By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — A measure that would have lowered California’s threshold for felony theft from $950 to $400 failed to make it out of a committee in the State Legislature on Tuesday.
Assembly Bill 1603, introduced by Assemblymember Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, aimed to reform Proposition 47, a 2014 voter-approved measure that reclassified certain low-level drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
Under Proposition 47, property theft under $950 is a petty theft misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in prison and fines. Critics of the proposition say the measure has led to a lack of accountability for offenders and reduced punishment for those who commit property theft.
Assemblymember Salas’ bill would have lowered that threshold to $400 — back to the amount it was before voters approved Proposition 47. The bill failed to pass the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
Mr. Salas’ proposal came after a series of smash-and-grab robberies were reported throughout the state, leaving critics of Proposition 47 claiming that California’s existing statutes failed to hold individuals accountable for theft.
The robberies also provoked outrage from Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta, who promised to do more to address crime, though they disagreed that Proposition 47 played a role in increased instances of theft. In his latest budget proposal, Gov. Newsom has included $356 million over three years to bolster law enforcement efforts to “crack down on organized retail theft and other crimes.”
Before Tuesday’s vote, Assemblymember Salas said business owners across the state have anecdotally seen an increase in theft since Proposition 47 passed, sharing that businesses are seeing people coming in and stealing “because they know there’s no real repercussions.” He also cited a recent UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll that showed public interest in reforming Proposition 47. The report revealed “two-to-one” support among voters to amend the measure.
“When I’m talking to law enforcement locally, when I’m talking to the business owners, when I’m talking to customers, they say, ‘Look, when the threshold was lower at $400, we didn’t see the problems that we see now,’” Mr. Salas said during Tuesday’s hearing.
“I believe this is a step in the right direction,” he later added.
The bill received pushback from several opposition groups who said rolling back the felony threshold could impact rates of recidivism or relapses in criminal behavior. Officials speaking in opposition pointed to the funding Proposition 47 provides for public agencies that provide treatment and diversion programs for people in the criminal justice system, which they say helps reduce recidivism.
The bill was also opposed by Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, chair of the Public Safety Committee, who said Tuesday that lowering the threshold could lead to a rise in the state’s prison population.
“We really have to be concerned about the number of people that law enforcement will go after to fill the prisons. That is not a solution,” Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer said. “That is what lowering the threshold will ultimately do, is just fill the prisons again.”
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.