The last one! Everyone make a plan to vote!
Prop 22: Exempts App-Based Transportation and Delivery Companies From Providing Employee Benefits to Certain Drivers
Ahh.. the Uber/Lyft Prop.
Ok, so here is what happened. Rideshare/delivery apps hire individuals on as independent contractors. Lyft and Uber have repeatedly argued that what they do is simply connect people who want to drive with people who want a ride (hence the use of the term “rideshare” as opposed to something closer to hiring a driver). They argue that because of this they don’t have to pay a minimum wage to drivers who only get paid for the actual time driving, not for the time they spend waiting for a job, or to pay healthcare benefits, regardless of how many hours a driver works per week.
California disputed this, and the legislature passed a law that limited the ability of companies to hire workers as independent contractors. This law was perhaps a bit heavy-handed and while aimed at rideshare companies, it affected people outside of those industries (like freelancers). However, this prop only impacts rideshare companies.
This prop carves out an exception in the California law for rideshare companies, basically creating a separate class of rideshare contractors, who would not be subject to the California law. They would not need to be hired as employees, but would continue to be contractors. They would get some other benefits, like a health insurance stipend, and a guarantee to receive 120% of minimum wage for each hour a driver spends actually driving.
Its probably impossible to overstate the harm that the development of the “gig economy” has had on our society. It is a rather unique conflation of technological exploitation, undercutting workers’ rights, and the expansion of the capitalistic surveillance regime. The fact that Uber and Lyft have spent so much money to create and promote this prop should tell us all we need to know. They want this really badly; we shouldn’t give it to them.
Prop 23: Establishes State Requirements for Kidney Dialysis Clinics. Requires On-Site Medical Professional
There are around 600 dialysis facilities in California, where individuals with renal failure can go to receive dialysis, a process that replicates the function of the kidneys’ to filter blood. Dialysis facilities are operated by for-profit corporations who specialize in owning and operating these facilities. They are often not associated with hospitals or other medical facilities.
This proposition would create several regulations that would apply to these facilities.
1) It would require a doctor to be on-site during all hours that a patient receives treatment. Basically, if someone is getting dialysis, then there has to be a doctor there. If there is a shortage of doctors in the area, the state can authorize an exception and have a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant there to meet the requirement.
2) It requires the center to report data on dialysis-related infections to the states, and establishes penalties if they do not.
3) It requires a dialysis center to receive permission from the state before closing or reducing services. This is aimed at preventing a situation where patients would not have easy access to dialysis.
4) It prohibits dialysis centers from refusing services based on who is paying. Basically the center can’t refuse to take Medicaid, Medicare or Medi-Cal.
This one is tricky. A number of possibly beneficial aspects are being overshadowed by one main requirement. The requirement to have a doctor at every facility, at all times, is probably unnecessary. However, the requirements to report data, and the requirement to take all forms of insurance are all good things. It is also complicated by the fact that this is part of a union fight aimed at unionizing dialysis workers, which seems to be a good thing. However, most doctor and nursing organizations are in opposition, and they mostly focus on the doctor requirement. So, it seems like the good elements of this prop are overshadowed by the one large bad element.
Prop 24: Amends Consumer Privacy Laws
Oh hey, a prop about my dissertation! Fun!
Ok, so companies collect an immense amount of data on you. This can be from simple things like demographic information taken from when you input information on a form, to spending habits on places like Amazon, to incredibly detailed information about who you are, what you like, and even how you move through the world (Fun fact! The entire purpose of the Android operating system is to sell phones at a loss and make up for that by giving Google access to your real-time location, and phone usage habits!) (I’m also real fun at parties).
California already has laws about regulating data privacy. Companies have to tell you if they are collecting your data (hence the little pop-ups on literally every website these days), comply with requests to see data reports, or remove data and finally they cannot treat you differently if you don’t allow businesses to collect your data.
This prop would change existing laws in a number of ways.
1) It would change some existing privacy laws. It would change the law to have the restrictions apply to companies that have data on 100,000 consumers or households. This is up from 50,000. This might seem like a lot, but it is incredibly easy to get data on literally millions of people. It would also change some existing requirements, making companies tell you how long they are going to hold on to your data, but also allow them to keep things like student grades under certain circumstances.
2) It creates new privacy rights. It allows consumers to tell businesses to not share their personal data. It also allows consumers to correct personal data. And then it defines some data as “sensitive,” (Social security numbers, passwords and health data) and restricts their usage.
3) It creates an enforcement agency, the California Privacy Protection Agency, and allows them to collect fines from companies that violate this policy.
Let’s add this one to the list of props that are good in theory, and do some minor good things but aren’t going to cause any major changes. There are several major shortfalls with this. First, many of these laws are targeted at companies that collect data and then sell that data. This isn’t how many corporations utilize data. In fact, data collection is a proprietary mechanism for many companies. Google and Facebook aren’t selling your data. They are using them internally. There is also an issue with the idea of transparency. These big tech companies have done such a good job at normalizing the collection of data that they realize that people, in general, don’t really care about data privacy, and so using transparency as a regulatory mechanism fails. We’ve all accepted that Google Maps is going to take pictures of our houses.
It is also telling that no companies seem to be worried about this. We know that tech companies will go to great lengths to protect their data-collection enterprises, fighting back politically. However, we also know that these companies tend to simply ignore laws that they don’t think will be enforced. So, either Google doesn’t think that this will be a problem, or they are not worried about enforcement. Either way, it’s not good.
But, as with some other props, a small good thing is still a good thing. I want it to go further, but this seems to be a good start.
Prop 25 Referendum on Law that Replaced Money Bail With System Based on Public Safety and Flight Risk
Oh hey! Another California prison system prop! But with some fun CA political procedural complications as well!
So, in 2018, the California legislature passed a law, that was signed by the governor that eliminates cash bail and changes the process for getting released from jail after being arrested. However, before this law went into effect, enough signatures were collected to put the law on the ballot as a referendum. This means that a YES vote on this prop upholds the law passed in 2018, while a NO vote rejects it. So, if you like this law, vote yes, if you don’t, vote no.
What does the 2018 law do?
It eliminates cash bail entirely. If you are arrested, instead of paying a fee to be released from jail, instead, you are assessed for the risk of committing a new crime and then either released or kept in jail.
For most misdemeanor crimes you must be released from jail withing 12 hours. There are some exceptions for things like domestic violence.
For felonies, there will be an assessment staff that would determine a risk level for individuals. People deemed to be low-risk or medium-risk would be released, with some conditions, which might include regular check-ins or electronic monitoring.
State trial courts would be responsible for this assessment. At no point in this process would anyone charged with a crime be charged any money.
On the whole, cash bail is a racist, classist form of punishing individuals who do not have the means to pay their way out of jail, either forcing them into a cycle of debt or forcing them to take plea bargains, landing them in jail without a trial. Getting rid of cash bail is a good and necessary thing.
The one worry I have with this system, is that the prop is vague about how the risk assessment process might be undertaken. There is a worrying trend towards automating such assessments, which tends to target poor, minority communities (https://www.amazon.com/Automating-Inequality-High-Tech-Profile-Police/dp/1250074312). We’ve seen this with the rise of predictive policing, and there is a major risk that this happens here as well. However, the necessity of getting rid of the cash bail system overrides this, but we should be on alert for this.
And that's its! If you made it this far, thanks for reading the whole thing!
Prop 18: Amends California Constitution to Permit 17-Year-Olds to Vote in Primary and Special Elections If They Will Turn 18 by the Next General Election and Be Otherwise Eligible to Vote
Currently, if you are 16 or 17 you can pre-register to vote in California. This means that you can register when you are 16, and then after you turn 18, you are immediately able to vote in the next election, whenever that may be.
This proposition makes a minor adjustment, and allows some 17 year-olds to vote in primaries, and special elections, if they turn 18 before the next general election.
The basic idea is something like this. Let’s imagine that you are 17 years old in 2020, but you have a birthday in September or October, where you will be turning 18. This means that you will be eligible to vote in the November election, but you were unable to vote in the March Primary. In a way, this means that you were unable to fully participate in the 2020 election because you were not able to participate in the primary process.
This proposition changes this so that you could vote in the primary, if you turn 18 before the general election.
Basically, why not? It encourages political participation at a younger age and gives first time voters a complete electoral experience. We already pre-register them, and primary elections are a good way of getting young people involved.
Prop 19: Changes Certain Property Tax Rules
Alright, so we are back to property taxes. Fun!
Again, remember the old system. Property tax allocated at time of purchase, at 1.1% of purchase price. Then increasing by 2% a year.
Importantly, if you inherit a property from a parent or grandparent, you also inherit the old tax calculation.
Also importantly, if you are over 55, severely disabled, or have had property impacted by a natural disaster, there is a special rule that means that you are eligible to move into a house that is not more expensive than your existing home and keep your old tax rate.
A quick example. Imagine you purchased a house in 2010, for 100,000 (yes this is insane, but it makes the math easy!) Your home would be assessed at the time of purchase for 1,100 a year. Then in 2001, it would go up 2%, or $22, to $1,122 and so on until 2020 when your yearly property tax would be $1340.90. But according to the OC Register (https://www.ocregister.com/2019/11/29/redemption-decade-california-home-price-gains-double-the-nations/) home prices have increased 120% in that time. (The Register looks at the time between 2009 and 2019, but close enough!) This means that your $100,000 house is now worth $220,000., So if you bought it today, the property tax would be $2420.
So, the special rule means that if you are over 55, have a severe disability or had your house burn down in a wildfire, you could now move into a $220,000 home, and keep your old tax rate of $1340. Currently the rule states that you can only do this once, so if your new home burns down in a second wildfire, you are out of luck!
Ok, so what does this prop do?
Several things for people who are part of the special rule (Over 55, severely disabled, natural disaster).
1) You can buy new home anywhere in the state (some counties had restrictions on this special rule).
2) You can buy a more expensive home. Your taxes would go up, but not as much.
3) You can use the special rule three times, rather than only once.
It also changes the rules for inherited property.
Inheriting the old tax calculation would only happen if:
1) The home is used as a primary residence for the child or grandchild (you actually have to live in the inherited home)
2) It is a farm.
3) If you do not use the inherited property as a primary residence, OR, if the value of the home or farm exceeds the taxable value by more than $1 million, then the property is taxed as if you just purchased it.
So if we imagine that your grandparent somehow bought a home in San Francisco for $100,000, but it’s now worth $5 million, if you inherit the property, you have to pay taxes on it as if it were worth $5 million, not $100,000. Note: your grandparent’s property taxes would not go up, only yours if you inherit it.
Again, California’s property taxes are bonkers, but this is a good move. With the increase in wildfires and climate change, moving because of natural disasters is going to become more common. Also, it doesn’t affect people living on a fixed income, actually giving them more flexibility, perhaps allowing them to move and free up more real estate.
And then the inheritance laws have allowed for some massive loopholes where people pay very little tax on massively valuable property, so closing that is a good thing.
Prop 20: Restrict Parole for Certain Offenses Currently Considered to Be Non-Violent. Authorizes Felony Sentences for Certain Offenses Currently Treated Only as Misdemeanors.
And now we return to California’s prison system.
In general, this is a prop that makes California’s sentencing and parole system stricter and more punitive. There are a lot of little things going on in this prop, but here are the general concepts.
It increases the penalties for theft, making it easier to charge individuals with felonies for things like shoplifting or petty theft. This is either by changing definitions of laws, or by creating new types of crime, “Serial Theft,” and “Organized Retail Theft.”
It changes parole requirements, making it harder to release someone on parole, and easier to send them back to prison. This is done in a number of ways, from changing what is considered at parole hearings, or making judges look at the cases (rather than the parole board itself), or making an individual serve more prison time before coming up for parole.
It expands DNA collection to people who have been convicted of misdemeanors.
Again, California’s prison system is a mess, and in general the state has slowly been moving in the right direction, from attempting to lower prison populations, to reforming three strikes laws, to legalizing marijuana. This prop moves in the wrong direction, creating an overly punitive parole process and expanding the ability of prosecutors to upgrade misdemeanors to felonies, a thing that disproportionately impacts minorities.
Prop 21: Expands Local Governments’ Authority to Enact Rent Control on Residential Property
California currently has a patchwork rent control system. First individual cities have the ability to manage rents, which several cities (LA, San Francisco, San Jose) have done. Second the Costa-Hawkins law limits who rent control can apply to. It cannot apply to single-family homes, and it cannot apply to housing built after Feb. 1 1995. It also cannot tell a landlord what they must charge in rent, only set limitations. Third, a state law limits rent increases to 5% plus inflation, or 10% (whichever is lower) per year. This applies to housing over 15 years old.
This prop would modify Costa-Hawkins, and allow rent control to be applied to most property over 15 years old. It would not apply to single family homes owned by people with two or fewer properties. It would also allow cities to limit how much a landlord can increase rent when a new renter moves in. But, communities that do this, must allow rent increases of up to 15% for three years.
Basically it provides some additional limitations on raising rent, mostly by applying the law to more people and applying it to new tenants.
Housing pricing is one of the biggest challenges facing California. Increasing rent control is one small way of trying to fix this problem. I think there are larger actions that could be taken, including revamping zoning restrictions, but I think this is a good thing, even if its underdone. I’m not going to stand in the way of a small good thing.
Election year, so you know what that means! Well, a number of things... but a new version of Stefan's guide to props! This year we have 12 props, broken up into three parts:
Prop 14: Authorizes Bonds Continuing Stem Cell Research
Quick tangent: What is a bond? A bond is a personal loan that individuals give to the state by purchasing them. It is like investing in the state. You buy a CA bond with the promise that the State will pay you back in the future, with a return on investment. These are sold on the open market and therefore are subject to the general fluctuations of the investment market.
Longer explanation: https://www.treasurer.ca.gov/publications/bonds101.pdf
The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is a state-funded organization that gives out grant money to universities and other institutions to support stem cell research. This institute was created in 2004, after another proposition passed, and seeded the institute with 3 billion dollars. As of June 2020, the institution has spent nearly all of its initial $3 billion in funding, giving most of the money to University of California researchers, or private nonprofit universities and institutions, (Stanford received a large grant recently, for example).
This proposition would provide an addition $5.5 billion to the institute, for the same purpose, but it would allocate $1.5 billion of this to specifically look at brain and nervous system diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It would also do a number of other minor things, like allow the institute to hire more full time employees, to support patient access to treatment, or provide internships and educational support for students at CA community colleges and at the Cal State System.
The financial cost of this is estimated at $250 million per year, for 30 years. Much of this money would be made by selling bonds, but the repayment of the bonds and paying down the remainder makes up the most of the state cost. It is worth noting that $250 million per year is less than 1% of the states’ General Fund budget.
Because of the speculative nature of research, we don’t really know what exactly the outcome of this expenditure will be. Discovery of new treatments or therapies may cause major savings in Medi-Cal or in other health care programs. The state also gets a cut of any invention-related income resulting from the research. So if you are a researcher, and you invent a new thing using this grant money and then license or sell your invention, the state gets a cut of the profit. In the past the income from this has been negligible, but it could be different in the future.
Universities rely heavily on grant funding of this type, and it provides a good counter to privately funded investment and research done by large pharmaceutical corporations or other for-profit medical institutes. In addition, advances in healthcare usually provide a net financial benefit in the long term. Supporting research into major conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s also seems like a good idea.
Prop 15: Increases Funding Sources for Public Schools, Community Colleges, and Local Government Services by Changing Tax Assessment of Commercial and Industrial Property
This is one of two propositions that seek to modify how property taxes are assessed in CA.
Here’s a quick primer on property tax. Most of this info was distilled from this webpage (https://lao.ca.gov/reports/2012/tax/property-tax-primer-112912.aspx):
CA property tax is weird and INCREDIBLY complicated. When you buy a home (or business property), you pay a property tax of 1.1%. This then increases by 2% each year, regardless of the value of your home. So, if you buy a $100,000 home, your property tax is $1,100. Now if your property values go up and your home is now worth $150,000, your property tax does not go up proportionally. It just ticks up 2%. So the law treats the $150,000 home as if it was worth $102,000. Got it? Now, if you are over 55 or disabled, or were a victim of a natural disaster and you move into a LESS expensive home, your property taxes don’t go up. So if you are over 55 and you bought your house 30 years ago for $100,000, it might be worth $400,000 now. But if you move into a home worth $250,000, your property taxes won’t go up, they still use the calculation from your old house.
This property tax gets collected by the county government, who then allocates percentages of this back down to local governments who use it to fund things like schools. The counties themselves take a cut of this tax as well, to do county-wide projects. This means that the amount of property tax revenue given to cities and school districts varies widely. Some school districts and cities receive several times the amount as others. There are some examples of this, but they are about 10 years old, so I don’t know how relevant they are currently.
It is worth noting that school funding is based mostly on state income tax revenue, distributed to schools based on a complex formula that takes into account things like English-Language learning or other things to try to give more money to schools that serve under-served students.
Got all that? Great. Lets get to the actual prop.
What does this prop do? This changes the rules for some commercial property, not homes (that’s Prop 19!). Right now, commercial property is taxed at 1.1% at the time of purchase, and then increased by 2% every year thereafter. This rule changes it so that property is instead taxed based on actual value, rather than the 2% increase. Doing this is estimated to raise between $6.5 and $11.5 billion per year, given to local governments. It also lowers taxes on business equipment by $500,000. This means that some small businesses might actually see a tax savings.
Importantly, some businesses are exempt. It only applies to businesses with more than $3 million in property, exempting most small businesses. If you have 50 or fewer employees, AND more than $3 million in property, this doesn’t go into effect for you until 2025. It also doesn’t impact farm land, or housing (so landlords are exempt).
While this doesn’t fix CA’s exceptionally strange and convoluted property tax system, it is a move in the right direction. I like that exempts small businesses (so my favorite breweries won’t be harmed). I think exempting farms and housing is a mistake for a bunch reasons, but overall this is a move in the right direction, and I’m frankly surprised I haven’t seen much advertising from corporations opposing this prop.
Prop 16: Allows Diversity as a Factor in Public Employment, Education, and Contracting Decisions
In 1996, CA voters changed the California Constitution (Prop 209) to insert a section that banned consideration of “race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin” in public employment, public education, or public contracting.
The important sentence is as follows:
“The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
In this, the important section is “grant preferential treatment to.”
This prevents the state government, hiring of contractors, and importantly state university (Cal States, UCs) admissions, from using race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin, in ANY way. This sets up what might be called “color-blind” policies.
This proposition would repeal this section outright. However, because both the California constitution and the US Constitution contain protections for equal protection, the main impact of this would be allowing the California government to use “race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin” in the state government, hiring of contractors and state university admission.
This would not mandate any form of affirmative action, but would allow for its implementation if the institutions decided to change their practiced.
Some other context: Affirmative action has generally been upheld by the US Supreme Court, declaring that race is something that can be taken into account in university admissions. However, the use of strict quotas has been prohibited.
While there are some concerns with direct affirmative action, including the idea that it doesn’t fully account for the intersection of race and class when applied to elite university admissions, the use of “color-blind” policies is actively harmful, as it preserves a status quo under the guise of fairness. It also perpetuates a myth of meritocracy as an individual trait, and not something that is deeply rooted to historical and institutional legacies marred by racism, sexism and other forms of structural injustice.
Prop 17: Restores Right to Vote after Completion of Prison Term
This is one of three amendments (Props 20 & 25), dealing with California’s prison system.
California currently has a rather robust system of felon re-enfranchisement. It is actually easier to describe who cannot vote in California, than the opposite. If you are currently in State or Federal Prison, on parole from state prison (from a felony conviction), or in a form of transfer between these conditions, you cannot vote. Everyone else can vote. After you finish parole, your voting rights are fully restored. This is markedly different from some other states that either perpetually disenfranchise people with felony convictions, or have other restrictions.
This proposition would make it so that if you were out on parole, you would be able to vote. The only people who would be prevented from voting would be individuals who are actively in state or federal prison. Currently, California, and three other states (New York, and Connecticut) restrict voting rights for people on parole. This would move California in line with the 16 states that restrict voting only to individuals in prison (Maine and Vermont let everyone vote, even if they are in prison.) All state laws can be found here (https://www.aclu.org/issues/voting-rights/voter-restoration/felony-disenfranchisement-laws-map )
While California’s prison laws are not as bad as they used to be, especially after the repeal of the three strikes law, it is still worth pointing out the major problems of mass incarceration and its disproportionate effects it has on minority populations. There have been whole books written about California’s prison system, in particular (https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Gulag-Opposition-Globalizing-California/dp/0520242017/). And if you want to talk about power structures entrenched in a system designed to warehouse human beings, please feel free (although I WILL bring up Foucault…) Enfranchisement is a minor aspect of this, and it would only effect 50,000 people in a state of 34 million. But it is still worth doing.