Newsom urged to halt progressives' 'scheming' to derail popular anti-crime initiative

Rep. Kevin Kiley, R-Calif, accuses liberal lawmakers of cynical efforts to 'confuse voters and undermine the will of the people of California'

California Republican Rep. Kevin Kiley and the rest of the state's Republican delegation are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Democrats to drop what they say is "cynical political scheming" to legislatively undermine a popular bipartisan anti-crime effort.

On Tuesday, the Secretary of State’s Office announced voters will have their chance to repeal key portions of the controversial Prop. 47 law – which significantly lowered the penalties for certain categories of drug and theft crimes – in the November general election after the petition garnered more than 600,000 valid petition signatures to secure a spot on the ballot. The initiative only needed 546,651 to qualify, according to the state secretary's office.

But Newsom and Golden State Democrats oppose the initiative and are working to fast-track their own public safety bills pertaining to curbing criminal retail theft without reforming Prop. 47. Some Democrats plan to introduce inoperability clauses into the set of proposed public safety bills to prevent them from going into effect if voters approve the Prop 47 reforms. They contend that it's a way to ensure there aren't any inconsistencies in the law.

"This measure will repeal the most problematic provisions of Proposition 47 from 2014. It is a vitally needed policy correction to address the growing problems of retail theft, open-air drug markets, and homelessness in our state," Kiley wrote in a letter to Newsom on Tuesday.


left: Gov. Newsom, D-Calif.; right: Rep. Kevin Kiley, R-Calif.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, U.S. Rep. Kevin Kiley (Getty Images)

The California Republican added that not only have hundreds of thousands of Californians signed the petition, but it has also received bipartisan support from lawmakers such as San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. 

Tuesday's letter was signed by every Republican member of the California U.S. House delegation.

"It is clear that the only purpose of this novel legislative maneuver is to equip opponents of the ballot initiative with a talking point – to be used on the campaign trail, and likely even on the ballot itself – to confuse voters and undermine the will of the people of California," the letter reads.

"While there is a long and troubling tradition of ballot initiative language being skewed, the current scheme represents an unprecedented threat to the entire initiative process. This tactic could be used by legislators to defeat any unwanted ballot initiative going forward, simply by picking a popular piece of existing legislation and stipulating that if the initiative passes, that legislation will be repealed. This will defeat the entire purpose of the initiative process, which is designed to give voters a direct say on issues affecting our state."


Gov Gavin Newsom at lectern outside

California Gov. Gavin Newsom opposes efforts to reform Prop. 47. (California Governor Gavin Newsom YouTube channel)

placeholderLeaders of the initiative to roll back Prop. 47 measures, called the Homelessness, Drug Addiction and Theft Reduction Act, argue that the law led to the uptick in theft and robberies after the threshold for shoplifting was dropped to $950. It also lowered grand theft and receiving stolen property to a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

According to Kiley's office, Newsom and the Democrats' bill package would "take effect immediately and make it so they will be automatically reversed if the ballot initiative passes."

"Cynical political scheming designed to turn the initiative upside-down is an affront to every California voter," Kiley wrote.

A spokesperson for Newsom's office told Fox News Digital via email that "California law provides existing robust tools for law enforcement and prosecutors to arrest and charge suspects involved in organized retail crime – including up to three years of jail time for organized retail theft."

"The state has among the lowest (i.e. toughest) thresholds nationally for prosecutors to charge suspects with a felony, $950. The majority of states – including red states like Texas ($2,500), South Carolina ($2000), and Mississippi ($1,000) – have weaker laws that require higher dollar amounts for suspects to be charged with a felony," the spokesperson added.

The letter comes as progressives in the state in recent months have appeared to backtrack on their soft-on-crime policies. According to a Public Policy Institute report in February, researchers tracked a rise in shoplifting, especially in the Bay Area, and a larger rise in commercial burglary among urban counties in California between 2020 and 2022. Shoplifting rose 29% statewide from 2021 to 2022. 

Nationwide, a 2023 report from the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail association, found that organized retail crime was a primary driver of the massive amount of "shrink" retailers saw in 2022, with nonemployee stealing making up 36%. 

The term "shrink" typically means theft and other forms of inventory losses, and retailers nationwide experienced $112 billion in losses in 2022.


owners of jewelry store confronting thief

The owners of Meza's Jewelry in El Monte fought back against a would-be smash-and-grab thief. (Meza’s Jewelry)

The NRF found that Los Angeles was one of the hardest-hit cities in California for ORC, leading the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to create the Organized Retail Theft Crime Task Force. Many law enforcement officials have blamed the measure for the uptick in theft and smash-and-grabs that have plagued California in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the same time, California became synonymous with smash-and-grab crimes as videos of groups of thieves brazenly ransacking stores gained traction online.

Meanwhile, opponents of tough-on-crime laws argue the harsher penalties are too extreme for the crimes and could prevent a person from being rehabilitated, especially minorities.

homeless encampment on sidewalk in California

People inhabit encampments on the streets of San Francisco on April 15, 2023. (Flight Risk for Fox News Digital)

"There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of negotiations concurrently happening," Newsom told reporters on Friday. "Prop 47 is included."

Last year, the Democrat governor announced more than $267 million to increase arrests and prosecutions for organized retail crime across the state. Earlier this year, Newsom recalled how he witnessed a shoplifter stealing from Target in Sacramento. He confronted a store employee moments later.

"I said, ‘Why didn’t you stop him,’" Newsom said during a Zoom meeting on mental health in January. "She goes, ‘Oh, the governor.’ Swear to God, true story on my mom’s grave. ‘The governor lowered the threshold, there’s no accountability.’ I said, ‘That’s just not true.’"

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