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Backer of California retail theft reform initiative calls new Democratic effort "dirty politics"

Retail theft political rift plays out at California State Capitol
Retail theft political rift plays out at California State Capitol 02:28

SACRAMENTO — There is a retail theft political rift playing out at the California State Capitol along with claims of dirty politics.

Backers of a proposed statewide ballot initiative to toughen retail theft laws say a new legislative tactic by Democrats could kill their effort.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and other Democratic lawmakers are fast-tracking bills this week that they think are better than the Prop 47 reform ballot measure.

Democratic lawmakers have also implemented a controversial tactic, which they defended at a press conference Monday, to add what opponents call a "poison pill" amendment that could repeal the very laws they want to pass.

"There are no poison pills," Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas said at the conference. "It's a very misleading talking point, to be honest with you."

Prop 47 was passed by California voters in 2014 and loosened penalties for non-violent property crimes and drug possession.

Retail thefts and the high-profile viral surveillance videos showing the brazen robberies have spurred California district attorneys and law enforcement to campaign for a statewide ballot initiative to reform Prop 47, adding the possibility of felony charges for repeat offenders.  

The push to reform Prop 47 is called the The Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act.. It claims Prop 47 in its current form has increased homelessness, drug addiction, and theft across the state.

Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig helped craft the proposed statewide initiative.

"This is just dirty politics. It's underhanded, and it's specifically designed clearly to sabotage the initiative," Reisig said. "The clear intent of the poison pill is to sabotage the initiative."

Now, Democratic lawmakers are crafting their own separate urgency retail theft legislation, only adding the so-called poison pill amendment inoperability, or poison pill amendment, stating that if voters pass the state initiative to reform Prop 47, their own legislative reforms would be immediately repealed.

Steve Maviglio is a Democratic strategist who said that while this tactic may be unpopular, it can be effective for Democrats concerned that the ballot initiative would lead to a return of mass incarceration in the state.

"A poison pill in legislation is designed to essentially kill something that they don't like," Maviglio said. "The goal is to confuse voters so they vote no."

The amendments are set to be formally added in committee meetings on Tuesday. Then, we will see how lawmakers vote on the changes and what the fallout could look like.

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