Reading the Props: 20’s New Supermajority

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Every two years, I read the full text of all statewide ballot propositions—because at least one Californian should.

Next is Prop 20.

 

Prop 20 offers voters a chance to revisit reforms of sentencing and criminal supervision laws passed in the first half of the 2010s decade. Usually, going back and reconsidering previous laws is healthy, because it promotes badly needed flexibility in California’s inflexible system.

But Prop 20 does this in a very inflexible way.

Prop 20, officially titled the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018, is an initia

tive statute that runs 9,242 words, longer than the U.S. constitution. The goal of most of its provisions are to be tougher on crime, by turning certain misdemeanors back into felonies, and giving more power to prosecutors and those supervising parolees.

But while it changes previous laws (AB 109, Prop 47, and Prop 57), Prop 20 won’t be so easy to amend itself. The measure invents a brand new supermajority requirement for a state that already has overdosed on such requirements. It would require a ¾ vote of the legislature to amend the measure, and then only in ways that further its purposes.

For that inflexibility alone, voters should be wary. Are you sure that everything in the measure gets it right? With an ballot initiative, especially one creating a new supermajority, you better be sure.

Prop 20 effectively argues for the need to keep our laws flexible, and easy to amend, especially as Californians seek to make so many changes, small and systemic, to our criminal justice system.

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