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November 11, 2004

Bipartisan Victory in Proposition Wins

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community_briefs/article/bipartisan_victory_in_proposition_wins_20041112

While Republicans may have won the presidential election, the popular vote and new seats in both the Senate and the House, here in California it was a different story.

The 16 proposition measures were not won handily by either conservative or progressive factions. Both parties carved out various victories among the ballot measures. The overall results will change the way the state works and, in the case of Proposition 71, possibly attract worldwide attention to California.

Proposition 71 was indeed one of the few bright moments for Democrats last Tuesday (although Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was also a supporter), as California repudiated President Bush's federal limitations on embryonic stem cell research. The state will be spending $300 million per year for 10 years to make California the world's premier government-funded embryonic stem cell research hub.

"If a cure helps one disease like diabetes, it will be a burden off our health-care system. Even if one treatment comes out of this, then we will have made a difference," said Temple Beth Am member Carol Eisner, whose 13-year-old daughter Emma Klatman has type-one diabetes.

Eisner explained that stem cells can be used to create the insulin-producing islet cells that diabetics lack.

"For all my efforts, a cure might not be found for Emma," Eisner told The Journal, "But I can't think for one minute that a cure won't be possible. Over 20 Nobel laureates have said that this is important research to pursue."

Proposition 71 is expected to draw top biomedical talent to California from across the world.

On the law-and-order front, voters retained California's "three strikes" law unchanged, a sentencing provision that imposes a 20-year to life sentence for a third felony. The effort to reform three strikes would have required that the third strike be violent, even working retroactively for individuals who are already in prison.

The No on 66 campaign seemed set for defeat until a last-minute influx of cash and support arrived from a private donor, Henry Nicholas III of Orange County, which funded Schwarzenegger's TV commericals. Proposition 66's lead promptly vanished and it was defeated 53 to 47 percent.

Opponents of Proposition 66 repeatedly announced that the reform would release violent criminals from prison, often naming specific rapists and murderers in California prisons in TV commercials. Proponents pointed out the ways in which nonviolent offenders could fall through the cracks of the system and end up in jail indefinitely.

"We lump these criminals together," said Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, which supported Proposition 66. "It's much less satisfying to recognize that the felony of stealing three videotapes is totally different from a violent crime for which people quite rightly should be put away."

The Yes on 66 campaign has promised to continue its efforts in the state legislature and to better inform the public about existing California laws that it says would keep violent offenders from ever benefiting from three-strikes reform.

Businesspeople and attorneys should pay close attention to the passage of Proposition 64, a measure that makes it impossible for private individuals to bring cases under the Unfair Business Competition Law unless they can demonstrate harm and monetary loss. The attorney general or other public attorneys would have to bring those cases instead.

For example, polluting corporations in breach of California's environmental protection laws once had to fear private attorneys who could bring public safety lawsuits on behalf of the people of the state. Proposition 64 changed that. Now attorneys must find a person who has already been harmed by the pollution to bring suit, which can be tough so soon after the polluting begins. The same logic applies to tobacco companies, banks and other corporations.

The Yes on 64 campaign says the measure protects small businesses from frivolous lawsuits. They claim that these businesses will often simply settle to end the litigation, encouraging more suits.

But Senior Assistant Attorney General Herschel Elkins told the Los Angles Times, "The attorney general's office and the district attorney do not have enough staff -- and never will -- to solve all the problems of deceptions in business practices."

As a result, corporate interests are going to be held less accountable for misconduct, said Tom Dresslar, spokesman for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Dresslar then put it more bluntly: "When you have pollution surrounding your neighborhood, threatening your family, you can't do anything about it until your family actually gets sick."

In the field of health care, California might have chosen the most mixed bag of all. Voters rejected a mandate requiring employers to pay greater health-care costs for their employees (Proposition 72) and a telephone tax to bail out emergency rooms (Proposition 67). But they approved a measure to fund mental health services (Proposition 63) and another designed specifically to aid children's hospitals (Proposition 61).

In terms of the emergency rooms, California hospitals provide $5 billion in uncompensated care every year, mostly to uninsured and poor patients. Dozens of hospitals have closed their doors across the state for that reason over the past 10 years. But Proposition 67's new phone tax simply proved too unpalatable for voters.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger ran on a platform of no new taxes, and voters have embraced him and that notion," said Jan Emerson, vice president for external affairs at the of the California Healthcare Association. "They also did not like the fact that the tax had no cap on businesses and cell phones."

On the bright side for hospitals, they will receive Proposition 63 funds if they spend money caring for mental health patients. Thirteen children's hospitals will receive Proposition 61 funds for capital improvements.

Some critics of the initiative process claim that the average citizen doesn't know enough about law to make informed decisions about the propositions. Although that assertion is open to debate, there's no question that the 16 propositions this year made the election more interesting for Californians left on the sidelines of the national race.

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