- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Oct. 28

Whittier Daily News on California schools’ handling of student misbehavior:

No one should be too upset if school employees err on the side of caution and call police officers for help when incidents of student misbehavior seems to threaten the safety of kids and staff.

Too often, though, teachers and administrators in this state call the police to deal with far less dangerous incidents, and sometimes such overreactions cause lasting damage.

That’s one conclusion of a report released this month by the ACLU of California.

Called “The Right to Remain a Student: How California School Policies Fail to Protect and Serve,” the report highlights how school districts’ lack of consistent policies regarding students and law enforcement leads to employees increasingly relying too much on police to enforce discipline.

In the 2013-14 school year, the study found, 22,746 students were referred to police, and 9,540 of those interactions led to arrests.

Surely many of those interactions and arrests were needed to protect people from violence or property from serious damage.

But the American Civil Liberties Union’s report found that the thousands of cases of school or off-campus police questioning, detaining or arresting students include many where the misbehavior is truancy, bullying, vandalism, classroom disruptions or other violations of school rules. Not insignificant, by any means, but not the sort of things that would have to land someone in handcuffs if school employees were sufficiently committed to handling them.

The report cites disturbing examples of apparently overzealous school police roughing up kids. It also notes that the effects of what the ACLU calls “over-criminalizing” students are felt mostly by low-income minority kids.

Even those who can’t imagine their sons or daughters ever being physically mistreated by police at school, or aren’t personally affected by the disproportionate impact on minorities, should be able to see the potential problems with unnecessarily calling the cops on kids.

The ACLU calls it “feeding students into the growing school-to-prison pipeline.” Arrests and incarceration, the report says, increase students’ risk of dropping out of school. An arrest record can harm someone’s chances of getting a job.

Without firm district policies in place, kids can be questioned without being read their rights as adults would be, or without parents or school officials being told; or taken into custody without warrants or arrest orders. Less than 1 percent of California districts require a non-police adult to be present when police question a student.

Among the reforms suggested by the ACLU: District policies should call for school staff - not police - to handle incidents except when there’s an immediate threat to students’, staff or public safety. And arrest warrants should be required to take a student suspected of a crime into custody. Some money spent on campus police should be spent on counselors and staff training in dealing with misbehavior.

This editorial board thinks school officials should consider these findings and recommendations as they improve policies that both protect campus communities from violence and limit unnecessary intervention by police to incidents where it’s absolutely necessary.

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Oct. 26

The Ventura County Star on criminal justice reform:

Proposition 57 has the potential to reverse how we view, and handle, the release of prison inmates in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown drafted the initiative to, in part, overturn an action he took in 1977 during his first stint as governor, when he signed legislation that banned open-ended sentencing. That, he believes, has led to the explosion of prison inmates in the state, which peaked at about 173,000 in 2006 and spurred federal court orders to reduce our prison population.

It also has drained state finances - we now spend 8.1 percent of our state budget on prisons, far more than we spend on the University of California and California State University systems combined. And it has created a cottage industry of laws called “enhancements,” which layer additional prison time onto base sentences.

Prop. 57 would give the Board of Parole Hearings and the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation more options for granting parole and early release of prisoners who earn it.

Gov. Brown believes this will drive discretion into a system that, he says, removed it and eliminated incentives for inmates to try to change their lives in prison in hopes of gaining earlier release.

We agree with the core of the governor’s arguments that we must find ways to create greater opportunities within the prison system for inmates who choose to change. Otherwise, we paint each convicted person with the identical brush and throw them away for years with little hope of rehabilitating their lives. As the governor says, we cannot know at the time of sentencing whether an offender is capable of altering his or her life.

Prop. 57 would do three basic things. The first, and least controversial, would be to move back to the courts the decision-making process for determining if juveniles should be tried as adults. That power was given to prosecutors in a 2000 initiative. Prop. 57 provides a clear path on how the decision would be made in the courts, and even district attorneys agree with the change.

The second portion of the initiative would provide an opportunity for parole much earlier for many inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes. It calls for “parole consideration” once the inmate serves the full prison term for his or her primary offense but before serving any additional time for other related charges or enhancements. This counterbalances the nearly 400 enhancements now available to prosecutors and courts that can add decades of prison time to a basic sentence.

The governor says the initiative clearly puts the power for that decision in the hands of the parole board. But opponents raise the red flag that the language is not precise. In California, when Department of Corrections officials release inmates based on good behavior credits, it is called parole, just like a formal parole board consideration. Opponents question whether corrections officials could be given the responsibility, without a formal hearing, to release inmates to parole based on this provision.

The third section relates to credits for release. Currently, inmates can have their prison time reduced by anywhere from 15 to 50 percent by earning good behavior credits. Prop. 57 calls on the Department of Corrections to create regulations to award additional credits, but it offers no limitations or parameters.

Gov. Brown casts this initiative in light of his Jesuit belief in redemption and forgiveness. He is backing the move with $4 million he has raised, and the state Democratic Party has kicked in $2 million.

Prosecutors and law enforcement officials are leading the opposition. Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten says if the initiative passes, California would be less safe. He is concerned it would spur a mass release of prisoners to parole based only on the findings of state corrections employees. Scott Peterson, president of the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, went further, saying, “Proposition 57, to me, means one thing: More cops would be killed.”

We, however, are greatly troubled by the use of such scare tactics to drive voters. We believe we must shift our view of prisons. We cannot continue to think of them as warehouses where we store for as long as possible all those convicted of major crimes. We must provide opportunities for individuals to reform and earn their way out, while retaining a firm hold on those who clearly should remain behind bars.

Proposition 57 gives us a chance to move in that direction. In February, The Star recommended voters not sign petitions to place the initiative on the ballot. Now that we see it, we have changed our view and recommend a yes vote.

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Oct. 31

Fresno Bee on voter fraud:

Donald Trump is right: This election will be rigged, but not for the reasons he claims and not in California.

Trump warns, without evidence, that huge numbers of undocumented immigrants and dead people will vote. His irresponsible claims of widespread fraud aside, election results are cooked in much of the nation by politicians who draw district boundaries in ways that ensure incumbents and members of the party in power will win.

Outside California, politicians score easy points by jeering at supposedly crazy ideas that originate here. But good-government types in many other states understand that a truly independent redistricting commission is a reform worth copying.

Californians’ votes will matter in several congressional and legislative races on Nov. 8, thanks to Charles Munger Jr. A quirky guy who happens to have a lot of money, Munger concluded rightly that gerrymandered districts are anathema to democracy. And so he funded initiatives in 2008 and 2010 that created the independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is responsible for drawing legislative and congressional lines.

Then as now, politicians don’t give up power willingly. Legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown starve the commission by allocating a mere $90,000 annually to fund it and restrict it to no more than one half-time employee, who works from her home in Orangevale. The commission doesn’t have money for an office.

And yet, the commission’s creation is proving to be among this state’s most far-reaching reforms. According to the Cook Political Report, seven of California’s 53 congressional seats could swing either way in this upcoming election. Another six Assembly seats and three Senate seats are competitive.

California’s congressional delegation and the new Legislature will be heavily Democratic. But because of fairly drawn district lines, and the state’s top-two primary system, candidates know that to win they must appeal to independent voters and voters of the opposite parties. No fewer than 18 Democrats in the Legislature, plus several Republicans, will be moderates.

Contrast that with the Texas congressional delegation, which has 25 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Political experts recently concluded that Texas, which for years has been reliably Republican, could swing to either Trump or Hillary Clinton. But only one congressional seat in the Lone Star State is thought to be in doubt.

That one is held by Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican whose district runs 800 gerrymandered miles between San Antonio and El Paso. Hurd’s seat is not the worst example of the dark artwork of Republicans who control redistricting. The Democratic city of Austin, the nation’s 11th largest city and the largest city without its own congressional representative, is chopped up among five Republican members of Congress and one Democrat.

Based on polls, Trump likely will lose on Election Day, perhaps by a landslide. But because Republicans dominate redistricting in several states, they probably will keep control of the House.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced creation of a campaign organization that will focus on redistricting reform, and Barack Obama says he will devote part of his post-presidential time to the effort.

That would be for the good, so long as they advocate for independent commissions that draw lines without regard to party registration or where incumbents live. For guidance, they should study the playbook written by the quirky California Republican Charles Munger Jr., whose money set up California for a fairer and more democratic fight.

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Nov. 1

East Bay Times on a bond measure for BART:

BART is trying to close the deal.

Like a high-pressure sales pitch, the transit agency is telling voters they must pass a $3.5 billion bond measure now.

Don’t take this deal. Hold out for one that guarantees your property tax dollars go to fix the system rather than for labor costs.

Vote no on Measure RR.

BART says the repairs are needed now. But the district plans to spend the Measure RR money over 20 years.

Against that time frame, it’s reasonable to insist BART get it right - that it bring back in 2018 a ballot measure ensuring all the money goes to needed upgrades.

It’s bad enough that BART can’t tell you whether the bond measure would fix the system or merely provide a down payment. That’s because they have no budget for the money.

It’s bad enough that BART doesn’t mention on the ballot that the measure would raise property taxes. It would.

It’s bad enough that BART lied about how much taxes would rise. Using its assumptions, the average annual bill would increase through 2065 by about $79 in Contra Costa, $83 in Alameda County and $111 in San Francisco, roughly double BART’s claim.

It’s bad enough that Measure RR would allow BART to float even costlier bonds. Under a worst-case scenario, tax bills could average $150 to $200 annually.

It’s bad enough that they’re running a legally questionable taxpayer-funded campaign. State regulations prohibit distribution of material that, “taken as a whole and in context, unambiguously urges a particular result in an election.” That’s what BART is doing.

The worst part is that Measure RR contains no guarantees that if voters approve it BART will spend $3.5 billion more on capital needs.

For us, that was the final straw. We might have put up with the deceit if all the money was going to fix the system for riders. But BART directors refused to guarantee that.

Indeed, their spokeswoman said earlier this year that if the bond measure passes it would solve the system’s operations budget shortfall caused by costly labor contracts.

We’ve explained this scam before. But as balloting begins, it merits repeating.

Once the district receives the bond money, it could pull back operating funds previously promised for capital. In other words, bond money for system improvements would essentially back-fill labor costs.

The district board deliberately left out of Measure RR provisions to prevent this. As much as $1.2 billion, equal to one-third of the bonds, could offset operating costs.

BART needs upgrades because of past failure to plan for inevitable deterioration of equipment. We can’t fix the past. But we can make sure BART doesn’t misspend more tax money.

Don’t fall for high-pressure sales tactics. Vote no.

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