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California voters will determine the fate of several major state ballot propositions this year

By Matt Cortina

As part of our ongoing coverage of the 2016 election, San Clemente Times selected several ballot propositions that all California voters will face in November to dissect.

In this final week of pre-election coverage, we’re taking a look at Proposition 57, which would give people convicted of “non-violent felonies” more chances for parole, and Proposition 61, a hotly-contested initiative that would affect prescription drug prices in California.

For information on all the ballot propositions, or on any of this year’s local or state races, head to wwww.sanclementetimes.com.

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Proposition 57

To Release “Non-Violent” Inmates

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California’s prisons were so overcrowded that they violated the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—that is, getting locked up in California constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

So, Prop. 47 was passed to help reduce prison numbers—it reduced certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, like shoplifting, grand theft, receiving stolen goods, forgery and fraud, if the property ultimately stolen did not exceed $950. The state’s average daily prison population has dropped by about 8,000 inmates since Prop. 47, and the state estimates a range of $100-$200 million in savings over the next two years.

Critics, however, say that Prop. 47 has led to an increase in residential burglaries and thefts, an overall state-wide increase in crime.

All of that is a primer for Prop. 57. If passed, Prop. 57 would give people convicted of “non-violent” crimes more chances for parole.

The reason why “non-violent” is consistently in quotes is because although it’s used in the ballot proposition title, it is arguably the biggest point of contention for those in opposition to Prop. 57. The issue is that the proposition does not indicate which “non-violent” felonies will be included in the program, and the state of California only lists 23 crimes as “violent.” That said, anything that’s not included in those 23 items is considered “non-violent,” even if those felonies certainly seem violent—opponents point to the fact that inmates convicted of such crimes as assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence and rape could be released under Prop. 57.

So what would be the mechanism to determine if an inmate falls into the gray area where he or she has committed a “non-violent” crime but one that most people would consider violent?

Proponents point to the assertion that no inmate would automatically be given release, and that every inmate subject to potential release under Prop. 57 would have to go before the Board of Parole Hearings, which is made up of law enforcement officials. Proponents also cite that inmates would have to “demonstrate that they are rehabilitated,” and would be subject to ongoing mandatory supervision.

If passed, the measure would immediately affect up to 7,000 inmates convicted of “non-violent” crimes, with 18,000 more potentially eligible for early parole.

Both sides point to the clause in the proposition that it would reward inmates with good behavior as a reason to vote one way or the other—proponents claim it encourages rehabilitation for inmates by incentivizing good behavior; opponents claim it allows inmates convicted of “violent” crimes like murder and rape an opportunity to be released without fully serving their time.

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For Prop. 57

California Democratic Party, Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, California State Law Enforcement Association, California Federation of Teachers

Contributions for Prop. 57

Fund for Policy Reform (nonprofit): $6,140,000

Governor Brown’s Ballot Measure Committee: $4,138,764

California Democratic Party: $2,046,908

Million Voter Project Action Fund: $2,010,000

Tom Steyer: $1,500,000

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Against Prop. 57

California Republican Party, Rep. Bill Brough, and dozens of district attorneys, county sheriffs and police organizations

Contributions against Prop. 57

No on 57: $758,483

Los Angeles Police Protective League Issues PAC: $869,683.50

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Proposition 61

To Alter Prescription Drug Prices

If it weren’t for the onslaught of TV commercials, Prop. 61 might be one you hear about for the first time while filling out your ballot.  But there’s a reason for all those advertisements—the proponents and opponents of Prop. 61 (mostly opponents) have contributed more to this ballot measure than any other supporters or opponents of a ballot measure this year.

And no wonder the pockets are deep on this ballot measure: it concerns pharmaceutical prices.

First, a bit of background. The state of California spent close to $4 billion last year in prescription drug costs for its Medi-Cal program, which serves senior, children and low-income residents, as well as its state employee pension program, the Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

Now because the state and its agencies can negotiate the price of drugs with drug makers, the price that the state’s agencies pay for the drugs in their programs can vary greatly. But Prop. 61 would prohibit the state from paying any more for prescription drugs than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays for the same drug.

So what affect would this have on drug prices, and what affect would it have on drug availability for those in VA, Medi-Cal and CalPERS programs? Lastly, would it affect drug prices and availability for California residents outside of those programs?

The short answer is that, claims from proponents and opponents aside, it’s not clear what affect Prop. 61 will have. In fact, it’s not even clear that the state of California even pays more for prescription drugs than the VA—however, proponents of Prop. 61 say the VA pays on average 20-25 percent less for prescription drugs than other government agencies.

So what do we know? The California State Legislative Analyst’s Office, which studies and publishes reports on the state’s budget, looked at Prop. 61 last year and found several possible scenarios if the measure passes.

First, everything could go as planned, and the state could be offered VA prices for drugs, resulting in some yet-to-be-determined amount of savings. However, drug companies could offset this cost by raising the price of drugs not purchased by the VA, but used in certain Medi-Cal and CalPERS programs.

Second, since drug manufacturers wouldn’t be required to sell their drugs at the VA prices, the state would have to change which drugs would be available in order to meet the proposition’s purchasing requirements. However, doing so might result in the state forgoing its duty by Medicaid law to provide FDA-approved prescription drugs, thus possibly incurring a loss of federal funding.

And third, the drug manufacturers may elect to raise VA drug prices, a move that does have precedent.

So, given the unknowns, we’re left with the rhetoric on either side of the issue. Proponents claim Prop. 61 is a tool to fight price-gouging from pharmaceutical companies.

“Drug companies are planning to spend $100 million to fight this measure because they know it would cause downward pressure on all drug prices—and cut into their excessive profits,” proponents argued in the official Voter’s Guide.

Proponents also claim it will provide better access to life-saving drugs and save taxpayers billions of dollars in healthcare costs.

Meanwhile, opponents of Prop. 61 claim it would hurt veterans by causing their prices to increase, reduce patient access to medicines, increase bureaucracy and more. Opponents also claim that Prop. 61 only applies to 12 percent of Californians—what they claim as an “arbitrary” grouping—and even excludes many Medi-Cal and CalPERS enrollees.

Be sure to look at the contributions in the box below this article, but let the more than $120 million speak for itself as to the importance of this ballot issue.

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For Prop. 61

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Robert Reich, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, California Nurses Association, Rev. Al Sharpton

Contributions for Prop. 61

Yes on Prop. 61 (AIDS Healthcare Foundation, California Nurses Association PAC): $16,780,171.92

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Against Prop. 61

California Republican Party, dozens of veterans and health care organizations, the California Medical Association, and several major pharmaceutical companies including Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company and Novartis.

Contributions against Prop. 61

Total from supporters: $108,989,074.10

Merck & Co, Inc.: $9,420,395

Pfizer, Inc.: $9,420,395

Johnson & Johnson: $9,301,646

Amgen, Inc.: $7,670,768

 

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