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DA Zimmer promotes petition to amend Prop 47

By Helen Tomlin News Review Staff Writer–
For several weeks, Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer has been raising money to gather signatures for a petition to amend Proposition 47.  Zimmer has joined numerous district attorneys across the state who want “The Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act” on the ballot in November.   This new, bi-partisan petition aims to reduce these three growing problems brought about because of the original proposition and an assembly bill passed before it. So far, 600,000 signatures have been collected, but the goal is to get 700,000 registered voters to sign it by the end of April.

In a recent interview, Zimmer explained how these problems in California began and how passing this new amendment will help solve them or “at least put a dent in them.”

In 2011, voters passed Assembly Bill 109 to divert less serious felons from the state prison to local county jails. This is commonly known as “Public Safety Realignment” or “prison realignment.”  Since then, thousands of nonviolent, non-sex offenders have gone

DA Cynthia Zimmer  /  Laura Austin Photo

from state-level to county-level jurisdictions.

Next came Proposition 47 in 2014. Its title, “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” seemed benign enough, but those who initially voted against it were not surprised by its results.

The Official Voter Information Guide for the original Prop 47 gave the Pros and Cons.  On the PRO side, it informed potential YES voters that “Criminal offenders who commit certain nonserious and nonviolent drug and property crimes” would have reduced sentences and possibly shorter jail terms, even for repeat offenders.

In exchange for freeing up the jails and prisons of all these not-so-bad criminals, the state would save “hundreds of millions of dollars” that could instead be used to “support school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health and drug abuse treatment, and other programs” — all supposedly “good” things designed to keep offenders out of prisons and jails and learn to lead productive lives.

From the CON side, the Guide listed the downside of the dangerous potential of Prop 47’s passing, and those NO voters were proven to be correct.  It warned that 10,000 felons could potentially be released from state prisons along with reduced penalties for gun theft and “date rape” drug possession.  Both crime and sexual abuse victims, along with law enforcement agencies, opposed it.

Zimmer said since these bills have been passed, the state “has been in chaos because of weak laws that relate to drugs and theft.”  She said both “fentanyl and meth amphetamine have caused addictions like we’ve never seen before.”  People with an addiction “only care about their next fix,” and so when they can steal without consequences, they will.  And because of this rampant theft, businesses have closed down and moved out of California.

“Mandatory drug court, which was very successful, is gone.”  But, under the new initiative, people convicted of possessing or selling larger quantities of drugs would be eligible to receive prison sentences again.

The money Zimmer raises pays people to gather signatures in front of stores.  Since retailers have been affected by these “smash and grabs,” several, including Walmart, Target, and Stater Bros., support this effort.  She’s also seeing donations from police officer organizations and politicians. The highest donor so far is Vince Fong, who donated $20,000.

If passed, this amendment will benefit everyone.  It aims to crack down on the hard drug dealers and hold repeat thieves accountable by bringing back harsher penalties for multiple convictions of petty theft.  For example, the first two offenses would be treated as misdemeanors, but the third would be a felony, and a fourth would potentially result in a prison sentence.  If passed, it would also reduce homelessness, which has jumped from 12 to 30 percent in California.  To help both the homeless and the people with an addiction, the amendment supports drug and mental health treatment.

Zimmer said those in law enforcement cannot continue to operate under the current law.  “We have to be able to protect victims in this community and this state.”