Stories about California

California Supreme Court rules that 2016 ballot measure made certain sex offenders eligible for early parole

On December 28, 2020, the California Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that Proposition 57’s provision to increase parole opportunities for those convicted of nonviolent offenses applies to sex offenders. California Proposition 57 was approved at the election on November 8, 2016, receiving 64.5% of the vote.

Proposition 57 required the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) to enact a parole review program in which felons convicted of nonviolent crimes could be released on parole upon the completion of the sentence for his or her offense with the longest imprisonment term. The CDCR adopted a regulation that excluded persons convicted of sexual offenses from the definition of nonviolent offender.

The Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws (ACSOL) sued the department, arguing that the CDCR’s categorical exclusion of people convicted of sexual offenses was not consistent with Proposition 57. Gov. Jerry Brown (D), a sponsor of Proposition 57, argued that the ballot initiative did not grant earlier parole hearings to sex offenders.

The state Supreme Court ruled that the CDCR’s regulations creating a categorical exclusion of people convicted for registrable sex offenses from earlier parole were unconstitutional. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote the court’s opinion. Cantil-Sakauye stated that Proposition 57 entitled sex offenders convicted of crimes considered nonviolent to parole hearings. Justice Cantil-Sakauye also wrote that being eligible for parole hearings does not require an earlier release of an inmate. Regulations allow parole boards to consider a person’s threat to public safety in determining eligibility for early release.

Voters rejected Proposition 20, a measure that would have amended Proposition 57, on November 3, 2020. Proposition 20 would have defined 51 crimes and sentence enhancements, including some additional sexual crimes, as violent in order to exclude them from Proposition 57’s nonviolent offender parole program. Proposition 20 would have also made specific types of theft and fraud crimes, including firearm theft, vehicle theft, and unlawful use of a credit card, chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies, rather than misdemeanors. 

Amending Proposition 57, which is coded in the California Constitution, would require a ballot measure. For the state Legislature to propose an amendment, a two-thirds vote is required in each legislative chamber. For a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, 997,139 signatures would be required. Constitutional amendments, whether proposed by the legislature or ballot initiative, require voter approval to be enacted.

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California State Senate special election filing deadline is Jan. 7, 2021

Candidates interested in running in the special election for California State Senate District 30 have until January 7, 2021, to file. The primary is scheduled for March 2, and the general election is set for May 4.

The special election was called after Holly Mitchell (D) left office when she was elected to represent District 2 on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Mitchell served in the state Senate from 2013 to 2020.

As of December 2020, 11 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in eight states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year. California held 31 state legislative special elections from 2010 to 2019.

Entering 2021, the California State Senate has 30 Democrats, nine Republicans, and one vacancy. A majority in the chamber requires 21 seats. California has a Democratic state government trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers. 

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U.S. Senate confirms nominee to U.S. District Court for Central District of California

The U.S. Senate confirmed Fernando Aenlle-Rocha to the United States District Court for the Central District of California by a vote of 80-8. After he receives his federal judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the 28-member court will have nine Democrat-appointed judges, 13 Republican-appointed judges, and six vacancies. Aenlle-Rocha will join three other judges appointed by President Donald Trump (R).

The Central District of California is one of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.

Aenlle-Rocha previously served as a judge on the Superior Court of Los Angeles County in California. He was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on May 22, 2017, and elected to the court in 2018.

Aenlle-Rocha was born in Cuba in 1961. He received his B.A. from Princeton University in 1983 and his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law in 1986.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 234 of Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—three Supreme Court justices, 54 appellate court judges, 174 district court judges, and three U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

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Signatures filed for ballot initiative to legalize sports betting in California

In California, the Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering reported filing more than 1.4 million signatures for a ballot initiative to legalize sports betting at American Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks. The ballot initiative would also legalize roulette and dice games, such as craps, at tribal casinos. At least 997,139 of the submitted signatures need to be verified for the proposal to go before voters on November 8, 2022.

The California Constitution regulates what types of gambling are permitted in the state; therefore, a constitutional amendment is required to legalize sports betting. In 2019, Sen. Bill Dodd (D-3) introduced a related amendment in the state Legislature, but his proposal did not receive a floor vote and did not go on the ballot.

The Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering proposed a combined citizen-initiated amendment and statute on November 4, 2019. The original signature deadline for the initiative was July 20, 2020, but a superior court extended the deadline to December 14, 2020, due to the coronavirus and related restrictions. Steve Stallings, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, stated, “A strong, well-regulated gaming industry is of utmost importance to California’s tribal governments and the public.”

Before 2018, a federal law—the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act—prohibited states from being involved in sports betting. On May 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the federal government could not require states to prohibit sports betting. As of December 2020, 24 states and D.C. had passed statewide laws to legalize sports betting. In 2020, two states—Maryland and South Dakota—voted on ballot measures to legalize sports betting. In Louisiana, parishes voted on countywide measures to legalize sports betting, with 55 of 64 parishes approving legalization. 

Californians last voted on a gambling-related issue in 2014, when voters rejected Proposition 48. Proposition 48 would have ratified gaming compacts between the state and the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians and the Wiyot Tribe.

Before 2020’s Proposition 22, the most expensive ballot measures in California were a slate of tribal gaming compact referendums, for which campaigns raised a combined $154.55 million raised ($115.06 in support, and $39.49 in opposition).

As of October 29, when the most recent contribution report was filed, the Coalition to Authorize Regulated Sports Wagering had received $11.32 million, including $2.00 million from the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, $2.00 million from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, and $1.71 million from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

Due to a coronavirus-related executive order, counties have until March 9, 2021, to report the number of qualified signatures for ballot initiatives. Without the executive order, counties would have had eight days to conduct a raw count of signatures followed by 30 days to conduct a random sample of signature validity for ballot initiatives. The executive order did not apply to veto referendums. As of December 15, signatures had been submitted for three citizen-initiated measures—two initiatives and one veto referendum; each of them would appear on the general election ballot in 2022 if enough signatures are verified. 

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Signatures filed for 2022 veto referendum to repeal California’s ban on flavored tobacco product sales

In California, a campaign committee funded by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Philip Morris USA filed signatures for a veto referendum to repeal the state’s law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products and tobacco product flavor enhancers. The targeted bill includes an exception for hookah tobacco. If 623,212 signatures are found to be valid, then the law will be suspended until voters decide it at the election on November 8, 2022. The law was passed in August 2020 and was designed to go into effect on January 1, 2021. As of December 7, the secretary of state had reported that 758,468 signatures were filed, but raw counts were still needed from several counties, including Riverside, San Diego, and Ventura.

The campaign behind the veto referendum is called the California Coalition for Fairness, which, according to campaign communications director Beth Miller, is sponsored by tobacco manufacturers. Through the most recently filed reports (November 3), the California Coalition for Fairness had received $21.1 million, including $10.4 million from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, $9.8 million from Philip Morris USA, $500,000 from ITG Brands, and $500,000 from Swedish Match North America. In a press release, the campaign stated, “We agree that youth should never have access to any tobacco products, but this can be achieved without imposing a total prohibition on products that millions of adults choose to use. This law goes too far and is unfair, particularly since lawmakers have exempted hookah, expensive cigars and flavored pipe tobacco from the prohibition. Moreover, a prohibition will hurt small, local businesses and jobs as products are pushed from licensed, conscientious retailers to an underground market, leading to increased youth access, crime and other social or criminal justice concerns for many California residents.”

State Sen. Gerald Hill (D-13), who sponsored the law banning flavored tobacco product sales, responded to the veto referendum, saying, “California fought Big Tobacco and won. This shameless industry is a sore loser and it is relentless. It wants to keep killing people with its candy-, fruit-, mint- and menthol-flavored poison. The adults who are hooked on nicotine aren’t enough for Big Tobacco; it wants our kids too.” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who signed the law on August 28, 2020, stated, “This is Big Tobacco’s latest attempt to profit at the expense of our kids’ health.”

California was the fifth state to pass a law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products. The others are Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. If the veto referendum appears on the ballot, California voters will be the first electorate to vote on a ban. In 2018, voters in San Francisco approved a ballot measure banning the sale of flavored tobacco products.

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Expected census delays may postpone state redistricting efforts in 2021

On Nov. 19, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham announced that, “during post-collection processing, certain processing anomalies have been discovered” in the 2020 United States Census. Dillingham said he had directed the bureau “to utilize all resources available to resolve this as expeditiously as possible.” Also on Nov. 19, The New York Times reported that “a growing number of snags in the massive data-processing operation that generates population totals had delayed the completion of population calculations at least until Jan. 26, [2021], and perhaps to mid-February.”

This expected delay could postpone state redistricting efforts in 2021. At least one state (California) has already extended its redistricting deadlines in light of the uncertainty surrounding the conclusion of the census. On July 17, the California Supreme Court unanimously ordered the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to release draft district plans by Nov. 1, 2021, and final district plans by Dec. 15, 2021. The original deadlines were July 1, 2021, and August 15, 2021, respectively.

The census, apportionment, and redistricting: Every ten years, the United States conducts the census, a complete count of the U.S. population. Census results determine congressional apportionment (i.e., the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives). Because the U.S. Constitution requires that seats in the House be apportioned to the states on the basis of population, a state can gain seats if its population grows or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states.

Federal law requires congressional and legislative districts to have substantively equal populations. States use census data during their redistricting processes to ensure compliance with this requirement. The standard census timeline calls for the bureau to submit apportionment counts to the President by Dec. 31 and redistricting data to the states by April 1, 2021.

In the 2010 cycle, redistricting authorities enacted 43 new congressional district maps and 50 new state legislative district maps. The majority of these – 63 maps (31 congressional and 32 state legislative), 67.74 percent of the total– were enacted in 2011. In 2012, 28 maps (12 congressional and 16 state legislative) were enacted, 30.11 percent of the total. The remaining maps were enacted in the first six months of 2013.

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Kevin Lincoln defeats incumbent Michael Tubbs in Stockton mayoral race

The general election for Stockton, California, was held on November 3, 2020. The primary election was held on March 3, 2020, and the filing deadline to run passed on December 6, 2019.

In the mayoral race, Kevin Lincoln (R) defeated incumbent Michael Tubbs (D). As of November 19, Lincoln had earned 56.2% of the vote to Tubbs’s 43.9%. Mayoral elections in Stockton are nonpartisan, meaning that candidates’ party affiliations do not appear on the ballot.

Three seats on the seven-seat city council were up for nonpartisan election in 2020. The District 6 seat was on the ballot on November 3. As of November 19, Kimberly Warmsley led Gloria Allen with 70.1% of the vote to Allen’s 29.9%.

During the March 3 primary, incumbent Daniel Wright won the District 2 seat outright by earning more than 50% of the vote. In District 4, incumbent Susan Lenz was unopposed. 

Stockton is the 13th-largest city in California and the 63rd-largest city in the U.S. by population. 

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California governor confirms Jenkins to state supreme court

The California State Commission on Judicial Appointments confirmed Martin Jenkins to the California Supreme Court on November 10, 2020. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) appointed Jenkins on October 5. Jenkins succeeds Justice Ming Chin, who retired on August 31. Jenkins is Newsom’s first appointee to the seven-member supreme court.

Under California law, state supreme court justices are recommended by the Commission on Judicial Nominee Evaluation to the governor. The governor then selects the new justice, who must be confirmed by the state Commission on Judicial Appointments.

Jenkins was an associate judge on the California First District Court of Appeal, Division Three, from 2008 to 2019. He was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). He stepped down in 2019 after he was appointed judicial appointments secretary by Gov. Newsom.

From 1997 to 2008, Jenkins was a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. President Bill Clinton (D) nominated Jenkins on July 24, 1997, to a seat vacated by Eugene Lynch. The U.S. Senate confirmed Jenkins on November 9, 1997, and he received commission on November 12. Jenkins served on the U.S. district court until his resignation on April 3, 2008.

Jenkins earned his A.A. from the City College of San Francisco in 1973, his B.A. from Santa Clara University (formerly the University of Santa Clara) in 1976, and his J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 1980.

A press release from Gov. Newsom’s office said Jenkins “would be the first openly gay California Supreme Court justice and only the third African American man ever to serve on the state’s highest court. It has been 29 years since an African American man has served on the California Supreme Court.”

The California Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. As of October 2020, four judges on the court were appointed by Democratic governors, and two judges were appointed by Republican governors.

In 2020, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements.

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California Proposition 15, which would have created a split roll property tax, defeated

California Proposition 15 was rejected 48.1%-51.9% based to votes tallied through November 12. Proposition 15 would have required commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value, rather than their purchase price. In California, the proposal to assess taxes on commercial and industrial properties at market value, while continuing to assess taxes on residential properties based on the purchase price, was known as split roll. 

Proposition 15 would have required that revenue, after accounting for adjustments, be distributed to schools and local governments. The state fiscal analyst estimated that, upon full implementation, the ballot initiative would generate between $8 billion and $12.5 billion in revenue per year.

Proposition 15 would have amended Proposition 13 (1978), which required that residential, commercial, and industrial properties be taxed based on their purchase price. The tax under Proposition 13 was limited to no more than 1 percent of the purchase price (at the time of purchase), with an annual adjustment equal to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower.

More than $148 million was raised for and against Proposition 15, making the measure the second most expensive of 2020 nationwide. Supporters had raised $74.2 million, and opponents had raised $73.8 million. Yes on 15 received contributions from the California Teachers Association ($17.8 million), Chan Zuckerberg Advocacy ($11.6 million), and the SEIU California State Council ($6.3 million). No on 15 received contributions from the California Business Roundtable ($31.9 million), the California Business Properties Association ($1.8 million), and California Taxpayers Association ($1.0 million).