A quick rundown of the 2020 California ballot measures

Though the presidential race is always the primary focus of every general election, it is only one of at least two dozen items that appear on the big ballot every four years.

This is the time of the election cycle when everybody from elected officials to celebrities are urging voters to complete their civic duty and cast their ballots. In a year with fake drop-off boxes and efforts to suppress the vote are rampant, civic responsibility has never been more consequential.

Those who have received their ballots in the mail (or have already voted early) know that the California ballot is extensive, and each item that needs a vote is just as crucial as the race to the White House.

A majority “yes” vote approves these propositions while a majority “no” rejects them. Here’s a quick guide to the 11 ballot measures for California.

The ones you’ve seen on TV

Proposition 14: Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative

As expected from the title, this ballot measure, if approved, would send $5.5 billion in general obligation bonds for the state’s stem cell research institute, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

The increased funds to the CIRM — which would come from investors who would be reimbursed over the next 30 years through taxpayers — would expand research capacity and allocate $1.5 billion for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, epilepsy and other neurological and nervous system illnesses.

The CIRM was established in 2004 as the first-of-its-kind state-sanctioned stem cell agency and was issued $3 billion in bonds. By October 2019, the CIRM had $132 million remaining and earlier in July 2019, the CIRM had seized applications for new projects because funds were drying up.

Supporters — including the CIRM, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the University of California Board of Regents (UC labs and hospitals are a primary beneficiary of the CIRM) — maintain that stem cell research has led to increased understanding of diseases that affect millions of families, biotech jobs and careers and clinical trials over the last 16 years.

But opponents of the bill — including the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle editorial boards and Jeff Sheehy, board member of the CIRM — argued that the lack of advancement in stem cell research to find cures doesn’t warrant an increase in funding.

California originally established the CIRM as a response to then-President George W. Bush’s ban on federal funding for stem cell research, and opponents also argue a state-funded institute is no longer necessary.

As previously reported in the Asian Journal, the systems in which individuals donate stem cells is largely homogenous with ethnic groups — like Filipinos — vastly underrepresented, making it difficult for patients of color to successfully find matches needed for potentially life-saving transplants.

Prop 16: Restoring affirmative action

Prop 16 would allow universities, government offices and other public sectors to factor in a prospect’s race, ethnicity or gender in admissions, spending and hiring.

In 1996, California voters approved a ballot proposition that prohibits affirmative action and put in place “race-neutral” policies. If passed, Prop 16 would reverse Prop 209.

Prop 16 was inspired by the recent civil rights discourse following the killings of unarmed Black Americans, which catalyzed a national overview of whether or not systemic racism does exist within bureaucracies. Supporters of Prop 16 — which includes California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Cal State University (CSU)  and University of California (UC) systems argue that structural racism exists and it is propagated by color-blind approaches and philosophies.

Examples of how Prop 16 may work, according to a recent virtual roundtable of Asian American business owners and experts: state offices would be allowed to establish goals for how many government contracts they grant to people of color-owned and women-owned businesses.

In schools, principals of schools with a majority Black student body but majority white teaching pool may seek out Black teachers and teachers of color to more accurately represent the students they teach.

Despite what opposers have argued, affirmative action would not induct quotas in university admissions since the U.S. Supreme Court banned those in 1978. But the opposition — which includes the California Republican Party and Chinese American Civic Action Alliance — still argues that allowing institutions to make decisions based on demographic identifiers is discrimination in itself.

Prop 22: Protect-App-Based Drivers and Services Act

One of the most advertised propositions to appear on this year’s ballot, Prop 22 would exclude gig companies — particularly ride-share and delivery companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart — from a new state law that requires these companies to treat their workers as employees.

The massive advertising comes from the combined $185 million spent by these companies to support Prop 22. These San Francisco-based companies have been fighting to keep their drivers and couriers as independent contractors, arguing it provides workers with flexible schedules and customers rides at low prices.

In January, the state passed a law that required former contract workers in several industries to be categorized as employees which granted them the right to overtime pay, health care benefits, paid sick leave, unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation.

Currently, drivers and couriers who work for gig companies are treated like independent contractors. If this measure passes, these companies would keep workers classified as contractors and grant them a tapered set of benefits, including a salary of at least 120% of minimum wage, health care subsidies and accident insurance.

While proponents argue that such jobs were never meant to be full time positions, opponents argue that the measure would impede on job security during a time when unemployment is rampant. Opposers argue that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the job market and further proved the necessity of the state law that would provide workers with paid sick leave and unemployment insurance.

The fiscal impact of Prop 22 would be “minor increases in state income taxes paid by rideshare and delivery company drivers and investors.”

Prop 23: Dialysis Clinic Requirements Initiative

This ballot measure would “require chronic dialysis clinics to: have an on-site physician while patients are being treated; report data on dialysis-related infections; obtain consent from the state health department before closing a clinic and not discriminate against patients based on the source of payment.”

In other words, this proposal promises a safeguard for clinics at risk of being closed, an increase in transparency between clinics and state health departments and networks and to be more inclusive regarding the payment of a patient’s treatment.

The coronavirus pandemic has already made it difficult to access health care and specialized treatment, both of which are deemed essential services that have remained open throughout the various phases of safer-at-home policy. About 80,000 Californians receive dialysis treatment three days a week in 4-hour sessions, and missing a treatment could increase a patient’s risk of death by 30%, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Prop 23 supporters — which includes the California Democratic Party and California Labor Federation — argue that the measure ensures that clinics are inclusive to all budgets and protected from closures the same way hospitals are currently. (State approval is needed to close or reduce services of a hospital, and Prop 23 supporters say this measure will hold dialysis clinics “to the same standard.”)

Opposers of Prop 23 — which includes the California Medical Association, California Hospital Association and the Renal Physicians Association — argue that the ballot measure is a special interest plan that does not require the on-site physician administrator “to have specialty training in kidney care of dialysis,” the No on Prop 23 campaign said.

“Every dialysis patient is under the care of a physician kidney specialist, and dialysis treatments are administered by specially-trained nurses and technicians. It makes no sense to require physician administrators on site full-time,” said Dr. Jeffrey Perlmutter, president of the Renal Physicians Association.

According to the ballot initiative’s text, the fiscal impact would be an increase in “state and local government costs likely in the low tens of millions of dollars annually.”

The ones that would expand votership

Prop 17: Voting Rights Restoration for Persons on Parole Amendment

Allowing former convicts the right to vote has been among the most contentious issues in contemporary electoral discourse. Prop 17 would allow Californians on parole to vote.
Supporters like Gov. Gavin Newsom, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the League of Women Voters in California argue that civic engagement would reduce recidivism and give former convicts an opportunity to de-stigmatize their past.

“Parole by definition is not punishment — it’s to help reintegrate people back into the mainstream,” Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) told CalMatters, adding that individuals who finish their sentences should be able to contribute to a democracy.

The opposition, however, prefers a longer period of rehabilitation for parolees before they are granted the right to vote. Violent offenders must prove they’ve effectively evolved beyond their criminal past. Republican State Sen. Jim Nielsen of Yolo County said that the victims of these crimes “cannot so blithely put the crimes behind them.”

The fiscal impact of Prop 17 would be an increase in county costs — estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars across California — for voter registration and ballot materials. There would also likely be a one-time cost (similarly in the hundreds of thousands) to update voter registration cards and the electoral system.

Prop 18: Primary Voting for 17-Year-Olds Amendment

As stated in the title, Prop 18 would allow 17-year-olds who turn 18 “at the time of the general election to vote in primary and special elections.” It would also allow 17-year-olds who are eligible to vote to seek office as current law states that only registered voters are allowed to run for elected office.

Supporters of this proposition say that this could be a solution to the historically low voter turnout among 18 to 24 year olds. This could be a way to increase interest and excitement for civic participation at a young age and cultivate a more engaged young adult electorate. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the ACLU and the California Association of Student Councils all support the initiative.

“Young people whose birthdays fall between the primary and general election are currently at a disadvantage to those who are permitted to vote in the primaries,” the California Association of Student Councils wrote. “Without full exposure to the electoral process, they are unable to submit their most educated vote in the general election.”

However, opponents like the Election Integrity Project California, an academic non-profit group dedicated to “electoral integrity,” argue that 17-year-olds are still minors and are biologically not fully developed. They argue that 17-year-olds still need guardian approval for other legal contracts and certain activities and voting should be no different.

“They are almost all still living at home and under the strong influence of their parents,” the Election Integrity Project California wrote in their argument. “This is not conducive to independent thought and voting without undue pressure from their immediate superiors.

Just like Prop 17, if passed, the fiscal impact of Prop 18 would include a one-time cost in the hundreds of thousands to update voter registration systems. It would also likely lead to an increased cost for counties of up to $1 million every two years, which is needed to send and process voting materials to eligible 17-year-olds, the ballot measure said.

The ones regarding criminal justice and privacy

Prop 20: Criminal Sentencing, Parole and DNA Collection Initiative

For those who have committed certain property crimes and repeatedly violated parole, Prop 20 would tighten the eligibility criteria for early parole and release from prison.
Specifically, prosecutors would be allowed categorized property crimes of more than $250, crimes that would include “serial shoplifting” and car theft, as felonies rather than misdemeanors. It would also impose increased penalties to former convicts who violate their terms of release three times, increasing the frequency of recidivism.

Police would also be required to collect DNA samples from those convicted of certain misdemeanors like shoplifting, forgery and illegal drug possession that would be kept in a state database.

Supporters of this measure argue that the state has been lax on criminal justice, particularly when California downgraded many property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, which they say led to an increase of car thefts and shoplifting.

The bipartisan support for Prop 20 includes Assemblymembers Jim Cooper (D-Sacramento) and Vince Fong (R-San Joaquin Valley) who argue the state went too far when it increased opportunities for “non-violent felons.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, the ACLU, the California Teachers Association and the Chief Probation Officers of California all oppose Prop 20, arguing that the stringent “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach didn’t cut crime but instead inflated the state prison’s budget.

The penal system disproportionately harms the overrepresented Black and Latino community, which presents a civil rights slant to the issue, supporters say.

The costs of Prop 20 would include increased state and local correctional, court and law enforcement expenses in the tens of millions of dollars annually to support increases in county jail populations and community supervision.

Prop 24: Consumer Personal Information Law and Agency Initiative

This bill, in short, would tighten privacy law in California. Specifically, the bill would create a new state agency that enforces privacy law, conducts investigations into potential privacy violators and oversees penalties to violators.

This bill would also give consumers the right to tell businesses to limit their use of sensitive data in their systems (like geographic location, demographic identifiers, health, etc) and prohibit businesses from storing this data for long periods of time.

The government would also impose fines of up to $7,500 to companies that violate children’s privacy rights. Supporters of the bill argue that this gives consumers more agency over their personal data by limiting the use of location tracking and other sensitive information.

However, the opposition posits that data privacy law, especially as it pertains to technology, is still in its infancy and should not be changed so hastily. They argue that parts of Prop 24 would hurt consumers, specifically through stifling a rule that allows workers to know what information employers are collecting about them.

With the new state agency and the increased operations, the fiscal impact of Prop 24 would be at least $10 million annually and increased state costs for increased court and Dept. of Justice responsibilities.

Prop 25: Replace Cash Bail with Risk Assessments Referendum

Among the most talked-about issues during the primary election season, the cash bail system has been criticized for favoring criminal suspects who can afford to make bail and punishing those who cannot.

After a suspect is arrested, they are held in jail. Sometimes, a cash bail is imposed upon them, and if they’re able to afford it, they are released from jail awaiting trial. But this system puts at a disadvantage poorer Californians who often either have to pay bail bond companies or sit in jail for the duration until their trial.

Essentially, Prop 25 would uphold a 2018 law signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown that would have replaced cash bail with a “risk-based algorithm” — or, a method to gauge a person’s risk for not appearing at trial. In essence, the higher the risk, the less likely they’ll be released from jail. Almost immediately, bail bonds companies challenged the law. Now, it’s up to voters to decide

Supporters of Prop 25 — Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Medical Association and Service Employees International Union — argue that the cash bail system is classist, unfair and, ultimately, racist.

If two people charged with the same crime are put in jail, one who has generation wealth and one who is lower-income, the wealthier one who can afford to make bail will be able to go home that same night. The lower income one would likely not, even though they were charged with the same crime.

The opposition to Prop 25 is varied. The California Peace Officers’ Association and the California Bail Agents Association both argue that the proposed alternative to cash bail is more costly and no better than the current system.They also warn that if more people are freed before trial, there could be an increase of crime.

Civil rights organizations like the California State Conference of the NAACP and Human Rights Watch argue that the risk-based algorithm is flawed and the factors associated with this method could still put people of color at a disadvantage.

The fiscal impact is estimated to be an increase of costs in the mid hundreds of millions of dollars annually for a new release-from-jail-prior-to-trial process. Likewise, jail costs would potentially decrease by tens of millions of dollars every year.

The ones concerning housing and property taxes

Prop 19: the Property Tax Transfers, Exemptions and Revenue for Wildfire Agencies and Counties Amendment

Under Prop 19, Californians aged 55 or older would be granted a property tax break when purchasing a new home. In California, the cost of living is astronomical for new homeowners because property taxes are calculated based on the value of the home when it was bought, not on its current market value. So when Californians buy a new home, their property taxes skyrocket.

That’s why Baby Boomers who bought homes in the 1970s to the 1990s pay lower property taxes than younger families who bought homes of the same size and quality in the last 10 years.

Prop 19 would also do away with the inheritance tax break to allocate more funds to local and state fire departments and schools, the initiative says.

According to the measure’s fiscal impact statement, local governments, schools and fire protection agencies could each gain tens of millions of dollars of property tax revenue each year.

Prop 19 would allow the older homeowners to buy a new house and still pay relatively low property taxes. In addition to benefiting older homeowners, supporters say this actually benefits new homeowners because it provides an incentive for seniors to downsize, vacating an older home to younger owners.

Supporters of the bill include Gov. Gavin Newsom, California Professional Firefighters and the California Association of Realtors, while opposers include Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Prop 21: Local Rent Control Initiative

Housing (or, difficult accessibility thereof) is one of the longest standing pressing issues plaguing California. The pandemic has upended this issue, leading to many families being evicted and losing their homes.

Prop 21 is an effort to alleviate the many renters woes of the Golden State. This measure would allow cities to pass rent control measures on nearly all rental units as long as the properties are more than 15 years old.

Last year, the state passed a law that capped rent increases at 8%, but that didn’t get rid of an older state law that prohibits cities from enacting their own, tighter rent control laws for rental units that were first occupied in the last 25 years. The law passed last year also didn’t prevent landlords from raising the rent for new tenants to keep up with the market.

The fiscal impact would likely be a reduction in state and local revenues in the high tens of millions of dollars annually. This, according to the Legislative Analyst’s office, would be because landlords would pay lower property taxes.

Supporters of this measure include the California Democratic Party and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (who supports strict rent control laws) who say that cities should be able to enact their own limits to rent increases as a way to reduce homelessness and gentrification, particularly in California’s metro areas.

But the opposition — including Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Apartment Association — argues that Prop 21 takes away an incentive for builders to construct more housing at a time when more housing is needed.

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