Tag Archive for Senator Mark Leno

California’s 2010 Law Changing the Crime Classification for Petty Marijuana Possession Reduced Workload for District Attorneys and Courts

Thanksgiving dinner at the Dayton household featured relatives and friends from San Francisco and Berkeley who are active in leftist causes and jubilant about the election results. Meanwhile, I was bemoaning the lack of present and future market demand in California for policy analysts and political consultants who advocate for minimalist government.

From their perspective, there was a solution: work with a campaign to convince a majority of California voters to legalize marijuana, as voters did in Colorado and Washington in the November 6 election.

Factions on both the Left and Right could agree that this step would give Californians more personal freedom from intrusive government and reduce the costs of law enforcement, courts, and prison, thus saving money for taxpayers and allowing the government to focus limited resources on more serious threats to an orderly, functioning society. The product could also be taxed as a source of revenue. In addition, such a campaign might introduce concepts of economic and personal freedom to California citizens who don’t often respond to the typical message and delivery from the Right. See the November 14, 2012 Cato Institute article A Time for Choosing: The GOP and the Marijuana Initiatives for this kind of thinking.

I was reminded of the Thanksgiving dinner advice when I saw tweets this morning from Scott Lewis, a reporter for the Voice of San Diego web news site. He wrote that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) reported 6,783 misdemeanor marijuana arrests in San Diego County in 2010, but only 703 in 2011. That’s a 90% drop in arrests. (The San Diego Union-Tribune has now reported this in the November 28, 2012 article Marijuana Arrests Plummet 90% Countywide.)

I immediately knew the reason for the drop, but people in San Diego replied with tweets asking if this was because of lack of enforcement, a drop in use, or the presence of medical marijuana dispensaries. All of these guesses were wrong but understandable, because Californians have dramatically inaccurate perceptions about the state’s marijuana laws.

As the reporter subsequently confirmed with another tweet, it’s because of an obscure change in state law in 2010, explained below. I tweeted a question on whether or not anyone had compiled the statewide statistics on misdemeanor marijuana arrests and/or estimated the savings for county district attorneys and the judicial branch. I’m looking forward to an answer.

Petty Marijuana Possession in California Ceased to Be a Felony in 1975, and It Ceased to Be a Misdemeanor in 2010

June 26, 2001 analysis of Senate Bill 791 for the Assembly Committee on Public Safety corrected a common misperception among Californians that hundreds of thousands of people are in prison because they were caught with a small amount of marijuana:

…possession of less than one ounce of marijuana was essentially decriminalized in 1975 with the passage of the Moscone Act. Up until that time, possession of any amount of marijuana was a felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison. In 1974, felony marijuana arrests peaked at nearly 100,000 (99,597), representing about one-fourth (24.75 percent) of the felony arrests in the state and over two-thirds (69.21 percent) of the state’s felony drug arrests.

Even though possession of one ounce (28.5 grams) or less of marijuana was no longer an offense for jail or prison (outside of some exceptions that continue today), the violation remained a misdemeanor to be addressed in trial courts. It was claimed that the misdemeanor classification was costly and absurd, because “there exists no disincentive for the accused to drain the resources of the state and the courts with a lengthy trial” that would simply result in a $100 fine if a judge or jury found the defendant to be guilty.

Few Californians know that in the waning days of his administration, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1449, introduced by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), which changed the classification of crime for possessing one ounce (28.5 grams) or less of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil infraction that simply triggers a $100 fine. (To put this amount in perspective, California drivers are fined between $400 and $500 when photographed running a red light.)

At that time, California voters were about to decide on a statewide marijuana legalization ballot measure, Proposition 19, called the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010.” Opponents of Proposition 19 thought Senate Bill 1449 could blunt voter support for Proposition 19. It did lose in the end, 53.5% to 46.5%.

Theories abound as to why a majority of voters rejected Proposition 19, with one being that some voters thought Senate Bill 1449 was acceptable but full-fledged legalization was too extreme. Another reasonable guess is that some voters agreed with the arguments of business groups and news organizations that Proposition 19 was poorly written and would undermine company drug policies, and it would even give people flexibility to drive under the influence of marijuana. (My former employer, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of California, opposed Proposition 19 because it did not want construction workers on dangerous job sites to use Proposition 19 as a basis to evade company drug policies.)

Converting Petty Marijuana Possession from a Misdemeanor to an Infraction

Senate Bill 1449 was promoted as a way for the State of California to reduce the expenditures of the judicial branch by eliminating the involvement of trial courts in petty marijuana possession cases. The bill analysis for SB 1449 noted that “the number of misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests have surged in recent years, reaching 61,388 in 2008.”

According to an April 21, 2010 analysis of Senate Bill 1449 for the Senate Rules Committee and a June 22, 2010 analysis of Senate Bill 1449 for the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, supporters of the bill included the American Civil Liberties Union, the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the California District Attorneys Association, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – California, the District Attorney of San Diego, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Friends Committee on Legislation of California, and most significantly, the Judicial Council of California. Opponents listed in the April 21 analysis were the California Narcotics Officers Association, the California Peace Officers Association, and the California Police Chiefs Association. No opponents of SB 1449 were listed in the June 22 analysis.

A handful of Democrats voted against Senate Bill 1449. Two Republicans voted for it: Assemblyman Anthony Adams, who was not running again after supporting a budget deal in 2009 that raised taxes, and Assemblyman Chris Norby, a former Orange County supervisor whose voting record reflected a libertarian philosophy.

After being the lone champion in the state legislature of proposals unpopular with the Establishment – such as eliminating redevelopment agencies – Norby was defeated for re-election in November 2012 by a Democrat supported by every organization in Sacramento that feeds off the government. In Norby’s farewell statement issued today (November 28, 2012) and published on the OC Politics Blog as Verbatim: Chris Norby’s Goodbye, he wrote the following about his work on marijuana laws:

As for marijuana, I was happy to provide bipartisan support to legalize the growing of industrial hemp, and for more rational laws in dealing with its recreational use. The War on Drugs has become a war on people – especially poor people. It costs billions in incarceration and in broken lives of those whose only crime was ingesting a substance into their own bodies. Is this a criminal issue or health issue? Consensual, non-violent adult activity should not be subject to our costly criminal justice system or militarize our relations with other countries.

Republican leaders love to blast the over-intrusive “nanny state,” yet for cultural reasons most shy away from advocating common sense drug laws. Some have not shied away: influential columnists William F. Buckley and George Will, Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), Rep. and Sen.-elect Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), and former Secretary of State George Shultz. Where are the Democrats? The current presidential administration has raided more medical marijuana dispensaries than its Republican predecessor.

Another Republican who supported the change in petty marijuana possession from misdemeanor to infraction was former Santa Cruz State Senator Bruce McPherson, who introduced essentially the same bill as Senate Bill 791 in 2001. According to a June 26, 2001 analysis of Senate Bill 791 for the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, that bill was supported by the California Council of Police and Sheriffs, the Judicial Council of California, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Opponents listed in the analysis were the California Narcotics Officers’ Association, the California Peace Officers’ Association, and the California Police Chiefs’ Association – the same three groups that opposed SB 1449 nine years later.

Also opposing SB 791 was the “Committee on Moral Concerns,” a group active in the 1990s against medical marijuana but now appears to be defunct. This group argued that “It sends the message that marijuana use carries little or no legal risk and, therefore, is nearly acceptable. Strengthening the law, instead of weakening it, would save the lives of thousands.”

The bill passed the Senate 23-13 but was defeated in the Assembly 44-14. Only one Republican voted for it: Senator Tom McClintock, who now represents California’s 4th Congressional District.

Senator McPherson was subsequently appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger as California Secretary of State in 2005 after the Democrat incumbent resigned in disgrace. He lost to Democrat Debra Bowen when he ran for a full term in 2006. He quit the Republican Party in June 2012 when he was running for Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. It appears he barely won (with 50.33%) against a Democrat in the November 6, 2012 election.

Will the California Republican Party Ever Lean Toward Marijuana Legalization? If So, Would Californians Be More Willing to Give Republicans a Chance to Govern?

Of the four Republican legislators who voted to reduce the penalty for petty marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction, one was repudiated for supporting a tax increase, another was appointed to a statewide office, lost the election, and then quit the Republican Party to run for county supervisor, and a third was rejected by voters in favor of a Democrat. Not an impressive track record. Only Tom McClintock is still holding an office, but note McClintock was unsuccessful as a replacement candidate for Governor in the 2003 recall election.

And Governor Schwarzenegger – the Republican who signed the bill – certainly didn’t leave office popular with Republican Party leaders and activists, not to mention Californians at large. (Wait until the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 – Assembly Bill 32 – really begins kicking in!)

Among the groups taking a position on reducing the penalty for petty marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction, the district attorneys would seem to be the group most palatable to Republican voters. The district attorneys’ support for Senate Bill 1149 (2010) and Senate Bill 791 (2001) was based on pragmatic, fiscal concerns. Even then, few Republicans were in favor of the change. This is a case in which moral connotations and implications seem to have primacy over saving money for taxpayers.

Some people on both the Left and the Right feel that government should serve as an authoritative or guiding force for public morality. Others on both the Left and the Right fear government when it serves as an authoritative or guiding force for public morality. That debate will continue in the realms of intellectual ideas, such as constitutional law, philosophy, and theology.

Meanwhile, we can now measure the short-term fiscal impact of weaker drug laws on government expenditures and see how the government is redistributing limited resources to reduce violent crime and protect property. It looks like Senate Bill 1449 greatly reduced law enforcement and judicial activity for one kind of crime. The states of Colorado and Washington are now serving as pilot programs to see the effect of outright legalization. For California leaders who believe that minimalist government is the best approach, the next year will bring some interesting new insights.

California’s Top Construction Union Boss Opens the Slush Fund Hydrant: $1.14 Million Full-Blast Against San Diego’s Proposition A Voter Initiative

Here’s yet another scoop from the Dayton Public Policy Institute about how unions are influencing the June 2012 elections in California: one supreme union official based in Sacramento has pumped $1.14 million into San Diego to defeat a city voter initiative called Proposition A. And some of the cash originally comes from utility ratepayers.

For readers unfamiliar with Proposition A, read immediately below. Those who know about Proposition A can proceed down to read about the union sources of $1.14 million for the No on A campaign.

Who Supports Proposition A in San Diego, and Why?

In 2011, San Diego voters signed petitions to qualify a Fair and Open Competition ordinance for consideration in the June 5, 2012 election. It was the first measure placed by voters on the city ballot since 1998. Now designated on the ballot as Proposition A, the Fair and Open Competition ordinance would prohibit the City of San Diego from requiring construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions as a condition of working on a taxpayer-funded project. It also contains language requiring the city to post certain contract information on-line.

The campaign to enact Proposition A is strongly supported by construction companies and construction trade associations. This is no surprise, since most construction companies work directly with their employees (either individually or collectively through a union) to determine the terms and conditions of work. They don’t want two-bit local politicians to negotiate separate 30-page to 60-page labor agreements with union officials (i.e. the politicians’ campaign contributors) and then impose those agreements on their businesses.

Many companies refuse to bid on work that includes a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement in the bid specifications. The resulting reduction in the number of bidders competing for contracts results in higher costs for taxpayers (as academic studies, basic economic theory, and common sense would predict).

See the YES on A campaign web site here and contributors to the YES on A campaign here.

Who Opposes Proposition A in San Diego, and Why?

The main opponents of Fair and Open Competition policies are obviously construction trade unions, which regard government-mandated Project Labor Agreements as an effective political tactic to cut bid competition and raise costs for their own benefit. With Project Labor Agreements, union organizers can completely avoid the unpleasant and time-consuming task of selling the benefits of unionization to skeptical workers. Instead, they simply ask their political allies in government to give them a union monopoly on construction!

Most construction unions in California belong under the umbrella of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, a union conglomerate based in Sacramento under the leadership of president Bob Balgenorth. If you look at the list of contributors to the No on A campaign (Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs, No on Measure A, sponsored by labor and management organizations), you’ll see the top two donors are Sacramento-based union-affiliated organizations under the direction of Bob Balgenorth. These two entities contributed $1.14 million to the No on A campaign, comprising 96% of all campaign receipts.

Let’s take a closer look at these two massive organizations funding the No on A campaign. One of them is a routine political action committee, but the other is a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true.

A Union Political Action Committee Gave One $45,000 Late Contribution, Comprising 3.8 Percent of the Contributions to the No on A Campaign

The Sacramento-based committee known as “Members’ Voice of the State Building Trades Council of California” made a late expenditure contribution of $45,000 to the No on A campaign on May 24. As you can see on the California Secretary of State’s web site, this committee collects money from various local construction unions and disburses the money to various campaigns for candidates and ballot measures. The Assistant Treasurer of the Members’ Voice of the State Building Trades Council of California is Bob Balgenorth.

A Mysterious Union Slush Fund, Authorized by an Obscure 1978 Federal Law to Encourage Better Relationships Between Unions and Manufacturers, Gave $1,095,000 to No on A – a Whopping 92% of All Receipts!

Something called the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust contributed a total of $1,095,000 to the No on A campaign. This is an extraordinarily high amount for a political contribution from one entity, especially concerning a local ballot measure! The head of the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust is Bob Balgenorth.

This is NOT a traditional Political Action Committee. It is an arcane type of union trust authorized by the obscure Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978, a law signed by President Jimmy Carter and implemented by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Inspired by the decline of unionized manufacturing in the Northeast, this federal law was meant to help industrial management and union officials build better personal relationships and cooperate against the threat of outside competition. There are no federal or state regulations specifically addressed toward these trusts, and these trusts do not have any reporting requirements to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards. This is an ambiguous and forgotten law that’s ripe for abuse.

It’s Not Union Members that Give the Money to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust: It’s Utility Ratepayers and Contractors Working for Extorted Power Plant Owners

Since the 1990s, whenever an energy company or public utility submits an application to the California Energy Commission seeking approval of a new power plant, an organization called California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) often “intervenes” in the licensing process. Represented by a South San Francisco law firm called Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, CURE submits massive data requests and environmental objections to the California Energy Commission. The applicant by law is required to answer CURE’s submissions, at significant cost and delay. The chairman of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) is Bob Balgenorth.

If the power plant owner agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement and require its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California or its regional affiliates, CURE’s objections go away and the power plant can proceed unhindered through the licensing process. If the company or utility does not surrender to CURE’s demand, then CURE’s interference and lawsuits continue.

This racket – sometimes called “greenmail” because it’s the use of environmental laws to pressure developers to sign Project Labor Agreements – is well-known to the energy industry in California and has been extensively reported in the news media over the past dozen years. (For example, see Labor Coalition’s Tactics on Renewable Energy Projects Are Criticized – Los Angeles Times – February 5, 2011.)

For cases in which the power plant applicant succumbs to CURE’s harassment, the Project Labor Agreement that the power plant owner signs usually contains a provision requiring the owner or its contractors to make a lump-sum payment or series of payments to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust.

For example, the Project Labor Agreement signed by the Northern California Power Agency (a conglomerate of publicly-owned utilities) for the construction of the Lodi Energy Center required the agency to shell out $90,000 to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. That amount was dutifully mailed to Bob Balgenorth on August 17, 2010. (For more on this payment, see High Energy: Lodi Center Designed to be a Powerhouse for Chunk of State – Stockton Record – October 4, 2011; also, the union rebuttal on the California Building Trades Council web site – ABC Falsehoods Refuted in Letter to Stockton Record – a denial that the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust is used for political contributions.)

And the Project Labor Agreement signed by the Southern California Public Power Authority (another conglomerate of publicly-owned utilities) for the construction of the City of Anaheim’s Canyon Power Plant required the agency to shell out $65,000 to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. See Section 13.1 of the Project Labor Agreement here.

The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust reports these payments as “membership dues” to the Internal Revenue Service. Which brings up a question: are the local elected officials who serve as commissioners for the Northern California Power Agency and the Southern California Public Power Authority exercising their responsibilities as “members” to approve $1,095,000 in political contributions to the No on A campaign?

But Wait a Minute…Is It Legal to Have Utility Ratepayers Fund a Mysterious Union Trust Fund that Contributes to Political Campaigns, Such as No on A?

Well, in 2009 an internal committee of the Northern California Power Agency discussed whether or not a payment to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust was an illegal gift of public funds. (See here. Note the original amount to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust was supposed to be $150,000, but aggressive opposition to the Project Labor Agreement forced the unions to cut it down to $90,000 in order to win approval from the board of commissioners.)

To solve this uncertainty, in May 2011 State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) added a cryptic amendment at the request of union lobbyists and lawyers to the end of a large unrelated public utilities bill (Senate Bill 790) regarding “community choice aggregation.” It added Section 3260 to the Public Utilities Code: “Nothing in this division prohibits payments pursuant to an agreement authorized by the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. Sec. 151 et seq.), or payments permitted by the federal Labor Management Cooperation Act of 1978 (29 U.S.C. Secs. 173, 175a, and 186). Nothing in this division restricts any use permitted by federal law of money paid pursuant to these acts.”

No one in the California State Legislature – apparently not even Senator Leno – initially knew what this strange new provision meant. In the end, a few legislators such as Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) came to understand and reveal in floor debate that it authorized public utilities to pass on the costs of payments to labor-management cooperation committees to ratepayers. Governor Brown signed the bill into law with the language tacked on the end.

For more information, see the investigative report of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction at this September 23, 2011 post at www.TheTruthaboutPLAs.com: A Genuine California Union Conspiracy: Senate Bill 790 and the California Building Trades Council’s Ratepayer Funded Political Slush Fund

Confused about the Conspiracy? Here’s a Chart.

A public utility or private energy company applies to the California Energy Commission for approval to build a power plant.

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California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) uses its “intervenor” status at the California Energy Commission to submit massive data requests and environmental complaints about the proposed power plant, as a result gumming up the licensing process and causing costly and lengthy delays for the applicant.

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Applicant for prospective power plant surrenders and agrees to sign Project Labor Agreement with State Building and Construction Trades Council of California or its regional affiliates. CURE releases its grip of legal paperwork and the project moves forward unimpeded and acclaimed as environmentally sound.

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The Project Labor Agreement contains a required payment or payments to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. California Public Utilities Code Section 3260 – enacted by Senate Bill 790 in 2011 – allows public utilities to pass costs through to ratepayers.

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California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust reports those payments to the IRS as “Membership Dues,” creating questions about the rights inherent for dues-paying members.

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California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust makes contributions to political campaigns, such as $1,095,000 to fund 92% of the No on A campaign (Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs, No on Measure A, sponsored by labor and management organizations) in the City of San Diego in 2012.