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My Shadow Ballot

October 30, 2016

There are 17 ballot initiatives for this election in California.  At this rate, California needs to change its flag, not only because it completely violates rule number 4 of good flag design, but also because that writing is becoming completely false.  A republic, as you all know, is a type of governmental system wherein the public elect individuals to go to create laws in their stead.  In other words, I vote that you, someone whom I trust and who I know will dedicate the time and effort to do the job properly,  and who has the knowledge to do just that, to go create the laws that will govern this land.  Ballot initiatives are doing an end run around this.

I am not a fan on the whole of ballot initiatives.  One, because they undermine the idea of a Republic.  Two, because often they cannot be amended except by another ballot initiative – meaning they become inflexible bits of the system.  Three, they are ripe for trickery and hoodwinking.  And four, and most importantly, is their isolationism.  Something may sound good in isolation, but once it gets into the complex system that is our society and our governance, they may and often do not play well.  They have unintended consequences, unbalance things, and worst of all can tie the hand of the legislators.  If you have four ballot initiatives all saying “X% of revenues must go to this/these specific things”, then next thing you realize most of the $ is allocated and can’t be adjusted to account for changing situations.

And when you have both trickery and hand tying, they can get really deleterious fast (and then you’re stuck because of needing another initiative to change it).

With that said, there are 17 ballot initiatives this election.  So here’s my shadow ballot.

“Since I can’t vote, please allow me to tell you how to vote instead…”

Also, needless to say, this will be a long post…

 

51 – School Bonds. Funding for K-12 School and Community College Facilities.

Fixing schools.  Helping community colleges.  Seems good.  And local school bond initiatives have been largely successful over the past few years.

But this is a state-wide initiative, and, most interestingly, it didn’t come from the legislature (as they have in the past), but instead came from  private companies, largely the California Building Industry Association.  And, the text of the bond specifically bars amendment to a couple of other laws, and appropriates money from the general fund to pay off the bonds.

I recommend voting NO on this proposition.  I like the idea of state-funded bonds that can help lower-income districts (who themselves cannot raise much bond money from the local area), but this bond measure provides no method for ensuring those districts get priority and instead bars amendment of any procedures that could help that kind of distribution.  Even as an architect, I don’t want this kind of end-run to create a block of money that will get funneled to the building industry.   NO

 

52 – State Fees on Hospitals. Federal Medi-Cal Matching Funds.

This is about an existing funding system already in place, extending it indefinitely while also putting a limit on how easily the legislature can tap into that existing funding system to put the money elsewhere.  The main opposition (who, interestingly, shifted their stance from negative to neutral recently) are concerned that there’s no oversight on the funds going to the hospital.  However, I’d say that’s pretty typical of all money going to an institution, and hospitals are no exception.  And while I prefer ballot initiatives that do not set strict funding guidelines, this is a fee for a purpose and it seems to me that fee should be used for that purpose (and it isn’t a hard limit – the legislature can divert funds with a supermajority vote).

I recommend voting YES on this proposition.  The system, as it runs right now, seems to run quite well.  Let’s let it continue for a while.  YES.

 

53 – Voter Approval Requirement for Revenue Bonds above $2 Billion

General bonds by the State, paid for by general tax revenue, require voter approval.  Revenue bonds by the State, paid for by special and specific fees, currently do not.  This proposal wants to add a state-wide election for revenue bonds totaling over $2b in size.

While oversight and a chance to review big proposals sounds good, there are several problems with this initiative.  For one, it applies to even local bonds.  This means if a few counties get together to pass a bond for a project in their local area, the entire state electorate would HAVE to vote on that bond.  Besides costing money to administer, this means a project could be rejected by people not even in the local area.  That’s a poorly designed initiative.  Plus, there’s no exemption for emergency situations – delaying funds until said state-wide election could be held.

I recommend voting NO on this proposition.  If you read the support for the initiative, it reads like someone who’s upset about certain projects.  I got it, they’re upset, and maybe something needs to be revisited, but this initiative creates way more issues and potential pitfalls than it purports to solve.  NO.

 

54 – Public Display of Legislative Bills Prior to Vote

In a nutshell, this requires that the legislature must post live and archived video of all public proceedings, and no bill can be voted on without being published to the public for 72 hours.  This one is a bit of a toughie.  On the surface, sounds great.  I’m surprised not all public hearings/meetings are not already made available for download/viewing.  And waiting 72h before voting on a bill sounds like a way to avoid stuffing in (unrelated) amendments as riders that do end-runs around due process.  On the other hand, though, this is politics – 72 hours gives times for lobbyists to come in and try to influence bills they don’t like, every change in punctuation in a bill will ensure a 3-day delay in voting making things even slower, and if anyone can record any public hearing, expect quick twitter out-of-context video loops that reduce our political process to even more of a circus.

I recommend voting YES on this proposition.  With the exception of the 3-day delay for punctuation changes, the other two downsides point to bigger issues that need to be dealt with beyond just this proposition:  campaign financing and media/social media bullshittery.  And always aim for extra transparency.  YES.

 

55 – Extension of the Proposition 30 Income Tax Increase

Another extension of an existing measure, and another ballot talking about schools/colleges.  The main argument by the opponents that “Prop 30 was supposed to be a temporary tax, this is reneging on that and is making them permanent!” is bogus to me.  For one, this is a 12 year extension, and two, getting a chance to vote to extend something isn’t reneging at all.  It’s another choice.  If the majority wants it to end, it will end.  That argument is invalid.

That said, there’s other things I’m not so keen on.  It’s another initiative that allocates fixed percentages to fixed purposes.  Over half of the state budget already goes to education.  And it may give legislators a pass on having to do the hard work of re-working the tax code to properly enshrine new brackets and a broader base from all sectors.

I recommend voting NO on this proposition.  Put this back in the hands of the legislators, who we elect to make policy, and give them the push to tackle the base issues while giving them the flexibility needed to properly run a state.  NO.

 

56 – Tobacco Tax Increase

Short and sweet on this one.  Raises taxes on tobacco (currently California’s rate is quite low vis-à-vis other states) and e-cigarettes.  Money goes primarily to low-income healthcare, and a handful towards prevention and disease research.

I recommend voting YES on this proposition.  I’m not fully onboard with the percentages of allocation, but increasing a use tax to decrease consumption of a product that harms not only the user but also bystanders, creates non-biodegradable waste that gets washed into our waterways, and creates a drain on medical spending, all sounds good.  YES

 

57 – Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements

Harsh sentencing laws created not only an overcrowding problem that has led to California being sanctioned for violating the 8th amendment of the US constitution, but also has the effect of reducing the effectiveness of incarceration as a means of giving the guilty a chance to redirect their life path.  Indiscretion gets turned into a major life setback that creates conditions that push towards future and further indiscretions and worse.  This initiative provides parole relief for nonviolent, nonserious crimes and misdemeanors, and provides an incentive for the incarcerated towards rehabilitative achievements.

Opponents of this bill have trotted out the familiar “murderers will be let loose onto the streets!”  A more measured criticism is that the initiative doesn’t define what nonviolent is – thus potentially allowing for some intoxication sexual assault cases, for example, to come in front of the parole board.  In addition, there is concern at the requirement that the board look at credits for good behaviour.  However, the key here is that all these cases are coming before a parole board – it’s not an automatic pass.  The board still has its say.  In addition, the language in the proposition specifically states that the inmate can apply to the parole board only after ALL of the primary sentence has been served.  If someone has a 20 year sentence, plus four more for something else, by my read they still need to serve out that 20 year sentence.

I recommend voting YES on this proposition.  Crime is a touchy subject.  And I fully believe that there’s a distinction between punishment/consequences and retribution/infliction.  These people will be release some day, and this gives a better chance that when they are released, whether after their primary sentence or beyond, they’ll be ready to live in society.  YES.

 

58 – Non-English languages allowed in Public Education.

I had a non-english-only education.  I grew up in a primarily english speaking region, yet I was in french immersion education (really until the end of Grade 8, after which the hourly amount of french per week greatly diminished until the end of high school).  And I assure you, I speak english quite well.

Of course, my Canadian upbringing (in a multicultural society) is different than the experience here in California.  That said, I think my experience is valuable here.

From what I gather, there were problems with the children of immigrants who were not gaining a good grasp of english which lead to the previous proposition, 227, that all but eliminated anything but english-immersion type of schooling.  If so, that is a problem.  But let’s be clear:  there’s a distinction between well-designed bilingual education, and poorly-designed education.

I recommend voting YES on this proposition.  Prop 227 was an overreach that disallows the freedom to design programs  that help bridge the gap for english learners, while also making difficult immersion programs for native english speakers (like the popular Mandarin immersion programs).  It’s also written such that it can be amended by the legislature, so nothing here is locked in place if it isn’t working out.  Time to progress forward.  YES

 

59 – Overturn of Citizens United Act Advisory Question

Whether the US supreme court’s Citizens United decision was constitutionally appropriate or not (it could be that the US constitution is written in a way that makes corporations equivalent to a person – if so, the constitution is poorly written in this regard) the upshot is (I’d assert) a deleterious effect on politics and the governance of the country.  Unlimited money flowing in, especially in the form of corporate contributions (siphoning money from their employees and customers who may not agree with the policies being supported) and the effective nobility (those who can spend a lot of $ to get their laws passed), is a problem.

I recommend voting YES on this proposition.  The state of affairs seem so contrary to a country so vocal about its revolutionary nature of governance.  There’s nothing in this proposition that immediately rectifies the situation, but it advises the state legislature to use whatever means it can muster to work to overturn the Citizens United ruling.  YES.

 

60 – Condoms in Pornographic Films

So, CalOSHA already requires condom use during filming.   And this initiative was written by the same author as prop 61 (see below).  And like 61, on the surface it sounds good, and I like requiring producers to pay for testing, exams, and even some licensing requirements (like food there’s some health issues here).  But the details of this proposal leaves open a lot of potential downsides that would be counterproductive to actually making things safer, and could leave performers open to harassment.  In addition, it creates a new private right of action that can lead to a whole raft of lawsuits.

I recommend voting NO on this proposition.  Badly written and open to abuse.  Major LGBT and sex health organizations have stated their opposition.  Doesn’t do what it purports to.  NO.

 

61 – State Prescription Drug Purchases. Pricing Standards.

This is a proposal that, on the surface, sounds good, especially at a time where many drug companies are (quite rightfully) being skewered for dramatically (and unnecessarily) raising prices .  Drug prices make up some a large percentage of healthcare costs.  Profit margins at pharmaceutical companies are some of the highest of any sector.

The surface, though, doesn’t tell the whole story here.  Especially when the author of the proposition wrote the law in a way that exempts his own medical organization from having to comply with the law.  Wait, what?

Add to this that the mechanism indicated – this very limited rule about having to match a particular other agency’s pricing – guarantees nothing and could easily find prices increasing (even for the other agency!), could lead to certain drugs not being able to be purchased, puts the state in many catch-22 tricky situations, is vague in key areas, and a whole raft of other things that doesn’t make for good policy.

I recommend voting NO on this proposition.  Overall, it’s not a well written or reasoned initiative.  Pharmaceutical prices and price gouging are a big problem, and I’ll talk all day about healthcare issues in this country, but this is not the way to do it.  NO.

 

62 – Repeal of the Death Penalty (& 66 – Death Penalty Procedures)

These need to be talked about together, as they’re competing initiatives.  Broadly put, 62 eliminates the death penalty in California.  66 seeks to make deaths happen quicker.  If both pass, the one with the highest number of votes will “win” and be enacted.

The death penalty.  The ultimate ‘sanction’.  And an undoable sanction.  Given justice issues we’ve seen arise lately, given the disproportionate incarceration of various groups and disproportionate sentencing even for similar crimes, and given the number of executions of the innocent we’ve learned of (and there are likely many more we haven’t yet learned of – a recent scholarly paper put it at 1 in 25 of convictions), and given even botched executions, it’s very compelling to me that killing people as a form of justice is not a good idea.

Even more so, is I strongly question the actual deterrent effect of a death penalty – most who are intent on killing are beyond being swayed by capital punishment, there’s already enough going on there that a death penalty would receive little consideration.  Even so, many more would likely think they’d never get caught anyway.  For the victim’s families, justice and closure can be more readily attained by life in prison.

I recommend voting YES on this proposition.  As noted before, crime is a touchy subject, and the death penalty even more so.  The death penalty, however, does not aid in the pursuit of justice.   It does not deter, and its “impact on helping families ‘heal'” is less than that of a life sentence.  In addition, the net effect of a life sentence is the same (the perpetrator is forever removed from society).  There’s no solace in righteous fire.  YES.

 

63 – Background Checks on Ammunition Purchases & Large Capacity Magazine Ban

I’m very down the middle about this one.  There are bits of it I really like, but there are bits of it I’m dubious as to their effectiveness.  Plus, I don’t see why this couldn’t be done as legislation (and this one seems written in a way that cannot be amended by the legislature).  For that last reason, I’d default more towards no, given my ambivalence about the rest.

No recommendation.

 

64 – Marijuana Legalization

First up, let me say that I am not a fan of weed, nor of the use of weed.  Nor am I a fan of the idea of going out frequently to get rip-roaringly drunk.  But alcohol is legal, and there are some strong arguments that, health, accident, and behaviour wise, it could be more dangerous than weed.  Inhaling smoke isn’t good, of course… but cigarettes are legal, so… same deal.

It is in this light that I’m in favour of decriminalization or legalization.  If we’re not going to forbid the others, then let’s treat weed the same way.  Additionally, it seems redonkulously easy to get weed in the state right now.  This prohibition seems marginally effective at best.  So, let’s regulate it and tax it and remove the incentive for criminal activity.

About those taxes – they are allocated to very specific things.  Some are kinda nice – a specific amount for research into the law’s impacts such that change recommendations can be made is a good way to keep an eye on things and provides a method of adjustment, and a  sizable chunk goes to prevent and alleviate environmental damage from growers.  But the rest is all siloed.  I’d prefer some/more goes towards the general fund, just like the alcohol taxes can/do.  This is bringing some retail activity back into the legal fold, and just like sales taxes, it’d be good that there’s some discretion allowed in how to use these funds.

The weirdest bit in the proposition is that it creates no DUI limit, only a ‘study’ of whether it affects driving.  Since we’re already creating panels to study things, why not put in a limit now and have it be revisited once impairment is more properly ascertained?  The second is that this allows for weed adverts, which , given the smoking tie, is unfortunate.

I recommend voting YES on this proposition.  I’m a bit torn, for it’s not exactly what I would want (and the backers of the bill consider the specific siloing of funds as a feature, not a bug…), but there’s nothing here that cannot be amended, including DUI and advertising restrictions, and many local controls appear to be maintained.  I myself will never take ‘advantage’ of this change, but enforcement has had many deleterious effects for a product that is on par with other legal damaging products.  Time to put the prohibition aside and focus on help and more serious drugs/crimes/etc.  YES.

 

65 – Dedication of Revenue from Disposable Bag Sales to Wildlife Conservation Fund (& 67, Plastic Ban Veto)

A pair of interlocking propositions, and written very confusingly.  Go to my take on 67 for what that’s all about.  It’s quick.

This one is also pretty quick.  Remember Prop 60 and 61, sounding good and yet… ?  These are the great exemplifiers of why ballot initiatives are such poor ways to make policy.  This sounds good:  take the money retailers have to charge for brown bags, and turn it into a tax (rather than revenue for the stores).  And then silo that tax into environmental efforts.

Hey, I love the environment, and this sounds great.  But why then was it created and is being funded by six disposable plastic bag manufacturers?  Because, and this is key, as the legislative analyst has found, the language in 65 could be interpreted by the courts as preventing a state wide ban on plastic bags.  And I bet six ways to sunday that the minute this passes (if 67 doesn’t pass) that this will be in the courts for just that reason, and we’ll spend years and bullshit amounts of money to keep the ban in place.

I recommend voting NO on this proposition.  Disposable plastic bags are a scourge of the waterways, among other things.  This is an attempt to wrangle around that with a deceptively worded/managed proposition.  NO.

 

66 – Death Penalty Procedures

See prop 62 above.

I recommend voting NO on this proposition.  NO.

 

67 – Plastic Bag Veto Referendum

Ok, this one is weirdly titled, because it’s actually about ratifying an already passed senate bill that bans most single-use disposable plastic bags.  But, due to legislative procedures,  that’s the bill name we got.  And as I said in my thoughts on 65, this one is a quick and easy one for me.

I recommend voting YES on this proposition.  Disposable plastic bags are a scourge of the waterways, among other things.  This vote is only required because of a lawsuit.  Local bans have proven effective.  Let’s make it statewide.  YES.

 

And there you have it.  A super-gaggle of propositions.   On the whole, I’d prefer if more of these were done via the standard legislative process.  But here they are, and those are my assessments of them as they are written.

Thank you for reading!

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