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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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California Senate advances ‘Safer California Plan’

The package of bills makes changes to several aspects of the Golden State's policies on drugs and theft.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — The California Senate on Wednesday passed a swath of bills dubbed the Safer California Plan, an attempt to address the fentanyl and retail theft crises roiling the state.

The 15 bills, touted as bipartisan by leadership, touch on tweaking the law for vehicle break-ins, adding a drug used by veterinarians to the state’s controlled-substances list and ensuring that treatment courts like drug or DUI courts use best practices, among other changes.

The legislation now advances to the Assembly.

“Today, what we’re going to hear is about real solutions,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Mike McGuire, a North Coast Democrat.

Ten of the bills are aimed at curbing fentanyl’s rise. The other five involve the deterrence and prosecution of retail theft.

Senate Bill 905 — written by state Senator Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat — removes the locked-door loophole that’s stymied prosecutors. According to Wiener, a prosecutor must prove a vehicle was locked to secure an auto burglary conviction. That’s difficult, as sometimes people don’t remember if they locked their car, or the vehicle was a rental and the driver has returned home after vacation.

The bill also would make it a crime to possess over $950 in items taken from auto burglaries with the intent to sell them, even if the items were taken in different thefts.

“The level of auto burglary in California is unacceptable, and we need to remove senseless barriers to tackling it,” Wiener said in a statement.

State Senator Angelique Ashby, a Sacramento Democrat, wrote Senate Bill 1502, which makes xylazine a Schedule III drug under the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

Xylazine, called “tranq” or “zombie drug,” is often mixed with fentanyl, making a potent and dangerous combination.

Senate Bill 910 — written by Tom Umberg, a Santa Ana Democrat, would ensure treatment courts use best practices.

Many counties have treatment courts that are an alternative to traditional criminal courts. In treatment courts, someone is steered through a rigorous process. Once done, their criminal charges are often shelved.

Other bills that are part of the Safer California Plan include Senate Bill 1144 — written by state Senator Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat. It affects online marketplaces, where Skinner said many stolen goods are sold.

Existing law requires people who use those marketplaces to provide information like business licenses and tax identification. However, current law falls short, if money is exchanged outside of that marketplace.

Skinner’s bill expands an online marketplace’s duty to collect certain information from high-volume, third-party sellers — someone who sells at least $5,000 worth of product over a minimum of 2,000 transactions in a year.

Legislation from state Senator Dave Min — an Irvine Democrat — addresses arsons during the commission of retail theft. Senate Bill 1242 would make reckless arson an aggravating factor in sentencing, if it was done to facilitate retail theft.

Other bills in the package remove a sunset to the crime of organized retail theft, pre-enroll inmates into benefit programs before their release from prison, and authorize the California Health and Human Services Agency to build partnerships for the manufacture or purchase of point-of-care tests for fentanyl.

McGuire emphasized that none of the bills passed Wednesday revise Proposition 47. That proposition, passed by voters in 2014, made some nonviolent crimes misdemeanors, if the value involved is under $950. Additionally, it turned some drug possession crimes into misdemeanors.

“Mass incarceration is not the answer,” McGuire said.

According to McGuire, half of Californians want both more resources to fight the fentanyl crisis and some increased penalties for retail theft.

A ballot measure currently under signature verification review would undo much of Proposition 47. If passed by voters, it would impose felonies against people who possess specific drugs, like fentanyl. It would also increase sentences for other crimes involving theft and drugs.

Categories / Criminal, Government, Law

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