This was a piece I wrote for the Voice of San Diego as coverage for Politifest, an event that focused on the November 2016 election. I covered the Lightning Round: State Ballot Measures, which was an hour-long session that aimed to demystify the numerous statewide propositions voters would be facing on the ballot.
What You Need to Know About the 17 State Ballot Measures
By Emily Alvarenga
Oct. 11, 2016
Voters will face a myriad of choices in the upcoming November election.
Voice of San Diego’s Sara Libby and Ry Rivard aimed to demystify those choices at Politifest last month, burning through all 17 state initiatives in just an hour.
Ballot measures they covered included marijuana legalization, a ban on single-use plastic bags and a repeal of the ban on bilingual education among others.
This year more than ever, voters need to prepare for the daunting task that lies ahead. It’s the first time since 2000 that voters have been asked to tackle so many propositions, and that doesn’t even cover the local initiatives.
Here’s a breakdown of the ballot measures Libby and Rivard covered at Politifest.
Proposition 51: School Bonds
This initiative would borrow $9 billion in school bonds to construct and modernize K-12 schools and community colleges across the state. Rivard explained that to qualify, schools would need to prove that they need the money to either expand or improve conditions on their campuses.
Opponents say that the wording of the law is problematic and may allow schools to use the money to, instead, build stadiums.
Proposition 52: Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Program
California hospitals are asking to continue to pay about $4.6 billion state taxes to continue to fund Medi-Cal, a program that serves low-income people in need of medical attention.
“For every dollar the state puts up, the federal government will put in some extra dollars,” Rivard said. “When the hospitals put up more money, then the state has more money to put up for the federal government to match.”
This not only makes it harder for Legislature to divert funds that are supposed to be spent on the Medi-Cal program, but also would protect the state’s ability to fund Medi-Cal.
Proposition 53: Revenue Bonds
This controversial initiative seeks to mandate a statewide vote to any revenue bond for government projects bigger than $2 billion. These bonds are typically repaid by the cash those projects generate – like a bridge that would use a toll to pay for its construction – but this initiative wants voter approval to begin these projects.
The opposition list is lengthy, including by Gov. Jerry Brown, California Democratic Party, SANDAG and the Chamber of Commerce, who all agree that it wouldn’t be fair to force the entire state to vote for projects that are often local.
Proposition 54: Legislative Transparency
This initiative is all about legislative transparency and preventing lawmakers from making last-minute changes to bills. It calls for legislation to be put online for public review at least 72 hours before the vote. It would also expand the public’s access to videos of legislative meetings and allow those videos to be used in political campaigns.
Proposition 55: Tax Extension
In 2012, voters passed a proposition calling for a temporary tax on those with annual incomes over $250,000 to help fund education during the economic downturn. Rivard said this measure would extend this tax for 12 more years in an effort to allow more investment in education infrastructure statewide.
Proposition 56: Cigarette Tax
Only four years after a similar measure was rejected, voters will have another chance to raise the tax on tobacco products. The initiative would raise the taxes on tobacco and implement a tax on electronic cigarettes containing nicotine for the first time statewide. The $2 tax hike would be used on healthcare, tobacco-control programs and law-enforcement efforts at combatting tobacco smuggling that the tax might create.
Proposition 57: Criminal Sentences
With the largest inmate population in the nation, it’s apparent California has to do something about its overcrowded jails. And under a new federal court order, it’s now trying to figure out a way to clear them out.
This initiative is Brown’s idea to address the issue. He proposes that prisoners serving sentences for nonviolent crimes become eligible for early parole hearings and sentence credits based on good behavior, education and rehab during incarceration. It would also prevent juvenile offenders from being sent to an adult court hearing immediately by putting the decision in a judge’s hands.
Rivard said opponents worry about the “definition of nonviolent,” which can include offenses such as rape and assault with a deadly weapon. “Opponents will say that we’ve been weakening anti-crime laws in California steadily for quite some time – this just goes too far,” Rivard said.
Proposition 58: Bilingual Education
In 1998, California voters passed Prop. 227, which Libby said mandated that all children in California public schools “shall be taught English by being taught English.”
What this proposition essentially did was ensure that all schools were taught in English, and students whose first language was not English were left to “sink or swim” in the English-only classes, she said.
This measure would repeal the ban on bilingual education, giving school officials the freedom to decide which language will be best for their students, including the opportunity to teach students in two languages throughout the day.
Proposition 59: Citizens United
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United declared that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend an unlimited amount of money on national campaigns. This was a controversial ruling, which can only be overturned by an amendment of the U.S. Constitution, so state legislators decided to ask voters for their opinions on the matter.
“The interesting thing about Prop. 59 is that it does not do anything,” Libby said. “It asks you to send a message to your lawmakers that you want them to do something, at some point, about Citizens United.”
Proposition 60: Adult Films
Adult film stars will be required to wear condoms while filming sex scenes if this healthcare initiative is passed. Producers would have to provide condoms and ensure actors wear them – and they’d be the ones saddled with penalties and fines if the actors violate the law. Under the same measure, producers would need to cover the cost of medical exams, STD tests and vaccinations for the actors.
Proposition 61: Prescription Drugs Purchases
This proposition would ban state agencies from paying more for a prescription drug than the lowest price the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays, creating a “price ceiling” for state purchases. This means that the measure wouldn’t apply to purchases made by individuals; it would only benefit state recipients such as Medi-Cal beneficiaries, retirees and prison inmates.
“If this measure goes into effect, the way that drug makers might try to get around this is by just getting rid of these discounts altogether,” Libby said.
She said this could also have the adverse effect of keeping anyone from getting discounts, instead increasing drug prices all around.
Proposition 63: Firearms
This initiative was drafted to tighten the state’s gun control laws in the wake of an increasing number of mass shootings in the United States. If passed, it would require background checks to buy ammunition as well as ban the sale and possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines. It would also create new felony charges specific to gun thefts, and establish a strict process to confiscate guns from felons and others prohibited from possessing firearms.
Rivard said that along with the National Rifle Association, some law enforcement officials are opposed to this proposition, explaining that it would create more “lists of people” which they argue has been ineffective and “diverts money away from real police work.”
Proposition 64: Marijuana Legalization
Six years ago, a measure that aimed to legalize recreational marijuana narrowly failed. This fall, Californians will reconsider their decision, potentially bringing in upwards of $1 billion in tax revenue to be used for drug research, treatment and enforcement.
“One of the observations is that our current system of medical marijuana is sort of a joke,” Rivard said. “This [initiative] would get rid of the façade that we are operating under right now.”
Passing the initiative would help legitimize the medical marijuana program.
The opposition has expressed concerns about traffic fatalities, impaired driving and growing marijuana plants near schools and parks.
If passed, this initiative would make California the fifth state to legalize marijuana and hemp, rendering sales and cultivation taxable by state and local governments and for sale to anyone 21 and over.
Proposition 65 & Proposition 67: Single-Use Plastic Bags
In 2014, a ban on single-use plastic bags passed through state legislature. This fall, voters will decide whether to uphold or repeal that ban with Prop. 67. Although San Diego has already passed a local initiative banning plastic, this proposition still requires approval by the majority of Californians. With a “yes” vote on Prop. 67, the ban will become statewide.
Prop. 65, funded almost entirely by plastic bag industry, “exists only to confuse voters,” Libby said.
This initiative wants the fees charged for paper or reusable bags to be directed toward environmental programs instead of being kept by the retailer.
Libby said the confusion will likely lead both measures to fail.
“Research has shown that when there are different measures on the ballot that deal with the same thing, people tend to just vote ‘no,’” Libby said.
Prop. 65 will only go into effect if 67 passes and is essentially trying to cause enough confusion to lead voters to vote “no” on Prop. 67 as well.
Proposition 62 & Proposition 66: Death Penalty
Not one, but two death penalty propositions are on the November ballot, putting the future of executions in California up in the air. Libby said the backers of both death penalty measures agree on just one thing: “The system is inefficient, too expensive and a waste of taxpayer money. And they came up with radically different ways to solve that problem.”
Prop. 62 would overturn the 1978 law that demands capital punishment for the most serious offences, replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. If passed, it would also retroactively apply to all prisoners already sentenced to death.
Prop. 66, on the other hand, would speed up the death penalty’s legal process by setting new time limits on the court’s conviction reviews.
Backers of both initiative agree that these prisoners should be required to work while in prison, increasing the portion of their wages paid as restitution to victim’s families. Prop. 62 only increases that to 60 percent, while Prop. 66 increases it to 70 percent.
And the most imperative part of these two measures is that if both pass, the one with the most “yes” votes would supersede the other.