California has one of the most active ballot initiative processes in the country. Between 1911 and 2014, voters have approved 123 of 364 initiatives. California is one of ten states that allows all forms of initiatives and referendums. This means that citizens or the legislature can initiate constitutional amendments and statues. An initiative only requires a simple majority to go into effect. The exception is parcel tax initiatives which require a super majority of two thirds to pass.
Nevertheless, very few voters ever spend the time to read every initiative before voting on it. An educated electorate is critical when voting. In order for this ballot initiative process to work, citizens need to be aware of what the ballot initiatives mean. Below are a few of the more prominent initiatives from this cycle.
1. Proposition 55: Extend Tax on High Income
This amendment to the California Constitution seeks to continue the current taxes levied on high-income earners. This bracket includes individuals who make over $250,000 and couples earning over $500,000 per year. The tax extension earmarks the funds to be spent on education and healthcare by the state.
In 2012, California voters approved Proposition 30, which raised taxes from 1% to 3% on individuals earning more than $250,000. This year, Proposition 30 taxes will raise close to $7 billion dollars for K-12 schools and limited additional resources for community colleges.
In addition to raising taxes on high-income earners, Proposition 30 raised the state sales tax a quarter cent. In contrast, this year’s Proposition 55 does not seek to extend the sales tax increase and it is set to expire at the end of 2016. The image below shows the increases passed by Proposition 30 and the total taxes per bracket.
Arguments against Proposition 55 are that the Proposition 30 taxes were intended to be temporary and should be respected as such. Furthermore, allowing the state more control over the budget erodes local control of education policy.
Estimates from those in favor of Proposition 55 project that state revenue will increase anywhere from $4 billion to $9 billion from 2019 to 2030. Education makes up over half of the state’s $122 billion budget. The income tax provides over two thirds of the funds for this budget.
What a Yes vote means: Continue the current tax on high incomes ($250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples) through the year 2030.
What a No vote means: Allow the current tax on high incomes to end in 2018 and return to a 9.3% tax rate on anyone making over $52,000 a year.
2. Proposition 61: Prescription Drug Costs
Proposition 61 seeks to regulate how much state agencies spend on prescription drugs. Federal law requires that the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) receives a 24% discount on prescription drugs and has a price ceiling. The VA is able to negotiate additional discounts, but the amount is not publicly disclosed.
Proposition 61 would apply to low-income patients covered by Medi-Cal, inmates in state prison, state employees and retirees, and employees and teachers at UC and CSU campuses. This is estimated to be anywhere from 4.5 to 7 million Californians. Opponents of Prop 61 point out that Medi-Cal managed care, private insurance, and public school district employees and retirees are not covered.
Proponents of Proposition 61 emphasize the historically high prices of prescription drugs without justification. The Epipen price controversy sparked conversations over the skyrocketing price of drugs and the need to limit the power of the pharmaceutical industry. Proponents of Prop 61 also claim that the passage of the initiative would save taxpayers and consumers billions of dollars by leveraging the state of California’s bulk-purchasing power to secure lower drug prices.
Opponents are skeptical of how much money Proposition 61 would truly save. Confidentiality agreements make it impossible to know what the VA’s actual purchase price for drugs is. The fiscal impact is unclear because drug pricing varies widely. There is also the fear that prescription drug companies will raise the price for veterans in retaliation and eliminate any price discounts entirely. There is no current research one way or the other on how prescription drug companies would respond.
To date Proposition 61 is one of the most expensive campaigns in California history. The “No on Prop 61” campaign is outspending Yes by $86 million to $9 million. The large contributors against Proposition 61 come from Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in New Jersey and New York. AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles is the largest donor in favor of Proposition 61.
What a Yes vote means: Regulation of state agencies to allow them to pay the same prices as the US Department of Veterans Affairs Pays for prescription drugs.
What a No vote means: No regulation of state agencies to allow them to pay the same prices as the US Department of Veterans Affairs Pays for prescription drugs.
3. Proposition 63: Gun and Ammunition Sales
Proposition 63 requires that individuals who wish to purchase ammunition must first obtain a four-year, $50 permit from the California Department of Justice. Dealers would then be required to check this permit before selling ammunition. A background check, similar to the process for buying a gun, would also be conducted before anyone is allowed to purchase the permit for ammunition.
A controversial feature of Proposition 63 is that it prohibits the ownership of large-capacity magazines. This includes guns that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. California banned the sale of large-capacity magazines in 2000, but Proposition 61 would make it illegal to purchase such guns out of state and those who currently own them would have to turn them over to local law enforcement.
Proponents of Proposition 63 cite the increase in gun violence in recent years and suggest that limits on access to gun ammunition could prevent future violence. The process for vetting ammunition permits follows the same constitutional process as purchasing a gun and therefore does not make it harder on those legally seeking a firearm. Estimates predict low state and local cost of implementation.
Arguments against Proposition 63 focus on the burden it places on citizens seeking firearms. In addition, it may create a burden for the court system as the law goes into enforcement. Others claim that it will not be effective in stopping criminals from obtaining ammunition or thwart any terrorist attack.
What a Yes vote means: Prohibits the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines and requires individuals to pass a background check in order to purchase ammunition.
What a No vote means: Maintain current law and does not require a background check before purchasing ammunition.
4. Proposition 62: Repeal the Death Penalty
There are two propositions on the California ballot this year: Proposition 62 which seeks to repeal the death penalty and Proposition 66 which aims at reforming it. Since there are two death penalty related propositions, if both Proposition 66 and Proposition 62 pass then the one with the most “yes” votes will supersede the other.
Proposition 62 would repeal the state death penalty and replace the maximum punishment for murder with life in prison without the possibility of parole. It would retroactively apply to all those already sentenced to death. In addition, Proposition 62 would require all prisoners sentenced to life in prison without parole to work and pay 60% restitution to victim’s families. A similar proposal in 2012 to abolish the death penalty was defeated.
Proponents of Proposition 62 claim that there are legal and ethical challenges with lethal injections, California has not executed a prisoner since 2006. Of the 748 prisoners who are on death row, almost all are appealing their sentences. Supporters claim that Proposition 62 is the one way to eliminate miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions that plague the court system.
Furthermore, proponents of Prop 62 argue that the death penalty is disproportionally given to poor citizens of color, who often lack quality legal representation in court. The fiscal impact of Proposition 62 suggests that the court savings from the appeal process would be about $150 million annually within a few years.
Opponents of Proposition 62 claim that simply working for life will not bring justice to the victim’s families and the strongest possibly punishment for the most serious murderers is necessary. Rather than repealing the death penalty, they claim, we should focus on reforming it through Proposition 66.
What a Yes vote means: Repeal the death penalty and make life without parole the maximum punishment for murder.
What a No vote means: Keep the death penalty as currently stated by California law.
5. Proposition 66 Death Penalty Court Procedures
Proposition 66 is designed to address growing concerns that the legal proceedings surrounding death sentences are expensive and time consuming. Proposition 66 attempts to shorten the time that legal challenges to death sentences take to a maximum of five years.
Proponents of Proposition 66 recognize that the appeals process is broken and needs to be mended. Proposition 66 would require all prisoners on death row to work and pay 70% of their wages in restitution to victim’s families.
The goal of shortening the appeal of sentences to five years may not have the intended impact. Criminal justice lawyers fear that limiting appeals leaves the vulnerable populations at risk for wrongful convictions. Moreover, this could cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees.
What a Yes vote means: Changing the procedures governing state court appeals and petitions that challenge death penalty convictions and sentences.
What a No vote means: Maintain current procedures for governing death penalty appeals and petitions.
Anna Radoff is Master of Public Policy candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy and an Editor at PolicyMatters Journal, where this article was originally posted.
Last month, on August 11, 2016, the Inspector General’s Office of the U. S. Department of Justice released a damning report on private contract prisons. The report, titled “Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Monitoring of Contract Prisons” laid out the findings of a systematic review of the operation of private facilities contracted through the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons. The review found that “in most key areas, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita” than federal prisons. The review also found that a number of the private prisons visited as part of the investigation had been cited for specific deficiencies or inappropriate practices, such as improperly placing new prisoners in restrictive “Special Housing Units” (also called “Secure Housing Units” or “solitary confinement” due to prisoners being locked in an isolation cell with minimal interaction) and lack of proper storage of use-of-force video records.
One week later, on August 18th, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates released a memo laying out additional claims that private prisons “do not save substantially on costs” or “provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources” to inmates. She then states that the Department of Justice will begin “the process of reducing—and ultimately ending” the Bureau of Prisons’s use of private prisons.
These moves by administration officials came against a backdrop of civil rights and criminal justice reform advocates highlighting incidents of abuse and neglect in private prisons across the country in recent years beyond those cited in the Inspector General’s report. These incidents ranged from cases of deplorable conditions to deaths by beating to suicides stemming from sexual assault to lack of access to healthcare to lack of formal grievance systems and oversight within the prisons.
The administration’s policy shift caused a crash in the stock values of the two largest private prison companies in the United States, Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, Inc., falling 37% and 40% respectively. However, the stock values rebounded slightly in the days that followed amidst rosy projections by company CEO’s, moderate evaluations by industry analysts, and quotes from prison reformers and civil rights advocates about how much more needs to be changed. These insider reactions seem to be at odds with the Department of Justice’s announcement. Is U.S. policy regarding private prisons changing or not?
Scope of the Department of Justice Decision
In 2015 the Bureau of Prisons had custody over 192,628 inmates, 21,834 of whom were housed in private prisons, a privatization rate of 11%. The next largest federal entity that holds prisoners is the U.S. Marshals Service, which handles individuals before entry into prison to serve a federal sentence (i.e. arrest, trial, and transportation while in custody). In 2015 U.S. Marshals housed 51,862 prisoners, with 10,248 in private facilities, a rate of 20%. The smallest entity in absolute numbers is U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has illegal immigrants as the main source of detainees. In 2014, Immigration and Customs Enforcement had 24,567 out of 33,676 prisoners in private facilities, a whopping rate of 73%. Both the U.S. Marshals and Immigration and Customs Enforcement fall outside of the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice and are not subject to the change in policy from Yates’s memo.
Statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Marshals Service, and Intercept.com.
This data, especially from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, fluctuate from month to month and available data for this analysis covers two different years, so direct comparison is tough. However, if recent trends hold between years, the Department of Justice’s decision will impact a sizeable amount of federal prisoners in private facilities. Additionally, almost two weeks after the Department of Justice’s release of Yates’s memo, the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, announced that it will undertake a similar review to determine whether to keep using private facilities. If the Department of Homeland Security comes to the same conclusions as the Department of Justice, the vast majority of federal prisoners may be removed from private prisons.
Implications for States
While this is a potentially large shift in the number of prisoners in private facilities at the federal level, it is a small shift relative to the overall proportion of privately-held prisoners across the nation. This is because the majority of private prisoners are held at the state level. In 2014, 91,244 prisoners were held in private prisons across the 50 states, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Since the United States has a federal system, the federal government cannot directly tell states how to run their prison systems. Furthermore, states do not get significant prison funding from the feds, meaning the often-used policy tool of withholding money until states comply with federal guidelines cannot be used in these situations. This means the battle to end private prisons will have to be fought on the ground in each and every state that uses private prisons.
The Fight to Come
State-by-state battles against moneyed interests are always hard. When benefits are concentrated (lots of money for a few corporations) and costs are diffuse (civil rights of hundreds of thousands of prisoners and their families), it becomes difficult to sustain momentum for reform.
But this is a fight worth having. In addition to documenting cases of abuse, neglect, and death, for legal challenges, prison reform advocates have started a political and social conversation about the impact of private prisons. The concept of funding for rehabilitation, a central moral imperative of modern incarceration, is utterly antithetical to the profit model of private prisons. Why would they spend extra money to decrease their revenue-generating “inventory”? In annual corporate reports, private prison companies often identify falling crime rates, immigration reform, and other positive social trends as threats to their bottom lines. As the San Francisco Chronicle put it, “Private prisons are terrible public policy. Focused on the bottom line they cut corners… [they] have lobbied for increased criminal penalties because such laws inevitably mean more customers. But increasing incarceration for profit’s sake is bad for families, communities, taxpayers, and the concept of justice.” Any time perverse incentives lead powerful entities to fear positive social change, we as citizens must be wary and push back. Thanks to the efforts of a diverse group of people doing just that, the federal government has taken a small step towards ending this abhorrent practice.
Rick Zarrella is a Master of Public Policy Candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy. Before coming to GSPP, Rick was a Senior Paralegal at the Habeas Corpus Resource Center.
This article was originally posted on PolicyMatters Journal, a student-led publication of the Goldman School.
Professors Jack Glaser and Steven Raphael are authors on the Center for Policing Equity's report, The Science of Justice: Race, Arrests, and Police Use of Force.
From the executive summary:
Despite the importance of understanding how race intersects with police use of force, little research has used police administrative data to investigate whether or not disparities exist. Because the dominant narrative around race and law enforcement is that crime rates drive police behavior, we used data from the National Justice Database—the Center for Policing Equity’s project to provide national-level data and analyses on police behavior—to investigate racial disparities in use of force benchmarking against demographics of local arrest rates. Even though this is a conservative estimate of bias, the analyses of 12 law enforcement departments from geographically and demographically diverse locations revealed that racial disparities in police use of force persist even when controlling for racial distribution of local arrest rates. Additionally, multiple participating departments still demonstrated racial disparities when force incidents were benchmarked exclusively against Part I violent arrests, such that Black residents were still more likely than Whites to be targeted for force. This method is very likely prone to underestimate racial disparities because African Americans are overrepresented in violent crime arrests but Part I violent crimes constitute only 1/24th of all arrests nationally (BJS, 2012), and previous research has found arrests for violent crimes to involve police use of force only 1.3 times as often as arrests for all other crimes (Worden, 1995). These disparities were robust across multiple categories of force (hand weapon, OC spray, and Tasers).
In addition to these findings and consistent with previous literature, Taser usage represented a large percentage of departments’ use of force. Specifically, residents who were targeted for force were far more likely to be targeted by Tasers than by deadly weapons. While previous research has demonstrated the stark rise of Taser usage (Taylor et al., 2011) and its potential to reduce injuries (Alpert et al., 2011), the relatively high incidence of Taser usage relative to all other categories (it was the second most common category across all departments trailing only hand/body weapons) deserves significantly more public and scholarly attention given that Tasers are also the category closest to use of deadly force in most use of force continuums. It is important to be cautious about overgeneralizing these results because of the relatively small number of departments and because we do not know very much about what residents did during the interactions that turned forceful. However, the narrative that crime is the primary driver of racial disparities is not supported within the context of these departments. This suggests that scholars and practitioners should look at racial disparities in other situational factors (e.g., resistance, drug and alcohol use, and officer perceptions of dangerousness) to determine whether or not they explain racial disparities in force.
Read the full report.
June 20 is World Refugee Day. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 42,500 people are forced to flee their homes every day and there are 59.5 million forcibly displaced individuals worldwide, 19.5 million of whom meet the definition of “refugee”. Though the epicenter of this crisis is overseas, the US sees its fair share of displaced populations seeking refuge; both those resettled from countries of first asylum and those migrants who arrive on our shores and at our borders in search of protection.
This year on World Refugee Day, the UNHCR is asking that individuals sign a #WithRefugee petition enumerating three basic rights governments must provide for refugees: “Ensure every refugee child gets an education; Ensure every refugee family has somewhere safe to live; and, Ensure every refugee can work or learn new skills to make a positive contribution to their community.” Though recent and ongoing refugee crises are never far from the global news cycle, this day and this mandate create an opportunity to pause and reflect upon US policies towards refugees and displaced populations.
The US is the top refugee resettlement country in the world, and the country contributes a great deal of money to refugee assistance worldwide. Furthermore, US policy makes good on all three of the above listed rights of refugees resettled in the country. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) provides for basic housing and medical needs and work training for refugees, focusing on getting refugees economically secure and self-sufficient as quickly as possible. All children in the US, regardless of legal status, are guaranteed access to education. A 2015 report by the Migration Policy Institute found refugees were at least as likely to work as their US-born counterparts and that reliance on public assistance declines with time in the US, arriving at the conclusion that “refugees in the main are meeting the US refugee program’s goal of promoting refugees’ self-sufficiency.”
So where does the US fall short? In recent years, the US has resettled approximately 70,000 refugees per year, a number that was raised to 85,000 for FY2016 and could rise in future years. However, the process of admitting refugees into the country is long and slow, estimated to take an average 18 months.
For what is arguably the most urgent current refugee crisis, Syria, our response has been particularly weak. Prior to this fiscal year, the US had only resettled about 2,000 refugees since the 2011 beginning of the Syrian unrest and, while the US proposed to resettle another 10,000 this year, we have only successfully resettled 2,800 in the first 9 months of FY2016 according to Department of State data from the end of May. That would be, then, 0.1% of the 4.8 million Syrians who have fled their country as refugees since the beginning of the war in 2011. As a point of comparison, Canada has 1/10 the population of the US and has resettled more than 25,000 Syrian refugees since November 2015.
Though not to blame for the US’s lackluster resettlement of Syrian refugees (that is due to strict US security screening processes, among other things), the country’s global reputation has suffered a substantial hit recently as political rhetoric demonstrates an apparent resurgence of anti-immigrant xenophobia. This can be seen in the rise of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and proposed harsh policies aimed at refugees and other immigrant populations as well as the request made by 30 US governors to stop Syrian resettlement in their states after the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015, among other things.
The other avenue through which the US admits displaced populations into the US is asylum policy. Asylees meet the same definition of “refugee,” the key distinction being that they arrive on US shores and apply for asylum once in the country (with the exception of a few special programs that allow for international asylum application processing). The US approves approximately 25,000 asylum applications per year. Though asylees are awarded the same protections as refugees once they are granted status, the asylum application process is long and difficult and US policies towards and treatment of asylum seekers have been spotty at best over the years.
Many asylum seekers are subject to detention in prison-like conditions while they go through their asylum application process, which can take years, or are subject to bonds with minimum of $1500. Asylum is difficult to win, especially without an immigration lawyer (which is very costly), and a recent AP study showed that asylum is granted unevenly across the country (AP).
The global displaced population is growing and refugee crises are not going away anytime soon. Though US policy by and large measures up well against international standards and other nations, the next few months and especially the results of the upcoming presidential election will be hugely important in determining our future track record on this issue.
Elsa Augustine is an MPP candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy. This summer, she is working for Partnerships for Trauma Recovery, a nonprofit working to address the psychosocial impacts of trauma among international survivors of human rights abuses through culturally aware, trauma-informed, and contextually adapted mental health care, clinical training, and policy advocacy.
This article was originally posted on PolicyMatters Journal.