By Forrest Jones
Journalism Guild Writer
The California Supreme Court ruled, on June 6, that Gov. Jerry Brown may present his prison reduction initiative to California voters this November.
The high court reviewed whether the governor’s 11th hour amendment to the initiative dramatically changed the original initiative to the point that proponents should be required to re-file it.
The California District Attorneys Association opposed the initiative.
The legal standard the court used in making its determination was the “reasonably germane” standard.
During oral arguments, several of the justices were skeptical of the prosecutor’s argument that the governor’s amendment didn’t meet that standard, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The justices indicated that the revised measure appeared “reasonably germane” to the original initiative, as required by law. Chief Justice Tani-Cantil-Sakauye said the “reasonably germane” is “pretty broad.”
“It is hard to imagine an amendment to a proposal that would not be reasonably germane,” she said.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Associate justice Carol A. Corrigan agreed: “It seems pretty clear to me that the Legislature wanted to give great latitude to the proponents of any initiative.”
Not all the justices favored the initiative. According to the Los Angeles Times, Justice Ming W. Chin agreed with opposing counsel that Brown’s amendment was a major contrast to the original initiative, that the original measure was an amendment to a statute, and the new version calls for a constitutional amendment.
“That seems to me to be a major difference,” Chin said. “And to eliminate the public comment period when you are suggesting a constitutional amendment seems to me to be wrong.”
Brown has made the initiative his number one priority for the year, partly because he blames himself for creating the problem through his support for determinate sentences, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. Brown says the measure is a partial return to indeterminate sentences in which prisoners were given broad sentences like five years to life and had to show a parole board they were rehabilitated and had a plan for release.
Brown has called for criminal sentencing reform for more that a decade after becoming a critic of the state’s determinate sentencing practices. Fixed prison terms, which Brown helped create, was considered a reform 40 years ago.
Brown’s initiative: “The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016” would roll back parts of Proposition 21, the ballot measure voters approved in 2000 that gave prosecutors the right to try minors as adults. It also would give inmates with nonviolent offenses the chance to seek parole after serving time on their primary, most serious offense.
That would mean that inmates whose sentences were lengthened because of secondary offenses or enhancements—tougher penalties due to drug, gang or weapons violations—might not have to serve the extra time. It also gives credits to inmates for their participation in vocational and educational programs.
By Forrest Jones