By Eric Siddall
Today is Super Tuesday. Millions of Americans will patiently stand in line to vote for candidates who they have heard about, heard from, and who have been vigorously scrutinized by the media. Today is also the day that the California Supreme Court will hear how Governor Brown refused to stand in line and refused to hear from the public.
This move by the Governor violates the principles of transparency and sound deliberation. It also violates a law he signed in 2014, the purpose of which was to improve the initiative process by requiring a public comment period. In the past, poorly drafted initiatives became laws without being fully scrutinized. The result was often a cascade of unintended consequences. The 2014 law rectified this problem by allowing the public to comment about proposed initiatives and requiring the legislature to hold public hearings. After this deliberative process the drafter is permitted to amend his initial proposal to correct any flaws pointed out during the public comment period. This period of public comment would have been important for Governor Brown’s amendment.
The drafter’s first version of the initiative, submitted on December 22, 2015, would have changed the procedures by which a juvenile who commits a violent crime is charged as an adult. The theme, subject, and purpose of the initiative related only to a small group of juvenile offenders. The initiative had nothing to do with sentencing, sentencing credits, or the adult prison system. It simply made a change to a single state law.
The public had 30 days to comment on this proposal. The drafters of this proposal were then supposed to use the public comments to add amendments to fix potential drafting errors. Unfortunately, this is not what happened.
Instead, on January 26, 2016, Governor Brown submitted an “amendment” that gutted most of the original initiative and added an entirely new section that has nothing to do with juvenile court procedure. This new section would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all adult criminals. Moreover, this proposed change is not a mere tweak to a state law. Governor Brown proposes to change the state constitution!
That’s right. The Governor’s amendment which he filed after the public comment period, thus depriving the citizens of any opportunity for democratic process, changes the Constitution of the State of California, If enacted, this colossal and radical change to felony sentencing law that received no public scrutiny will have a lasting impact on Californians and victims of crime for years to come.
In order to understand how sweeping this change is, consider that the original proposal only addressed the procedures for directly charging a juvenile as an adult. In 2014, there were about 400 direct filings in the entire state. Brown’s “amendment” would apply to every single prisoner in state prison, or roughly 113,000 of the most serious and violent felons incarcerated in California.
Changing our Constitution, changing 40 years of sentencing law, changing around 40 criminal statues, and changing six statewide initiatives is too important to do a rush job. Governor Brown should honor the process that he helped create and support. He should wait in line like every other Californian to have public comment and legislative review of such an impactful initiative.
Eric Siddall is a Director with the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.