Will California finally repeal Prop 47?

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

While much of the mainstream media has dutifully done their level best to ignore the situation, voters and even some elected officials in California have been waking up to the reality of what’s been happening in their state ever since the legislature passed the disastrous bill known as proposition 47. That was the bill that reduced the theft of less than $950 worth of merchandise from a felony to a misdemeanor, with suspects rarely if ever being held on bail while awaiting a date in court. The law had previously set the felony barrier at $400. The result, which came as a surprise to absolutely nobody with the amount of common sense that God gave to a housefly, was a massive increase in increasingly organized retail theft raids and “smash and grab” robbery schemes. Now, however, at least some people appear to be fed up with all of the crime and there are plans shaping up from both sides of the aisle to roll back or at least modify the bill. And yet there are still progressives in the Golden State who are fighting to maintain the new status quo. (ABC News)

Assemblymember Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) introduced AB 1599 to overturn much of what’s in Proposition 47.

“I think that the people of California, at least in the area in Central California I represent, are — they’re just fed up with it,” Patterson said. “They know that the crime spikes are real.”

No statewide 2021 numbers are in yet, but the Public Policy Institute of California reports that, overall, property theft has steadily declined over the last 20 years. However, the PPIC does link Prop 47 to temporary increases in some crimes after the law was enacted.

Patterson’s bill is coming from the vastly outnumbered Republican side of the legislature and the measure is more aggressive in removing the majority of what prop 47 did. But there are other bills working through the process, including one offered by a Democrat that would bring the felony threshold back down to $400 from $950 dollars. The linked report even found a few liberal professors at California universities who want to see the changes undone.

The ABC News report I linked above still makes a valiant attempt to claim that crime rates haven’t changed all that much since prop 47 went into effect and talks about “stigmatizing people for the rest of their lives by charging them with a felony.” But there has been more than a little confusion generated by the way crimes are recorded and measured in the state. Some categories of crime have indeed decreased slightly, while others have risen.

But when it comes to retail theft, Jim Patterson brings up an important point. When you take a particular crime like retail theft and change it in this fashion, crimes that would previously have been recorded as felonies for thefts of more than $400 worth of merchandise are now recorded as misdemeanors. It’s true, as ABC News points out, that those misdemeanor crimes are still recorded, but the total number of felony thefts incidents decreases on paper because all of the ones involving more than $400 in good are no longer recorded in that fashion.

Either way, you can stare at the numbers all you like, but none of the media debate on this topic is erasing the nightly reports of gangs of people emptying out the stores and the retailers who are shutting down and leaving the state because they can’t afford to pay for theft insurance anymore. The only remaining question seems to be which of the pending bills will survive to see a vote and how many people are fed up enough to force the issue. Even if one of the bills passes, however, the change will not be immediate. Just like the original proposition, the question would then have to be sent back to the public for another vote. So this unfolding tide of mass looting is likely far from over.