ACLU of California-sponsored legislation to watch in 2016
By Becca Cramer / ACLU San Diego
Every year, the ACLU of California sponsors several bills in the California Legislature. What does it mean to sponsor a bill? In most cases, it means we have collaborated with other advocacy groups and the legislative author in drafting the bill, providing our input on the text. We also may lobby legislators, testify in support of the bill, seek support from other groups, work with opposition to address their concerns, draft fact sheets and sample support letters, and provide communications and media support.
ACLU supporters are involved in the process, too, by responding to our action alerts and participating in our annual Conference & Lobby Day. Sign up for email action alerts to let your legislator know that you want them to support ACLU of California-sponsored bills.
This Year’s Sponsored Bills
We sponsor bills on a wide range of topics that impact Californians’ civil liberties and civil rights.
Here are the 10 bills we are sponsoring this year:
SB 443 (Mitchell) – No More Policing for Profit: SB 443 is an important bill that upholds and protects the American principles of fairness and due process in California. For years, law enforcement agencies in the state have taken advantage of a loophole that lets them take innocent people’s cash and property, and then keep a portion of the loot through civil asset forfeiture laws. Created during the heyday of the war on drugs, asset forfeiture laws were meant to take booty away from drug “kingpins” but have been perverted into an ongoing attack on Californians who can’t afford to fight the government in court, a burden that falls disproportionately on low-income people of color. SB 443 reins in the abuse by preventing cops from permanently taking someone’s money or property if the person hasn’t been convicted of a crime.
It’s simple: if there’s no conviction, then cops can’t keep people’s things.
SB 881 (Hertzberg) – No More Suspended Licenses Because You Can’t Afford to Pay a Ticket: A ticket in California for a traffic infraction, such as a broken tail light, expired tags, or fare evasion, can ultimately lead to a suspended driver’s license if someone does not pay or make a court appearance—an overly harsh punishment that does not fit the offense and undermines the person’s ability to hold a job and make amends. Courts can already impose other sanctions instead, without unnecessarily pushing people further into a cycle of poverty. SB 881 ensures that courts and counties do not suspend driver’s licenses as a means of collecting court-ordered debt for non-safety traffic offenses.
SB 1134 (Leno) – Creating a Fair Standard to Prove Your Innocence: California has an overly burdensome process that makes it practically impossible for someone to prove their innocence and be freed if they are wrongfully convicted of a crime. Current law requires that anyone who is wrongfully convicted affirmatively and conclusively prove their innocence or remain wrongfully incarcerated if new evidence is uncovered—even if the new evidence shows their conviction would likely never happen now. This poses an unreasonable challenge for innocent Californians: you either have conclusive DNA evidence or identification of the actual perpetrator… or you stay locked up for a crime you didn’t commit. SB 1134 changes state law to instead require that someone who is wrongfully convicted show that if the new evidence were presented at a new trial, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome would be different. In doing so, California would be joining other states who have taken similar steps to bring a little bit of justice back to our criminal justice system.
SB 1389 (Glazer) – Preventing False Confessions and Wrongful Convictions: It might be hard to believe, but false confessions extracted while someone is being questioned by police are the second most frequent cause of wrongful convictions. With more than 1,730 exonerations nationwide since 1989, we can’t and shouldn’t ignore these glaring flaws in our criminal justice system, which can unjustly send someone to prison and ruin their lives. To help prevent such tragic outcomes, SB 1389 would require that police videotape interrogations of anyone suspected of homicide and thus improve criminal investigation techniques, document false confessions when they occur, reduce the likelihood of wrongful conviction, and make the promise of fairness and justice more of a reality in California.
SB 322 (Leno) – Giving Every Student Equal Access to Education: Some charter schools in California have implemented admissions and disciplinary policies that raise questions and concerns about how and whether students are given equal access to education. SB 322 limits admissions procedures that exclude students based on academic achievement and ensure constitutional protections for suspension and expulsion proceedings.
AB 813 (Gonzalez) – A Fair Day in Court for All: Because of a ruling in the California Supreme Court, people in danger of being deported for old convictions have no way to go to court to challenge those convictions, even if the convictions are legally invalid. AB 813 gives immigrants access to courts so that they can challenge legally invalid convictions when they are no longer in custody, giving many people a shot at a fair shake. This would prevent unnecessary deportations that could unfairly tear some California families apart.
AB 2792 (Bonta) – California’s TRUTH Act: The federal government has a long track record of misleading the public about its efforts to entangle local law enforcement in deportations – with devastating consequences for immigrant communities, which are deeply rooted in our state’s social fabric. The TRUTH Act would bring to light ICE’s practices and allow communities to craft policies for local needs. With more transparency and accountability, California can make sure local communities have a voice – and guard against painful abuses.
SB 1286 (Leno) – Lifting the Veil of Secrecy on Police Misconduct and Use of Force: SB 1286 is a commonsense bill that would restore police transparency in California and improve accountability and trust in the men and women tasked with serving and protecting us. Police wield far more power than most other public employees. They are authorized to detain, arrest, and even to kill in the discharge of their duties. As a result, the taxpaying public has a greater need to know how they use that power — a greater need for transparency and accountability than with other employees. Yet current law keeps the public from knowing the truth when officers, for example, kill someone or are accused of using their authority to commit sexual assault. By lifting the veil of police secrecy, SB 1286 would empower communities to hold police accountable, which is an important first step in addressing the ever-lingering suspicions that arise when decisions are made behind closed doors and never revealed to the public or to the victims and their families.
SB 23 (Mitchell) – Repealing a Racist, Sexist, Classist Policy: For more than 20 years, California has maintained a failed policy of denying financial support to babies born while their families are receiving CalWORKs basic needs grants for older siblings. This unfair policy is known as the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule. Intended to coerce poor women, particularly women of color, into having fewer children, the MFG rule endangers the health and wellbeing of babies born into poverty while simultaneously pushing their families deeper into poverty. At a time when one in five California children live in poverty, we should be doing everything in our power to make sure parents are not punished for their family planning decisions and that they and their children are instead able to lead safe, healthy and successful lives. SB 23 would get California one step closer to that.
AB 2466 (Weber & Mitchell) – Building a More Inclusive Democracy: Since slavery was abolished, felony disenfranchisement laws, which strip individuals of their vote because of a criminal conviction, have been used to breakdown potential African-American political power. In California, the voting rights of people with a criminal conviction are shrouded by confusion. This confusion threatens the integrity of California’s elections and results in the unfair exclusion of eligible voters, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color, from our democracy. AB 2466 clarifies existing California law on voter eligibility, guarantees a more inclusive and participatory electorate, and is a step toward ending the shameful legacy of Jim Crow in our state.
Becca Cramer is the Legislative Coordinator for the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy.