(This continues my 11th-hour take on the state’s lengthy list—17 in all—of initiatives to be decided by a vote of the people—at least those who have not already—Tuesday.)
- Adult Film Condom Use. Health Requirements. Initiative Statute.
Yes, adult film sites, not those ubiquitous webpages found all across the WWW, but those retro California cool bedrooms, living rooms, and poolside patios, are, much like NFL stadium playing fields, actual worksites, and safety is paramount. After all, a good number of adult film stars perished during the AIDS crisis, and one-quarter of performers today have been consigned to an STD, according to the measure’s proponents. That’s a high rate of failure, even on a Sunday. Sixty would close loopholes those well-meaning pornographers and exploiters of human flesh exploit in state regulations that require condom use for recorded acts of nonsimulated intercourse. The initiative, much like 61 just below, is being proffered by AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Michael Weinstein, yet is opposed by other AIDS advocacy organizations. Why? Besides clarifying requisite condom use and mandating fuller cooperation and engagement with Cal/OSHA, 60 empowers casual viewers and, indeed, apparently anyone to litigate adult film producers for failure to comply with the condom requirement. This has a host of respectable folks, including not only AIDS and LGBT advocacy groups, but most of the state’s newspapers and its two major political parties, warning of a potential trove of vindictive suits of questionable merit against not only wayward adult film producers, but performers, film crews and even cable and satellite providers, as well as the possibility of potential vindictiveness and harassment through the apparently potential publication of performers names and addresses. Even mom-and-pop producers operating out of their garages and bedrooms improperly displaying their wares could be caught up in the litigation circus! Sixty follows Measure B, the 2012 Los Angeles County initiative that folks like the Los Angeles Times editorial board lament essentially drove adult-film production out of the San Fernando Valley and with it all those skilled, good-paying production jobs. Similar claims are now being made against 60. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health stated 60 could drive wayward pornographers further afield and underground. Opponents also posit that the industry’s HIV testing protocols are working. My view on Measure B was that if you’re not complying with the law, then good riddance! And now, that there’s a lot of potential hysteria with 60, and that testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis isn’t quite enough. But as I said before, I’m no expert, but then again, who is? An unassuming voter may defer to opposition by the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee and the Adult Performers Actors Guild, who also claim that Weinstein wouldn’t meet with them when drafting this proposal, and still won’t. It’s also alarming that Weinstein himself would apparently be promoted to an honorary position within the state bureaucracy in which he would personally review films for offending content. No Recommendation: Leaning No.
- State Prescription Drug Prices and Standards. Initiative Statute.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Michael Weinstein, whose nonprofit organization certainly has a stake in such affairs as prescription drug pricing, returns with this possibly well-intended measure. Intent is everything in these initiatives, and a good reason why so many California voters are pulling their hair out when trying to decide them, especially when it’s just a single individual who’s initiated them, and whose motives for doing so may remain inscrutable. After all, his foundation, which boasts it is “the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care” in the nation, operates outside the purview of his own initiative, which is opposed, like 60 above, by other AIDS advocacy groups, as well as the trove of state newspapers alluded to above, not to mention others like the California NAACP. Who resides within the purview are the state agencies that spent $3.8 bil two years ago on prescription drugs for their employees and others—those 12 percent you see in the ubiquitous ads paid for by the multinational prescription drug companies themselves to the tune of nearly $110 million. Advocates, who include the California Nurses Association, AARP and Sen. Bernie Sanders, argue that the potential effectiveness of the measure has them running scared. Opponents argue that the other 88 percent of state prescription drug users will be hit with a retributive increase in costs to make up for the drug companies’ losses if the measure goes into effect. Sixty-one would require state agencies to negotiate and purchase prescription drugs at the lower pricing points of the U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs, which are essentially about 20-24 percent lower, for various reasons, than customary, according to proponents. Lo, there’s precedent for this, and the drug companies themselves essentially tell us in their ubiquitous ads, making the claim that prices will, indeed, rise for those remaining 88 percent privately or un-insured. This makes 61 a potentially damned if you do or damned of you don’t initiative. On merit, it’s valid, and there’s no question that prescription drug costs are wildly out of control, par for the course for the entire healthcare industry, long before the Affordable Care Act came along, which is now absorbing so much the criticism. Other states are eying the vote here, and if 61 passes, it could spread like wildfire across the nation, eventually ending up in Washington, where legislators have been reluctant to reign in their corporate sponsors, and where W. gave up federal control on prescription drug pricing in his administration’s unsightly Medicare Part D corporate unveiling, perhaps settling into provisions in the Affordable Care Act that would benefit all. Perhaps that’s why The Bern is so excited about this measure, and if it’s damned if we do and damned if we don’t, and while for us nongovernmental employees and privately insured, it might take a little more pain before we receive any further relief, I say we go at it with all guns blazing. Recommendation: Yes.
- Death Penalty Repeal. Initiative Statute.
There are few arguments for capital punishment, and none are really tenable. There are several against, and all are virtually compelling. I don’t wish to belabor the point here, as I’ve done so often in the past, but a lot of us, as with 64 below, have been waiting for this for a long time, since even before California Chief Justice Hon. Rose Elizabeth Bird and others were excised from the Court by voters in an effusive right-wing hit for essentially refusing to carry out the provision. Sixty-two would affect sentencing in first-degree murder convictions under those prosecutorial-beloved “special circumstances,” mandating life without the possibility of parole as the state’s maximum sentence, and really the ultimate sentence under which civilized human beings can collectively operate. If it passes, it will be too late for Stanley Williams, the reformed Crips founder who turned to authoring children’s books advocating for a life free from the thrall of street gangs, and who was excruciatingly executed in 2005 two weeks before Christmas. In ads you’ve seen, proponents have called out the state’s death penalty as hopelessly derailed, and, indeed, it’s a fraught process that reeks of punitive injustice and alarming condescension, from the biased selection of those defendants subjected to the punishment all the way to the, yes, excruciatingly unnatural way in which the condemned are ultimately put away, a catalog of horrors so horrific that in 2014 a federal District Court jurist ruled it rose to the unconstitutional level of a cruel and inhumane practice. Duh. Recommendation: Yes.
- Firearms and Ammunition Sales. Initiative Statute.
As you well know, California has been at the forefront of so-called gun-control legislation, sticking to an effective assault-weapons ban that, nationally, is absent across a vast majority of the land. Just this year, the Democratically controlled legislature passed several bills, some of which were signed by the governor, and some that were not. Some appear here, in yet another “common-sense” approach that I believe was originated by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is likely on the precipice of removing that “Lt.” from his title, I imagine. Sixty-three goes beyond most measures by extending controls like background checks beyond firearms to actual ammunition, which makes sense, considering its actually the ammo that does the killing, and not necessarily the guns, so perhaps the NRA is partially correct. Most alarmingly, certainly for weekend warrior M&P assault weapon-style enthusiasts and wannabe special ops aficionados, it bans the possession of large capacity—10 rounds and above, I believe—magazines, moving those previously excused pre-2000 possessors into the ranks of the criminal. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but the measure’s other provisions are all solid, intending to keep potentially explosive firearms away from the most dangerous among us through essentially “common-sense” measures. Sixty-three also requires commercial ammunition providers to register with the state DOJ and obtain a license to sell. Proponents correctly argue that assault-style weapons are superfluous—and can only exponentially add to the body count when madmen strike, which has been quite often, it seems. They are designed, after all, for military use, and have been appropriated by police departments, not to mention criminals. Which raises a paranoiac question: While I don’t believe—nor should anyone—that the Second Amendment applies to individual firearm ownership, the constitutional framers, so mindful of that distressing Redcoat presence and billeting, certainly didn’t intend to have U.S. citizens be at the mercy of a heavily militarized and trigger-happy police state, which is something we seem to be precipitously gravitating toward, at least those of us beyond the confines of what Donald Trump so reverentially refers to as the “inner cities,” which is already there. Still, a vote for 63 means that James Brady didn’t die in vain, and this state, and nation, is so awash in gun violence that only a sadist or misanthrope would actually provide a human being with a loaded one, much like matches to a neglected child. I’ll just leave it to the militias to defend their positions as they see fit, and, besides, if we ever do decide to come together to overthrow a neofascist police state, we can always import our semi-automatics from East Africa or the Balkans, no worries. And our large-capacity magazines, as well. Recommendation: Yes.
- Marijuana Legalization. Initiative Statute.
Yes, a lot of us have been waiting a long time for this, and this is round two, after 2010’s unsuccessful Prop 19, even though the state’s 1996 Compassionate Use Act essentially went a long way toward full legalization given how lax obtaining scripts and enforcement have become. But don’t get too carried away, 64, after all, was not written by Zonker Harris. As its advocates suggest, it’s actually quite restrictive, not only limiting possession to a single ounce, but consumption to the domicile or point of sale, and not in places like parks, planes, trains and automobiles, and bars, where alcohol is actually allowed. Far from effecting a vision of middle-school-aged boys toking out before, during and after school, and eventually dropping out of not only school, but society, 64 would actually benefit youths by placing the legal sales of upwards of $1 bil in annual taxable income into youth programs like afterschool, job placement, and substance abuse, and it restricts legal sales to those under—not 18—but 21. Opponents have argued that a legion of zoned-out drivers will be unleashed upon unsuspecting and sober-minded motorists throughout our streets, highways and byways, but evidence from states that have already legalized suggest this is sheer hysteria, much like just-mentioned fears of increased usage. Driver-usage technologies will eventually adapt to the proposition. What hasn’t been adequately discussed is, to me, the most consequential component of recreational drug decriminalization—its impact upon the drug cartels and violent street gang distributors. Much as 61 above has prescription drug companies quite alarmed over profits, so initiatives like 64 have the cartels in a potential bind. After all, however you’re going to vote on this, would you rather your kids and/or their friends got high from a joint supplied by a licensed, law-abiding Californian, or smuggled in and distributed by the Mexican Mafia? Recommendation: Yes.
- Carryout Bag Charges. Initiative Statute.
This is a deceptive measure—as if we need another one—propagated by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, the four largest plastic bag manufacturers, from places like New Jersey, South Carolina and Texas, who are also responsible for the opposition to 67 below. Sixty-five would divert the proceeds from stores of carryout bag sales if 67 passes into a Wildlife Conservation Fund. Sounds lovely, but opponents argue the APBA is exaggerating the revenue 65 will generate, putting the actually amount to upwards of $80 mil from the organization’s $300 mil claim. Stores have to pay for the bags anyway, but this is more about presenting a united front against the plastic bag consortium. Sixty-five has to receive more votes than 67 for it to take effect. Recommendation: No.
- Death Penalty Procedures. Initiative Statute.
This initiative is a dream come true for death penalty advocates, stymied by execution delays that have effectively castrated the sentence, as if waiting for an eternity amid throngs for a government entitlement on a hot, sunny day. Like 62 above, it would apply to first-degree murder death penalty sentencings involving people of color, er, excuse me, special circumstances. Much like Al Gore’s abandoned appeal of the 2000 presidential election verdict in the fair Sunshine State, we as a nation just don’t tolerate delays, for any reason, however justified they may be, and even in the interest of justice. According to the Legislative Analyst, there are nearly 750 condemned prisoners residing now at San Quentin and the Central California Women’s Facility, unless somebody’s died since the Voter Information Guide was printed, and supporters want them excised from the community of prisoners pronto, and not dyin’ of “natural causes,” which is, up to now, far more likely to happen. Sixty-six would get the wheels of (in)justice spinning faster by opening the trial courts to death penalty cases, expanding the attorney pool, and limiting appeals to a five-year period and the filing of habeas corpus petitions to one year from attorney appointment, which even now is an aggravatingly time-consuming affair. That’s all fine and dandy, I suppose, but opponents are pointing out that if these were to materialize, miscarriages of justice would increase due to substandard proceedings. Sure, the present system is a mockery, I’ll agree, making career prisoners—and litigants—of the condemned. I mean, after all, the most efficient way to execute the sentencing humanely is just to take the condemned out back of the jails and shoot them in the head, like Stalin used to do. For sure, if one of my sisters was kidnapped, tortured, raped and dispatched from the living, I’d want to organize a posse to locate the perpetrator and bash his skull in with a lead pipe by dawn, and unlike the Russian soldiers, not even have to worry about the cleanup. I agree that Lonnie Franklin, Jr. is a great candidate for a sped-up process. But the death penalty sits atop an egregiously flawed judicial system that is becoming more illuminated with each passing day, one that, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, has seen more than 155 death row exonerations nationwide in the past five decades, with 13 coming in the last two years alone, and with three of them having been resident since 1975. These figures are likely far more astounding, and in this light, is it really a good time to adopt a system more akin to China, North Korea, Iran and Texas? If this measure receives more votes than 62 above, it supersedes it, and like Sean Penn’s Jimmy Markum in Mystic River, do you really want to live with yourself knowing you just offed an innocent man you were convinced was guilty, which is now even more likely under this initiative? Recommendation: No.
- Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban. Referendum.
Like a lot of things, especially issues concerning the environment, this initiative comes about two decades too late. It’s too late for the wildlife compromised by the vast stream of disposable plastic strewn across our nation’s waterways, but better late than never. Our conspicuous consumption has never seen anything like the single-use plastic bag. The Legislative Analyst claims that 15 billion single-use plastic bags have been distributed to unsuspecting state shoppers every year, and, if you’re like me, you know that maybe 10 billion of those were superfluous. Several communities—150 in all—across the state have enacted single-use plastic bag bans at grocery and drugstores and the like, and 67 is a referendum on the state legislature’s passage of SB 270, which also requires a charge—typically $.10—to cover a recycled paper or plastic bag that can be reused, with certain exemptions, such as for low-income residents. I’ve seen it in action here, and, trust me, everyone, from customers to the checkout people. is just glad the single-use bags are gone, like a rainbow after a storm, or the dissipation of a really bad dream that couldn’t have been real. Recommendation: Yes.
© 2016 John Tyler/24 Hours