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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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California Senate considers measures against slavery, poll harassment, disinformation

The Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee passed a handful of bills Tuesday that focus on voting and elections.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Applause broke out Tuesday after a proposed ballot measure that would prohibit involuntary servitude by California prisoners passed a key vote.

But Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8 still has a series of hurdles ahead of it before it can appear on the November ballot.

Existing law prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. The legislation — written by Assemblymember Lori Wilson, a Suisun City Democrat — would not allow a prison or jail to punish a prisoner for refusing to perform work. Also, it wouldn’t prohibit those facilities from offering someone credit toward their sentence if they voluntarily opt to work.

“California needs to end slavery in every single form, including involuntary servitude, now,” Wilson said.

A previous constitutional amendment that would have removed the involuntary servitude language from the state constitution failed on the Senate floor in 2022.

The legislation, which already has passed the Assembly by a two-thirds vote, passed the state Senate’s Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee on Tuesday. It now proceeds to the Senate Appropriations Committee and must pass that panel to reach the Senate floor.

The amendment must pass the Senate and return to the Assembly for another vote there by June 27 to appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Lawrence Cox, with All of Us or None, told the committee that forced labor doesn’t lead to rehabilitation. Also supporting the bill, Reverend Quentisha Davis Wiles said “involuntary servitude” doesn’t exist.

“It is called slavery,” she added, urging the committee to pass the bill.

The legislation was deemed a priority by the California Legislative Black Caucus.

Wilson’s bill was one of several the elections committee passed on Tuesday. It also passed Assembly Bill 544, written by Los Angeles Democratic Assemblymember Isaac Bryan. The bill would offer grants to three counties for a program that helps ease the voting process for people in prison or jail who have the right to vote.

“Democracy thrives when it includes everybody,” Bryan said.

The bill now proceeds to the state Senate Public Safety Committee.

Assembly Bill 2642 — an anti-harassment bill written by Assemblymember Marc Berman, a Menlo Park Democrat — was legislation that Dean Logan, registrar-recorder and Los Angeles county clerk, said he wished wasn’t needed.

The bill responds to a trend of election workers facing harassment across the country, Berman said. His bill would create a presumption that someone openly carrying a firearm or imitation firearm while in an elections setting would be trying to intimidate someone. It also would allow a victim, elections official or state attorney general to file a civil action to enforce the law.

The legislation now advances to the Senate Judiciary Committee after Tuesday’s vote.

Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, a Santa Cruz Democrat, is trying to address disinformation in political ads in her legislation, Assembly Bill 2839.

The bill would prohibit someone from knowingly disseminating a campaign ad or other election-related message with deceptive and digitally altered images, audio or video four months before an election. It wouldn’t apply to satire or parody.

Leora Gershenzon, with the California Initiative for Technology and Democracy, asked committee members to consider an ad showing an elected official accepting a bribe, which was in fact a video created by artificial intelligence. Once seen, it can’t be unseen.

“This bill seeks to address that,” she added.

Joe Berry, with the California Broadcasters Association, said the bill requires broadcasters to vet material and determine if it’s been manipulated. It also puts his members in conflict with federal law, which prohibits them from editing such ads. He’s opposed to the bill unless it’s amended, which Gershenzon, whose organization is sponsoring the bill, said is in the works.

Pellerin’s bill now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Categories / Elections, Government, Law

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