Call in day: Voting Rights for People on Parole

Deadline: On Monday, August 19, 2019, make a call to make California a more democratic place –

California is one of a rapidly shrinking number of states that doesn’t allow people on parole to vote. Believe it or not, it’s actually in the state Constitution. Now ACA 6, the “Free the Vote Act,” would amend the California Constitution to remove that prohibition – and it’s coming up for a vote in the State Assembly the week of August 19. Tell your Assemblymember: Vote YES on ACA 6. Read on for a short call script and contact info; and below that, more info, talking points, a great toolkit to boost this on social media, and more resources.

What to do:

1. Call your state Assemblymember and tell them to vote YES on ACA 6.

What to say:

If your Assemblymember is Rob Bonta, he’s a coauthor of the bill; you don’t have to ask him to vote on it, but you should thank him:

My name is ____________, my zip code is _____________, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want to thank Assemblymember Bonta for coauthoring ACA 6. Not allowing people on parole to vote is a form of voter suppression and it needs to end. California should leave Jim Crow behind. Many states restore the vote to people when they leave prison. We should too.

  • Rob Bonta: District: 510-286-1670; Capitol: 916-319-2018

If your Assemblymember is Buffy Wicks, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, or Bill Quirk, tell them:

My name is ____________, my zip code is _____________, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want Assemblymember _______ to vote YES on ACA 6. Not allowing people on parole to vote is a form of voter suppression and it needs to end. California should leave Jim Crow behind. Many states restore the vote to people when they leave prison. We should too.

  • Buffy Wicks: District: 510-286-1400; Capitol: 916-319-2015
  • Rebecca Bauer-Kahan: Capitol (handles legislative calls): 916-319-2016
  • Bill Quirk: Capitol: 916-319-2020; District 510-583-8818
  • Not sure who your Assemblymember is? Check here; or call 916-702-8820 and enter your zip code and you’ll be connected directly to your legislator.
  • Got California friends outside the East Bay? They can use this click-to-call page for a script and to be patched through to their Assemblymember; or they can call 916-702-8820 and enter their zip code to be connected directly to their legislator.

2. Spread it on social media

Here’s a cool social media toolkit all set up for you! Use it, pass it on, spread the word!

More info about why we need ACA 6:

Under the California Constitution and Elections Code, people on parole cannot vote. ACA 6 seeks to change that.

Parole is intended to reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals back into the community. Nearly 50,000 Californians on parole pay taxes at the local, state, and federal levels. Allowing people to vote again after they have finished their prison sentence increases their feeling of connection to their community in a positive way. Voting “can play a major role in reducing recidivism.”

On the other hand: stripping the vote from felons comes from the Jim Crow era. It’s part of a whole fabric of voter suppression in minority and marginalized communities – restoring the vote needs to be part of destroying that fabric. Current state law allows some people on community supervision to vote, but since some individuals have been punished harshly – even jailed! – for trying in good faith to vote when they were not allowed to, some eligible voters will be deterred from going to the polls rather than take any chances. Ending disenfranchisement for people on parole would clarify voting rights for all formerly incarcerated people in California.

California is behind the times in not allowing people on parole to vote: As of 2020, in sixteen other states and the District of Columbia a person’s right to vote will be automatically restored after their release from prison, with more states considering eliminating their provisions against people on parole voting; in addition, two states (Maine and Vermont) don’t remove voting rights for people with convictions, even while they’re in prison. It’s too late for us to be a leader, but at least let’s not be the tail end of this trend toward justice.

More resources:

Photograph, “Felon voting rights” by Michael Fleshman

IEB 7/16/19 Meeting with Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, AD-15

Meeting with Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, AD-15, on July 16, 2019

PRESENT: Buffy Wicks; Senior Field Representative Uche Uwahemu; one additional staff person and three interns; five IEB members.

This was Indivisible East Bay’s first solo meeting with Assemblymember Wicks, following our May 10, 2019 meeting with her and Asm. Rob Bonta. We gave Wicks and her staff our pre-meeting memo and our list of IEB Priority Bills (many of which are also bills of priority interest statewide). By now bills initiated in one chamber of the Legislature have passed to the other chamber, where they must pass by mid-September, so these were the bills we focused on. With a few exceptions, we did not cover other bills that have died, that have not been included in the Governor’s budget, or that have become two-year bills and will roll over into next year.

ELECTIONS / VOTING RIGHTS:

A unifying theme of our selection of voting rights bills is supporting the major goals of the federal bill H.R.1, the For the People Act: expanding voting rights, campaign finance reform, and strengthening the government’s ethics laws. H.R.1 is an omnibus bill because the most effective changes work in tandem to complement each other. Wicks stated that she cares about voter rights and supports a variety of approaches. She was open to the idea of an omnibus bill and even suggested that she might look at authoring such a bill next session. We also discussed:

  • ACA 6, which expands voting rights to people on parole to re-enfranchise over 50,000 Californians. IEB is working with the community co-sponsors of ACA 6, including Initiate Justice, All of Us or None, and our community partner Open Gate. This is now a two-year bill. It still needs to be voted on in this Assembly this year, but will not reach the Senate until next year. Because it is a constitutional amendment it will require a two-thirds vote to pass. We asked Wicks to become a co-author, and she said she would be happy to.
  • We thanked Wicks for supporting AB 1217, which requires issue advertisements to disclose the top three funders. The bill is now in the Senate. SB 47 is another important bill for transparency, requiring ballot initiative signature gatherers to disclose the top three funders. We asked her to become a co-author. 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE:

  • Wicks supported AB 32, which prohibits the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from entering into or renewing contracts with private for-profit prisons. The bill, which is now in the Senate, has a long list of community co-sponsors, including California StateStrong; and one opponent, the CA State Sheriffs’ Association.
  • Wicks supported AB 1185, establishing a sheriff oversight board, on the Assembly floor (the bill is now in the Senate). However, more needs to be done in this arena – right now, there is no term limit on sheriffs. In response to IEB’s asking if she would consider introducing a constitutional amendment to switch from elected to appointed sheriffs or introducing a bill allowing counties to set term limits for sheriffs and district attorneys, Wicks responded that she is interested in an approach that would change the requirement that a person have a law-enforcement background in order to run for sheriff. She told us that either she or Sen. Nancy Skinner will author a bill to do that. 

STATE BUDGET:

  • Wicks joined us in being glad that Medi-Cal was expanded to include some undocumented immigrants (SB 29), but disappointed that it didn’t include seniors because of stated budgetary concerns.
  • Likewise, we were disappointed that the budget did not expand the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) program to include holders of Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, though we’re glad the income threshold was expanded.

IMMIGRATION/LOCAL COOPERATION WITH ICE:

  • Just before the meeting, we learned that Oakland Airport has been one of the top airports used by ICE in California. Wicks said she had also been unaware of this. When we asked if she had any thoughts on what might be done to end that cooperation, she said that the Governor has a broader ability to do things and we may need to get to him.
  • Since our meeting, IEB testified at the Port of Oakland commissioners meeting on July 25. In response, the Port said in the coming weeks, they are committed to developing recommendations and a definitive response to the events that occurred. 

ENVIRONMENT:

  • Wicks agreed with AB 1276, a state-specific “Green New Deal” aimed at addressing the climate crisis in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, technology and infrastructure, as well as economics, education, and civil rights. She specifically supported resilient infrastructure with AB 1698 (infrastructure investment and financing).
  • SB 200, which Wicks voted for, establishes a fund to secure access to safe drinking water. It was signed into law by the governor on July 24th.

EDUCATION:

  • Wicks co-authored SB 37 with Sen. Nancy Skinner to increase the tax rate on large corporations in order to fund child care, public schools and higher education. Though it didn’t pass the Senate, she emphasized that the need for it remains. She supports Prop. 13 reform (the Schools and Communities First initiative will be on the ballot in 2020) but noted that it only provides $11 billion towards the $50 billion she believes is required to fund schools.
  • Wicks voted in support of bills that reformed how charter schools are formed and operated: AB 1505, which passed both houses of the Legislature; AB 1506, which did not; and SB 126, which has already been signed into law. She stated that she believes there are good charter schools but that more accountability is needed.

HOUSING:

Housing is a major focus of Wicks’ legislative interest. She stated that we need 3.5 million units of housing at all income levels and at higher density levels and noted the need for housing at moderate income levels, where costs are too high but people do not qualify for assistance. She is a co-author of:

  • AB 724, which was intended to create a registry of rental properties (though it did not pass the Assembly).
  • AB 1482, which would prohibit rent gouging and eviction without just cause.
  • SB 50, which provides incentives for streamlining approval of housing development.

POVERTY:

We didn’t discuss poverty with Wicks because she is already very strong on the issue. We had several priority bills on issues of poverty and hunger, and she has either authored or voted for all of them:

FUTURE WORK:

Wicks asked that we stay in touch going forward. She is developing bills for next year’s session that she would like our feedback on and support with, touching on a number of topics, including housing, hunger, privacy concerns, and reproductive rights.

By IEB Governance Committee members Toni Henle and Ion Y

Toni Henle is retired after a career in policy work at non-profits focused on workforce development. She is a member of the IEB Governance Committee, co-lead of Outreach to Organizations and a member of the Indivisible CA-11 team.

Meeting with State Sen. Skinner, June 2019

Indivisible East Bay Meeting with State Senator Nancy Skinner, SD 9

June 28, 2019

From Sen. Skinner’s Office: State Senator Nancy Skinner, Margaret Hanlon-Gradie 

All notes reflect remarks by Senator Skinner unless otherwise noted.

Overview, some things that California can do to fight the federal government and make the state and local communities more livable:

  • Addressing wealth disparity; we used the budget to extended medical from undocumented children all the way up to 25-year-olds; we missed getting coverage for undocumented seniors because the Governor blocked it on budget concerns; we had a bill for student health programs to provide Plan B, but were vetoed by Brown – we’ve passed it again, and are confident Newsom will sign it.
  • Hanlon-Gradie: We plan to put out an ICE raid warning in two weeks.
  • ICE is contracting less with sheriffs because of monitoring and inspecting by the state. Yolo County had a juvenile in solitary for 9 months – our bill gave powers to the AG to inspect the jails and got that fixed. Caging kids may play to some in Trump’s base, but hurts him with the overall electorate.

Issues concerning sheriffs:

  • Aware of current sheriff eligibility bill that would require sheriffs to have gone to police academy. 
  • AB1185, bill for oversight over sheriffs, is up for a July 2 committee vote; worried about the Appropriations Committee – Anthony Portantino of La Cañada-Flintridge needs to be lobbied to pass it through committee.
  • Budget for deportation concerns: added $20MM to the general legal defense fund for tenant and immigrant defense, like East Bay Community Law Center. The more money that’s available in the big pool, the more will go to immigration defense.
  • Elected vs. appointed sheriffs: as it stands, appointed sheriffs won’t get put on the ballot because of the sheriffs’ power. Was unaware that sheriffs and district attorneys have no term limits; generally opposes term limits but would consider a bill to let counties impose them.

Election Security and voting rights:

  • IEB: could CA have an omnibus election security bills like HR1? Skinner: Lobby Lorena Gonzales (AD80) – she wants to be Secretary of State and this is an issue that could distinguish her.
  • Same day registration: Agrees with IEB that Motor Voter is not enough.
  • ACA 6, Constitutional amendment, parolee voting rights: Supports, and also supports SB310, which would allow former felons to serve on juries – a civil rights issue because a black man has a hard time getting a jury of his peers. (Some question about actual sponsorship of these bills.)

Miscellaneous legislation:

  • AB1593 (plastic pollution reduction): already included in budget; AB1080 (single use plastic ban bill): already in the senate as SB54 (and there’s a duplicate clause in a another bill before the senate) 
  • Supports AB1022 (anti hunger response training)
  • Supports tax credit for children but suggests we support Autumn Burke tax credit, which is similar 
  • AB5 (codifying and expanding the CA Supreme Court Dynamex case prohibiting employers from misclassifying employees as contractors vs. employees): Skinner supports the bill and is very unhappy that the Governor is going to block it. She suggests we lobby the Governor. 
  • SB168, creates a Chief Officer of Climate Resilience: Skinner will consider co-authoring.

IEB’s May meeting with Assemblymembers Bonta & Wicks

By Ted Lam

Editors’ note: for each bill discussed we include its number (starting with AB for “Assembly bill,” SB for “Senate bill,” or “ACA” for “Assembly Constitutional Amendment”), its official name, and, where we know, its current status as of this writing, May 28. The legislative deadline to pass bills through their house of origin is May 31, so by that date most of the bills will have either “passed” to the other house, or have failed for the year. Currently, most of them are still under debate, so no status is included – but we include a link so you can check the status after May 31.

On May 10, 2019, Indivisible CA: StateStrong Director Jiggy Athilingam and about a dozen Indivisible East Bay members met with East Bay Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks and Rob Bonta in Oakland. We wanted to thank them for their progressive work in Sacramento, and we had questions on several of our legislative priorities. Read our pre-meeting memorandum here.  

Because Bonta was running late we opened by asking Wicks whether she was familiar with IEB, and were glad to hear that she is (she even added “I love you guys”). In response to our question about why the legislature didn’t override Governor Brown’s vetoes of progressive bills last session, she suggested we ask Bonta, since she only got to Sacramento in January 2019. She pointed out, though, that there are different types of Democrats in the legislature and that Governor Newsom is also different than Governor Brown.

We covered several criminal justice reform bills going through committees, specifically AB 392 (Peace Officers: deadly force; status). Wicks said that she strongly supports AB 392 and the other criminal justice reform bills. She commented that “392 is the progressive bill of the year. You have a good author in [Assemblymember] Weber.” Wicks recommended that other Indivisible chapters contact their state representatives, especially in the Inland Empire. We thanked her for supporting AB 277 (Parole: reintegration credits; status), noting why the cash bail system is wrong.

Assemblymember Bonta joined us, and we discussed the fact that SB 10 (Mental health services: peer support specialist certification; status: passed assembly, 5/21) stalled last year due to its risk assessment tool. Bonta noted that there are a lot of entrenched interests who don’t want to see change, and mentioned that although the bill didn’t make it out of the Assembly, they were able to put it on the ballot in 2020. Bonta said that he’s working with the Santa Clara Justice Group to fix the risk assessment tool, and he believes it will pass.

We asked Bonta about the following bills: AB 1332 (Sanctuary State Contracting and Investment Act; status), AB 4 (Medi-Cal: eligibility for all undocumented immigrants; status), AB 1276 (Green New Deal; status), and AB 1185 (Officer oversight: Sheriff oversight board; status). For AB 1332, Bonta said the Assembly plans to propose amendments to eliminate some unintended consequences. On AB 4, he said it will move, and added that Governor Newsom wants it to pass. We mentioned that Indivisibles throughout California are very excited about AB 1276, which Bonta sponsored, and we asked him to tell us how we can help. For AB 1185, Bonta speculated that the Sheriffs’ Association probably opposes this bill. He agreed the state’s sheriff system is outdated. Bonta offered that when Kamala Harris was CA Attorney General, she wasn’t eligible to run for sheriff due to the eligibility requirements, and suggested the legislature change that. Bonta was careful to say AB 1185 may not pass if the Sheriffs’ Association lobbies hard against it, and mentioned that the private prisons bill going through now will probably pass.

Bonta noted that California needs so many things: criminal justice reform, housing, and more. He mentioned that this was his seventh year, fourth term, and his most optimistic year. He considers Governor Newsom bold and progressive, and said that Newsom gave the legislature a budget that it could have written. Bonta let us know that when Indivisible pushes, it makes a difference! We are being heard. He also suggested that we reward the legislators who are doing the right things, and as for the others, said we should share our stories.

We discussed the issue of poverty, and Wicks pointed out her three food bills that are now in the Appropriations Committee, including one that is targeted to foster children. She believes that if the bills get out of Appropriations, they’ll be fine. She also mentioned the problem that some parents don’t even realize they qualify for Healthy Start. In response to our question about a child credit, Wicks wasn’t aware of anything in the works, and Bonta suggested that they could do more research on it. Wicks said she appreciates that Indivisible groups are pushing legislators to support progressive bills.

One member of our group, a Teamster who’s on the Labor Council, expressed appreciation for AB 1505 (Charter schools: petitions; status: passed assembly, 5/22), Bonta called 1505 – the bill he introduced which puts limits on charter schools – the “jewel of the package” of bills to limit charter schools, mentioning that it gives school districts more authority and takes into account financial impacts. Bonta said that he’s pretty optimistic about its chances, and noted that State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond is interested in and involved with the charter issue, particularly with his Blue Ribbon Commission. When we asked about helping the Oakland Unified School District, Bonta raised several challenges and suggested that a coalition could work on the issue.

After Wicks left for an appointment, we discussed elections and voting rights with Bonta, including AB 49 (CA Voter Protection Act 2019; status: passed assembly, 5/9) and AB 177 (Election Day Holiday; status), and we stressed the need for risk-limiting audits, the mechanism that allows hacking of elections to be detected. We emphasized that these bills are best seen as not as individual changes but collectively as part of a solid electoral foundation. Because the biggest suppressor of votes is a lack of time and resources, bills that make it easier to vote make it much more likely that people actually will vote. Although Bonta was not familiar with these bills he was open to supporting them, and seemed supportive of the idea of making them work to strengthen each other.

Circling back to criminal justice reform issues, we asked Bonta what he thought the chances are for ACA 6 (constitutional amendment part of Free the Vote Act, along with its legislative part, AB 646) and AB 392 (Peace officers: deadly force; status: passed committee, under debate). He noted that passage of ACA 6 would be an important step forward by amending the California Constitution to allow those on parole to vote. He pointed out that those who vote have a greater connection to the community; and he believes people don’t understand that the bill would reduce recidivism. We agreed that everyone needs to work to promote the benefits of this change to the state Constitution. Bonta mentioned that Assembly members in moderate districts who need to balance supporting law enforcement with more progressive actions might push back harder on other bills, but would in turn highlight the reduction in recidivism benefits in order to throw their support to ACA 6. We talked generally about expunging certain criminal records, which Bonta said in the future may be done in conjunction with vehicle registration. He also noted that the primary reason expungement wasn’t happening was because parolees weren’t told it was their right and that they have the option to request it.

Our meeting was very productive. Are you interested in working with Indivisible East Bay’s Members of Congress teams, or in helping us work on and track California state legislation? Let us know by email or join any of our MoC teams on Slack. For an invitation to join Slack, email: info@IndivisibleEB.org

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer. Ted is a member of the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee and is co-lead of the Indivisible CA-11 team.

Supporting Criminal Justice Reform Bills in the California Legislature

By Toni Henle

Action Deadline: today and every day through May 30 –

On May 20, 2019, Indivisible East Bay members joined a large crowd at the State Capitol in Sacramento at the 2019 Quest4Democracy (Q4D) Advocacy Day. Q4D is a statewide coalition of grassroots groups supporting a platform of bills to improve access to employment, housing, and education for all Californians, and to restore civil and human rights for prisoners and the formerly incarcerated. Several of the bills supported by Q4D are on the Indivisible CA StateStrong list of priority bills for this legislative session, including ACA 6-Free the Vote, which would restore voting rights to approximately 50,000 people on parole in California who are currently prohibited by the State Constitution from voting, and AB 392, which clarifies that police should use deadly force only when there are no alternatives and requires de-escalation whenever possible. IEB strongly supports, and has written about, both ACA 6 and AB 392; see below for actions you can take to support these bills with your East Bay assembly members.

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The rally had many emotional high points, especially when family members who lost loved ones to police violence, including the mother of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man shot by police in Sacramento, spoke about unjust violence and their horrendous losses and led chants of “Remember their name…” And Assemblymember Rob Bonta, a co-author of ACA 6, said “The right to vote is the greatest anti-recidivism tool that we have.”

Before Lobby Day began, attendees received legislative advocacy training on the general mechanics of the California legislature and the specific bills the coalition is supporting. Then over 100 people spread out inside the Capitol to talk with elected representatives and their staffs in support of proposed legislation, while other supporters made phone calls from outside. IEB members met with groups organizing actions at the event, including All Of Us or None, Initiate Justice, Prisoners with Children, and many others.

IEB interviewed attendee Abdul Haqq Muhammad, Community Outreach Coordinator for Open Gate, an Oakland-based jail-to-college pipeline nonprofit. Muhammad explained that he wanted to make a difference in supporting Free the Vote for the 50,000 people on parole, including himself, who don’t have the right to vote. As he said:

The black and brown community has been sold a bill of goods that their vote doesn’t count, but if it didn’t, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to keep it from so many. If ACA 6 passes, it would give those of us on parole a voice to effect change, instead of the system affecting us. Voting is the first step in being a citizen.

IEB was approached by two young women from UC Riverside with their Underground Scholar Initiative. Bibiana and Jazmin came from the Inland Empire to lobby legislators “to shift the School-to-Prison pipeline to a Prison-to-School pipeline using higher education as an alternative to incarceration through recruitment, retention, and advocacy.” One of them told us that her brother was incarcerated when she was seven years old, and that has had a big impact on her life. We were moved by her personal story and how she was trying to do something meaningful while attending college.

What you can do:

Each legislative chamber must vote on bills and send them to the other chamber by May 31, meaning that floor votes can happen any time from now until then. So call your state assemblymember NOW!

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (AD-15):
    • supported AB 392 in the Public Safety Committee. Call to thank her and ask for her vote for AB 392 on the floor.
    • She doesn’t have a public position on ACA 6 and needs calls asking for her support.
    • District: 510-286-1400; Capitol: 916-319-2015
  • Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (AD 16):
    • supported AB 392 in the Public Safety Committee
    • supports ACA 6
    • Call to thank her and ask her to support both bills on the floor.
    • Capitol (handles legislative calls): 916-319-2016
  • Assemblymember Rob Bonta (AD-18):
    • has not yet taken a position on AB 392 and needs calls to support.
    • Is a co-author of ACA 6; thank him.
    • District: 510-286-1670; Capitol: 916-319-2018
  • Assemblymember Bill Quirk (AD-20):
    • needs calls on both AB 392 and ACA 6.
    • voted “aye” in public safety committee for AB 392; thank him and ask him to do so again in the Assembly.
    • District: 510-583-8818; Capitol: 916-319-2020

What to say:

For AB 392:

My name is ______, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to ask for (or: thank you for) your support on AB 392. We need this bill to update California’s use of force standard, to make sure that police officers avoid using deadly force whenever there are alternatives available to them. AB 392 is modeled after best practices across the country. This bill will save lives. “Yes” on AB 392!

For ACA 6:

My name is ______, my zip code is _____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to ask for (or: thank you for) your support on ACA 6, the Free the Vote Act. ACA 6 restores the right to vote to about 50,000 Californians who are on parole. Taking away the right to vote from formerly incarcerated people is a form of voter suppression that dates back to Jim Crow laws. People on parole pay taxes; they should be able to vote and be full participants in our communities and democracy. Please vote “Yes” on ACA 6!

If you want to learn more about the work that IEB’s Voter Rights & Election Integrity team is doing, and how you can help, email us at info@IndivisibleEB.org, or join the #voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.  For an invitation to join Slack, email: info@IndivisibleEB.org

Toni Henle is retired after a career in policy work at non-profits focused on workforce development. She is a member of the IEB Governance Committee, co-lead of Outreach to Organizations and a member of the Indivisible CA-11 team.

Fight Voter Suppression and Free the Vote in California!

Action deadline: Friday April 26 and ongoing –

There’s strength in numbers. (Go Warriors!) Every vote matters, and we need to do everything in our power to combat voter suppression. Restoring voting rights to Californians who are on parole is a critical step, and although we can’t do this in time for the 2020 election, there’s a path to achieve this goal in the near future. And your help is needed.

East Bay Assemblymember Rob Bonta is coauthor of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6, the “Free the Vote Act,” which eliminates the provisions of the California Constitution that disqualify people on parole from voting. A companion bill to ACA 6, AB 646, amends the relevant provisions of the Elections Code. Passage of ACA 6 requires a 2/3 vote in both the Assembly and Senate, followed by ratification by a majority of voters. AB 646, if passed into law, will only take effect if the voters pass ACA 6 in the 2020 election. ACA 6 and AB 646 have been designated as priority measures by CA State Strong.

Almost 50,000 Californians on parole are disqualified from voting, even though they have served their sentences and been released from prison. The right to vote is a pillar of citizenship, and people on parole for felony convictions are still citizens who pay taxes and have an overriding constitutional right to have their voices heard on political issues. As Assemblymember Bonta explains:

After paying their debt to society, people have a right and obligation to contribute to society. Part of building a productive life includes becoming civically engaged and exercising the fundamental right to vote.

Given the “racial underbelly of criminal justice policies in general,” it comes as no surprise that felony disenfranchisement disproportionately impacts people of color. In California, three out of four male prisoners are nonwhite. Black American adults are more than four times more likely to lose the right to vote than non-Black American adults. As the Sentencing Project puts it, research shows that:

African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, and they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences.

In other words: Black Americans are more likely to lose their voting rights, and to lose them for longer. To add insult to injury, prisoners are often counted as residents of largely white rural areas where prisons are located for the purposes of redistricting, leading to “prison-based gerrymandering.”

Felony disenfranchisement is a shameful reminder of California’s Jim Crow laws, enshrined in our Constitution. As a matter of fundamental fairness, we must amend the Constitution to restore the right to vote to people with convictions. Restoring the right to vote helps people leaving prison reintegrate into the community. Successful reintegration reduces recidivism and increases public safety. As Secretary of State Padilla commented: “Civic participation is foundational to a sense of community—and it can play a major role in reducing recidivism.”

California has already begun to reform its felony disenfranchisement policies. In 2016, voting rights were restored to people convicted of a felony offense who had been sent to county jail, but not those sent to state or federal prison. ACA 6 and AB 646 will advance this effort by ensuring that people on felony parole who have served their sentences will be treated equally regardless of the facility in which they were incarcerated.

This is an idea whose time has come. An increasing number of states have passed legislation eliminating or modifying felony disenfranchisement. It’s become a topic of discussion for Democratic Presidential hopefuls and other bigwigs and has entered the discourse on social media. California is lagging behind in this national movement to advance democracy.

What you can do:

1. Call your state representatives, now and every day.

If you’re a constituent of Assemblymember Bonta, thank him; if you’re a constituent of Assemblymember Wicks or Bauer-Kahan, call and encourage them to support ACA 6 & AB 646. Yes, call even when your representatives have taken good positions on an issue! The other side is calling, and you need to make your voice heard.

Find your legislator here.

What to say:

For Assemblymembers Wicks and Bauer-Kahan:

My name is _______, my zip code is ______, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want _______ to co-author and support Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6, which restores voting rights to Californians on parole after they have been released from prison. I also want _______ to support AB 646, the companion bill to ACA 6.

For Assemblymember Bonta:

My name is _______, my zip code is ______, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want to thank Assemblymember Bonta for coauthoring ACA 6 and supporting voting rights for Californians who are on parole after they have been released from prison. I strongly support ACA 6 and AB 646.

  • Buffy Wicks 510-286-1400; email
  • Rob Bonta 510-286-1670; email
  • Rebecca Bauer-Kahan 925-328-1515; email

2. Come to Sacramento on May 20 for the 2019 Quest For Democracy Advocacy Day

Join IEB and community partners at this event at the Capitol in Sacramento, where participants will meet to strategize, train, and then advocate directly to legislators. A bus will leave for the event from Fruitvale and West Oakland BART stations in Oakland on the following schedule on May 20:

  • 7 AM: Bus will be at Fruitvale BART
  • 7:15 AM: Bus leaves Fruitvale BART
  • 7:30 AM: bus leaves West Oakland

RSVP (required!) and let them know you’re with IEB.

Read our prior articles:

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December 10 March for voting rights, photograph © Michael Fleshman

March 2019 meeting with Sen. Nancy Skinner

State Senator Nancy Skinner and her aide Margaret Hanlon-Gradie met with six Indivisible East Bay members, including the founder of California StateStrong, on March 1, 2019, to talk about important bills in the current legislative session. The half-hour meeting was wide-ranging, including discussions of bills that Indivisible East Bay is prioritizing and bills that Sen. Skinner herself is introducing. Read our pre-meeting memo to Sen. Skinner here.

Police Use of force

Two bills this session deal with the issue of police use of force. We asked Sen. Skinner, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, to support AB 392. Her support will be critical to the outcome of this bill – and to the defeat of SB 230, a competing, weaker bill supported by law enforcement agencies. In line with recommendations from policing and legal experts, including the California Attorney General, AB 392 updates California law so that police can use deadly force only when necessary to prevent death or serious injury, and requires them to use tactics to de-escalate a situation or use alternatives to deadly force when reasonable. Changing to this standard will mean that officers will be trained to use deadly force less often and will be held accountable when they shoot and kill unnecessarily. Read our article and action item on AB 392 and SB 230 here.

As Committee Chair, Skinner said she cannot signal anything now, but she noted that neither the Public Safety Committee membership nor the chair has changed since last year when they approved AB 931, a bill very similar to AB 392 that ultimately did not receive a vote in the CA Senate. Skinner urged us to make sure Indivisible groups up and down the state are clear on AB 392 and SB 230 and flood their legislators with communications about them. Also, it’s important to work to gain the support of groups and institutions that have personal and moral influence with legislators, particularly the faith community, including the Catholic, Jewish, and African-American congregations.

Criminal Justice Reform

IEB asked Sen. Skinner to support AB 32, which would abolish for-profit prisons. Sen. Skinner supports ending for-profit prisons and Skinner’s budget subcommittee will hold hearings on why we still have prisoners in Mississippi, but in her opinion this is the least of the issues since California only has two privately owned prisons, which are staffed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and which operate under CDCR rules. The main issue in her opinion is that we have way too many people in prison despite sentencing reforms. Skinner suggests the focus should be on bills from last year that didn’t make it through the legislature that would have eliminated various sentence enhancements. She also suggested focusing on Assemblymember Bonta’s AB 1793, which became law last fall; this deals, among other things, with resentencing for marijuana-related offenses whose legal status changed under Proposition 64.

Importantly, Sen. Skinner will also carry a parole reform bill to increase the chance of parole by changing the criteria for the parole board’s “risk assessment.”  Now, only 18 percent of people who come before the parole board are released. The current criteria mostly have nothing to do with the prisoner’s behavior, are not under the prisoner’s control, and are stacked against black and brown people—e.g., family history of incarceration. Senator Skinner urged as many Indivisible groups as possible to email and call their legislators to pass these bills.

Sen. Skinner beat IEB to the punch discussing Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 6, which if approved by voters in 2020 will amend the California Constitution to restore voting rights to Californians on parole. IEB will be working with the community co-sponsors of ACA 6, including our community partner Open Gate, which supports people leaving prison and pursuing their education. Sen. Skinner told us she is a strong supporter of restoring rights to people returning to the community after incarceration. To our request that she co-sponsor ACA 6 when it comes to the Senate, she responded that voting rights are “very important.”

Anti-Poverty

We thanked Sen. Skinner for introducing SB 18, the Keep Californians Housed Act, co-authored by two other East Bay representatives, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Buffy Wicks. Among other things, this bill establishes a Homelessness Prevention and Legal Aid Fund in the State Treasury.

IEB asked Sen. Skinner to fund the CalFood Program at $24.5 million, to enable food banks to meet emergency needs. We asked her to support the following bills:

  • AB 1022 (Wicks), a top priority of our community partner the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB), addresses the need to end hunger for adults (Able-Bodied Adults without Children) who are harmed by the federal 3-month time limit to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Senator Skinner said this bill should not be a problem, depending on the appropriations amount.
  • SB 285, co-sponsored by the ACCFB, would ensure all eligible Californians have access to CalFresh/SNAP by phone, online, and in-person through dignified means and within an integrated safety net that supports health and well-being. Senator Skinner said she is a strong supporter of making sure everyone who qualifies for SNAP gets it, and she has carried bills to this end in the past.  She thinks this will pass.
  • SB 499, Hunger-Free Schools, and AB 842, Hunger-Free Preschool and Child Care, would increase K-12 schools’ capacity to provide healthy school meals, and are spin-offs of legislation that Senator Skinner carried, so she is a strong supporter.

Finance

We asked for Sen. Skinner’s support of the public banking charter bill sponsored by the California Public Banking Alliance. This will create a new type of charter/license specifically tailored to public banks, which are defined as banks wholly owned by public entities (cities, counties, school or water districts, or combinations thereof). She replied that she is a strong supporter of work around public banks.  She will have to see the language before saying she will co-author.

Senator Skinner is carrying a corporate income tax bill, intended to make corporations share some of the huge savings they reaped from the Trump tax overhaul. Corporate income taxes used to supply about 30% of the state’s general fund; that is now down to less than 9%. Under Sen. Skinner’s bill, the higher the ratio between the corporation’s top officer’s pay and the median employee pay, the higher the tax rate.

We look forward to working with Senator Skinner in the current session.

Join the meetings! Indivisible East Bay meets with the staff of our Members of Congress frequently. Be part of our team! It’s a fascinating way to find out more about the things you care about. Meetings are announced in the IEB weekly newsletter; subscribe to the newsletter for this and more!