A Guide to All Those Propositions on Your California Ballot

Sorting through every state measure on the ballot can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know.

By the time you sit down to fill out your ballot, you probably know what bubble you’re filling in for many of the big races. But even the most ardent observer of local politics may be undecided on certain choices, especially individual California ballot propositions. As we are every election cycle, Los Angeles is here to help with a guide to what you need to know.

Prop 14: Authorizes Bonds to Continue Stem Cell Research

Voting for Prop 14 authorizes the state to sell up to $5.5 billion in bonds to infuse the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine with funds it needs to continue work on stem cell research, particularly focused on finding stem cell treatments for diseases including Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and cancers. CIRM was created when voters passed Prop 71 in 2004, which affirmed the fight for researchers to work on stem cells in California and established the institute to provide grants to California universities and other entities that are working in the field; some past recipients have already made developments that are paying royalties back to the state. Nonetheless, opponents say, the rate of return on investment so far has not fully matched up with the early-aughts expectations, and restrictions on federal grants for stem-cell research that were in place back then have since been lifted (the current administration has not been especially supportive of stem cell research, which is unpopular with “pro-life” conservatives, but future administrations may be more apt to spend federal dollars on the work).

Prop 15: Raises Taxes on Some Commercial Properties to Fund Schools and Local Services

If passed, Prop 15 would increase property taxes on commercial and industrial properties (not homes or farms) worth over $3 million–a value that would be linked to current market prices, not original purchase price, as has been the case since 1978. That 1978 rule has allowed some large businesses to effectively avoid significant tax burdens, but pro-business groups say the current downturn isn’t the time to add to costs, positing that large commercial landlords might simply try to pass on their new costs by charging higher rents to smaller business tenants of their properties. Once fully in effect, the measure would generate an estimated $6.5 to $11.5 billion new dollars annually; 60 percent of the new funds would go to local governments and 40 percent would be used to fund schools and community colleges. The proposal also includes a tax reduction that applies to business equipment.

Prop 16: Ends the Ban on Affirmative Action in California Schools and Public Agencies

In 1996, California voters passed Prop 209, which amended the state constitution to forbid public schools and agencies from using “race and other immutable characteristics” in admissions, hiring, and contracting decisions. University admissions are the primary flashpoint in the debate, with those in favor of ending the ban noting that Black, Latino, and Native American students may face additional obstacles in accessing education, particularly at elite UC schools. Currently, 60 percent of California high school students are Black or Latino, but only 28 percent of the UC system’s whole freshman class in 2019 was. While passage of Prop 16 would open the door for the establishment of affirmative action programs, “racial quotas” are not on the table, as that practice has been banned by Supreme Court ruling since 1978. The University of California, California State University, and California Community College systems all support the proposition, arguing that allowing them to consider these characteristics could allow them to create more diverse, representative student bodies, as does the state’s largest teachers union, the California Teachers Association. The California Republican Party and Chinese American Civic Action Alliance oppose the measure.

Prop 17: Restore Voting Rights to People on Parole

A 1974 ballot measure passed by voters established that people who had been convicted of felonies but served their sentences and were released would regain their right to vote. However, in that measure, they only allowed for the right to be returned after completing parole. Prop 17 would address the approximately 40,000 Californians who are out of prison but are still on parole. Sixteen other states already allow parolees to vote, and supporters say that civic participation encourages investment in the community and could reduce recidivism. The prop is backed by the ACLU, Gavin Newsom, and many others. Two groups, Crime Victims United of California and Election Integrity Project of California, have voiced opposition.

Prop 18: Allows 17-Year-Olds to Vote in Primaries If They’ll Be 18 for the General Election

Right now, you have to be 18 to vote in California, full stop. If Prop 18 passes, it would allow teenagers who are 17 when the primary occurs, but have a birthday between that primary date and the general election, to vote in the primary. The logic being, they’ll be qualified voters in the general, so why not let them weigh in on the candidate selection? It’s already allowed in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Some claim to oppose the measure because they really think there’s a difference in the maturity of someone at 17-and-a-half versus 18, but most of the opposition to the measure appears to come from the “between several hundreds of thousands of dollars and $1 million” it would cost county election officials to update their systems and voting materials.

Prop 19: Grant Property Tax Savings to Older Homeowners and Increase Property Taxes on Many Inherited Homes

Because property taxes for homes are pegged to the purchase price, not the theoretical current market price, many older people pay far lower property taxes than people who purchased identical homes more recently. If Prop 19 passes, a person over 55, severely disabled, or whose property has been damaged by “natural disaster or contamination,”  who has enjoyed lower property taxes on their home could buy a new place to move into, while still getting a break on property taxes at the new house. That appeals to realtors, the primary advocates for the measure, because it encourages older individuals who may be empty-nesters to move out of the family-sized houses they’ve been occupying–and the realtors can then sell those houses to younger families at current prices. The same realtor groups backed a similar proposition in 2018, which failed with voters; this version differs by offsetting the lost tax revenue by tightening rules about property that is passed on to heirs when a person dies. Right now, those properties also continue to be taxed based on the purchase price; under this measure, that would only be true if the property is used as the heir’s primary residence. Higher taxes on inherited properties could generate “tens of millions of dollars” in new revenue for local governments, but the additional staff and infrastructure requirements that counties would need to take on could cost roughly the same amount.

Prop 20: Increase Possible Penalties for Non-Violent Offensives, Authorize Felony Sentences for Certain Misdemeanors, Change Certain Parole Policies, and Expand Requirements for DNA Sample Collection 

There are four major provisions all up into Prop 20, all of which aim to toughen penalties, putting more Californians into prisons and keeping them there longer. If passed, the initiative would allow for harsher sentences for thefts, including creating new categories of theft-related crimes, such as “organized retail theft” (any person acting with others to shoplift two or more times where the total value of property stolen within 180 days exceeds $250) which could be punished as felonies. It also changes policies around considering individuals for parole and how they will be supervised while on parole, and expands the existing requirements for the collection and retention of DNA samples to include adults convicted of misdemeanors including shoplifting, check forgery, and some domestic violence crimes not currently covered. According to the LAO, the state’s nonpartisan fiscal and policy office, the hike in local and state correctional facility costs “would likely be in the tens of millions of dollars annually,” increased court related costs would also be several million dollars, and increased law enforcement costs would be additional millions. The biggest financial backers of the “Yes on 20” campaign have been law enforcement unions and the campaign committee of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

Prop 21: Allow Cities and Counties to Pass Local Residential Rent Control

You might remember voting on Prop 10 in 2018–and you might remember that, while it picked up a lot of support in Los Angeles, it ultimately failed statewide. Prop 21 is, effectively, a second attempt at the same idea, with proponents hoping they’ll fare better with the larger pool of voters likely to turn out for the 2020 election. If passed, it allows–though does not require–cities and counties to adopt new rent control measures on rental properties that are at least 15 years old (excluding single-family homes owned by “mom-and-pop” landlords who only own one or two properties). Over the long term, the LAO says that it could reduce state and local revenue due to a dip in property taxes, though the office also reports that there could be an increase in sales tax revenue as renters spend less of their income on housing and become able to spend more on purchasing goods. Local governments might take on potentially significant costs associated with administering the new rules, though municipalities could establish fees on landlords to make up the difference. Opponents, including Gavin Newsom, who is at odds with the state Democratic party on the measure, say it could lessen the incentives for builders and developers to bring additional housing onto an already-too-tight market.

Prop 22: Exempts ‘Gig Worker’ Companies Like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash from Requirements that Workers Be Treated as Employees

If you’ve seen ads for a single ballot initiative this year, it’s probably Prop 22. Tech giants Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have poured an unprecedented $186,159,230 so far into their “Yes on 22” campaign–which should give a sense of just how costly they think not passing 22 would be for their businesses. If it passes, those companies would be able to continue operations more or less as usual, with workers being paid as independent contractors, not provided sick time or provided most traditional benefits, and not paid for time spent waiting for customers, refueling, or other activities. Companies say they may have to charge higher fees for rides, severely limit the number of part-time drivers on their platforms, or even suspend service in California entirely. The “No on 22” side–which includes most of the state’s labor organizations, Joe Biden, and Gig Worker Rising, a major advocacy organization for drivers–says that if the corporations cannot survive without squeezing workers, then they need to retool their businesses, not change the state law.

Prop 23: Establishes New Requirements for Kidney Dialysis Clinics

Another throwback to 2018, Prop 23 is a rematch between the interests involved in last cycle’s Prop 8. The powerful SEIU-UHW West labor organization is again locking horns with the companies like DaVita which operate for-profit dialysis treatment clinics. If Prop 23 passes, it would require the clinics to always have at least one physician on site during all operating hours, report any infection data to the state, get approval from the state before closing a location, and prohibit discriminating against patients based on their insurance. The clinics say they already report the data in question, and have “necessary medical staff” available, even if there isn’t always a physician on hand.

Prop 24: Amends California’s Data Privacy Law

The California Consumer Privacy Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2019, is considered the toughest data privacy law in the United States. It’s why you’ve been seeing those pop ups asking you to consent to how your information will be used as you browse around the internet, but it also requires corporations to implement “reasonable security practices” and alert consumers to data breaches. Prop 24, the passion project of San Francisco cyber-privacy enthusiast Alastair Mactaggart, would expand the CCPA in the following ways: Allow for more granular control of what data you allow companies to collect about you, cap how long companies can hang on to the data, establish fines for violations of children’s privacy rights, and, most dramatically, create a new agency tasked with enforcing privacy laws. It would also create an exemption for companies that handle only small amounts of consumer data. The ACLU, progressive advocacy organization Public Citizen, and the Consumer Federation of California all oppose the measure, saying it could actually set back progress already underway in the data privacy space, while adding significant costs for creating the new agency, and potentially adding to state court and DOJ case loads. Some data privacy experts have even accused the measure of creating a “pay for privacy scheme” where consumers would have to pay new fees to corporations to get any extra control over their data.

Prop 25: Referendum on a Law to Replace Cash Bail with an Assessment of Flight and Public Safety Risk 

Prop 25 lets voters decide if they want to enact a law passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Brown in 2018. It was set to go into effect on October 1, 2019, but was put on pause pending this ballot referendum. Voting yes moves forward, voting no effectively “vetoes” the law. The law affirms that nobody in the state criminal system should have to pay money to be released prior to trial, a system that disproportionately harms less-affluent defendants. Nonetheless, some civil rights groups like the NAACP and Human Rights Watch note that this law swaps cash bail for a risk-assessment algorithm–and not everyone is happy with that algorithm. The system uses aggregate historical data about a person’s age and other traits to determine their risk, rather than a personal evaluation of the individual, and, opponents of Prop 25 worry, it could used to detain BIPOC defendants at higher rates than their white counterparts.

RELATED: Answering Your Questions About How to Vote in Los Angeles

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