Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Should California reduce penalties for nonviolent crimes?

In November, voters will be asked to weigh in on Proposition 47, which would reduce some petty crimes – such as shoplifting less than $950 worth of merchandise and possession of cocaine or heroin – from felonies to misdemeanors.

The goal of the initiative is to cut the state prison population, saving potentially hundreds of millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent incarcerating criminals. An estimated 40,000 offenders would be affected by Proposition 47 annually, instead serving time in county jails or facing no significant time behind bars. The savings would be used for truancy and dropout prevention programs, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and victim services.

Law enforcement groups oppose the measure, arguing it could hurt public safety, but have raised little for their effort. Meanwhile, big money is pouring into the yes campaign, including six-figure contributions from Public Storage executive B. Wayne Hughes, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame.

The state Senate and Assembly public safety committees will hold a joint informational hearing on Proposition 47, starting at noon in Room 4203 of the Capitol. After an overview from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, supporters including San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, and opponents such as Harriet Salarno, chair of Crime Victims United, will provide testimony on the measure.

VIDEO: Dan Walters considers the potentially groundbreaking ramifications of a court decision that public pensions do not have special protection in bankruptcy proceedings.

LET’S TALK IT OUT: Plans are set for a debate between Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and Republican challenger Doug Ose on Oct. 8. Find out more about how you can attend at We’re asking readers to help us develop the questions that the candidates will be asked. To submit a question, email

NOBODY PUTS BABY IN THE CORNER: A major push by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to expand pre-kindergarten to all California four-year-olds ended in June with a budget deal creating new preschool programs for low-income children. Steinberg and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will appear at Ralph Hawley Elementary School in Emeryville at 2 p.m. to announce 7,500 new preschool slots funded by the agreement.

HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?: Why did voter turnout hit a record low in the June primary? Does voting still matter? Village Square Sacramento hosts a panel discussion on “surrendering democracy, one vote at a time,” 6 p.m. at the Pannell Community Center on Meadowview Road in Sacramento, featuring Cassandra Pye, former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; Sacramento City College Dean Art Pimentel; and Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project.