SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers are looking to put an end to the rise in organized retail theft by reforming long-standing criminal reform laws.

Commercial burglary increased by 16% from 2019 to 2022 across California, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. A driving factor for this increase is the rising of organized retail crime.

Multiple lawmakers are focusing on Proposition 47, a ballot measure that reclassified certain non-violent property crimes under $950 of damages from felonies to misdemeanors which was passed in 2014.

According to a 2022 UC Berkeley IGS poll, 59% of the people support making changes to Prop 47, while 30% don’t want to see the law amended. 

On the first day of the new legislative session, Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua introduced Assembly bill 1787, a referendum to address areas of concern related to Prop 47.

“It’s become kind of the norm and it should not be the norm. It’s harmful. It’s not just about the employees. It’s not just about the businesses, but it’s been harmful for folks who have gotten injured over this,” Villapudua said.

Last year, Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi introduced legislation to reform Prop. 47 to go after repeat offenders. His bill died in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

This year, Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, the new chair of the Assembly Public Safety committee, introduced legislation to reform Prop. 47. 

“I think the people of California want us to act, but they don’t necessarily want us to go back to, let’s say, the mid-90s and mass incarceration. They want us to be smart on these things,” McCarty said.

In his recent budget presentation, Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized the idea of needing to reform Prop. 47 in order to curb the rise in retail theft.

“Everyone I know is rushing to reform to raise the threshold, okay, that’s not the fundamental issue,” Newsom said. “That is the nature of retail theft has changed… it has become deeply organized and that’s what we need to go after.”

The $950 felony threshold puts California as the 10th lowest amongst states. For example, Texas has the highest threshold with $2,500 needed to be stolen for the theft to become a felony.  

Newsom is focused on disrupting organized retail theft by calling for new legislation to go after repeat offenders and bolsters law enforcement tools.

Assemblymembers Mia Bonta and Isaac Bryan are both advocating for the legislature to explore other solutions instead of making changes to a proposition that has been enacted for the last 10 years.

“We are going to have to ask ourselves some very tough questions. Am I going to stand for progress? Or am I going to stand for locking people up? Am I going to stand for supporting victims? Or am I going to do harm to my community?” Bonta said.

Bonta is committed to work with organizations like Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ) to advocate for smart solutions that get at the root causes for crime to improve public safety. 

Anthony DiMartino, the government affairs director for the CSJ, says rolling back Prop 47 will do more than good by failing to address the real issues of people committing retail theft.

“We’re still struggling with the effects of covid and poverty issues, homelessness. So Prop 47 did not contribute to all of those issues,” DiMartino said. “Prop 47 has been around since 2014 and to be talking about it now, 10 years later. I believe you should always revisit laws, but to say that it’s the cause of lawlessness in the state of California, we don’t think is true.” 

Villapudua’s bill, AB 1787, will be heard in its first committee hearing next month. 

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