It’s that time again, California citizens! The propositions on this year’s ballot may seem drab, but they could mean big changes for the future of Californians. BFC highlights the 2014 statewide propositions that should make Californians optimistic about going to the polls this November.
Insurance rates, water projects, “rainy day” funds and casinos? Okay, this year’s propositions don’t sound terribly spectacular, but we’ll give you the low-down on a couple worth getting excited about (and one to be wary of).
Prop 45 – Public Notice Required for Insurance Company Rates Initiative
What’s it do? In general, this measure would make it harder for health insurance companies to increase rates by first requiring a handful of actions on the part of insurance providers. These actions include 1) obtaining approval for rate changes from the California Insurance Commissioner 2) providing for public notice of rate changes and subsequent judicial review and 3) providing a sworn statement declaring the accuracy of information justifying rate changes to the Insurance Commissioner. It also prevents insurers from determining eligibility and rates for customers based on lack of prior coverage and credit history.
What’s so good about it? Simply put, it makes it harder for providers to do what Anthem did in 2010, when thousands of their customers found out that their premiums would randomly increase by 39%. Prop 45 is a step toward ensuring that health insurance remains affordable by protecting policy-holders from random and unjustified rate hikes. Similar restrictions have been in place to regulate auto and homeowner’s insurance providers since 1988 and 35 other states already have laws that require health insurance companies to obtain approval before increasing rates. Don’t be fooled by the spin; this proposition is one of the rare few that actually benefits the vast majority of Californians that are not insurance company executives. It’s a marginal step in making healthcare more accessible for everyone. And that’s good.
Prop 47 – Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative
What’s it do? Basically, it reclassifies most nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, unless the defendant has prior convictions for a violent crime. It would also allow for current inmates to be re-sentenced pending a review of their criminal history. The measure would also utilize savings accrued to invest in a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.
What’s so good about it? This proposition would do a lot to address the issue or prison overcrowding in California caused by mass incarceration of defendants for nonviolent or drug-related offenses. Most of the mainstream coverage of the issue focuses on the fiscal arguments or how the measure would allow police to focus on more dangerous offenders. While those arguments are indeed true and compelling, they barely scratch the surface of what a nightmare California’s bloated and expensive prison system has been since the adoption of more punitive sentencing laws, like the flawed Three Strikes, in the late 80s and early 90s. The problem is so bad, that in February, Gov. Brown requested a 2-year extension on an April 2014 deadline set by the US Supreme Court to relocate at least 7000 inmates to relieve overcrowding and improve health and safety conditions so poor that federal judges found they violated prisoners’ Constitutional rights. This law is the most recent of many attempts to turn back the clock to more sensible and effective law enforcement policy.
Prop 1 – Water Bond
What’s it do? Prop 1 authorizes $7.12 billion in bonds to fund state water supply infrastructure projects, including public water system improvements, surface and groundwater storage, drinking water protection, water recycling and advanced water treatment technology, water supply management and conveyance, wastewater treatment, drought relief, emergency water supplies, and ecosystem and watershed protection and restoration. The 7 billion in bonds will be repaid over the next 40 years from general tax revenue.
What’s wrong with it? This prop is a Trojan horse: while there is money for some useful projects in this measure, the biggest chunk of change ($2.7 of the 7.12 billion) will be used to build dams and reservoirs. The problem here is that dams have an established history of being terrible for California’s natural environment, depleting fisheries and generally destroying the ecosystems in and around rivers. Of course, this isn’t just a problem in California; the trend nationwide has been to remove dams as we’ve learned more about their environmental impacts and devised better solutions for water supply and storage.
The other issue is dam building doesn’t really address California’s serious water problems and will, in this case, mostly benefit the small number of super-wealthy corporate farms who have laid down serious cash to sponsor the proposition. Prop 1 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing: a special interest project buried under some useful initiatives in order to get California tax payers to foot the bill. Just say no!
The poster below is a pretty good primer on these three propositions that could have a big impact on California’s future; feel free to pass it around. Listen to Che Guebeara: make your voice heard on November 4th.