in, that backdoor’s for everybody, for good guys and bad guys.”

On the other hand, however, going further, “legal and technical experts argue that even if a national ban on fully encrypted smartphones were a reasonable privacy sacrifice for the sake of law enforcement, a state-level ban wouldn’t be,” as Wiredobserved. “They say, the most likely result of any state banning the sale of encrypted smartphones would be to make the devices of law-abiding residents’ more vulnerable, while still letting criminals obtain an encrypted phone with a quick trip across the state border or even a trivial software update.” For that reason, both the California and New York bills face an uphill climb, despite strong pressure to pass them — or some version of them — into law.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com