Election 2020: Proposition Cheat Sheet

With mail-in-ballots having been delivered to most California households recently, the 2020 election has officially begun. The ballot includes the most famous elections, such as that of the president and vice president, as well as that of local positions, such as city mayor. The most underestimated part of the ballot, however, lies on the back of the ballot paper — the referendum section. Referenda, also known as state propositions, give the people a voice in local and state policy. They are the most direct form of voting available to American citizens, which is why it is recommended to research them beforehand. Here are the statewide propositions on the ballot this year:


Prop 14: Continues the Funding of Stem Cell Research

Proposition 14 would fund up to 5.5 billion dollars to the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) in order to further expand its current stem cell research programs. Stem cells have the ability to regenerate in the human body, replacing cells that are lost or damaged by disease, which is why it could potentially treat or cure certain diseases. This initiative would cost 7.8 billion dollars in total, with about 3 billion dollars of that money coming from bonds, which would, in turn, be taken away from the General Fund budget. This would cost the General Fund about 260 million dollars per year for about 30 years. Eventually, any income resulting from stem cell research will be shared with the state and put back into the General Fund. 

Proposition 14 serves as a sequel to Proposition 71, which was passed during the 2004 election. Besides creating CIRM, Proposition 71 allocated 3 billion dollars for CIRM to do basic research, develop and perform clinical testing of new treatments, build infrastructure and form education initiatives. It has also offered grants to expand opportunities for stem cell research at colleges. With only 132 million dollars left from the Proposition 71 grant, according to the California Legislative Analyst, CIRM has had to decrease its staffing and stop taking on new projects. Proposition 14 would allocate new funds for CIRM, allowing for the expansion of staffing, with new personnel focusing on making stem cell treatments more affordable and accessible, for example. 


Prop 15: Increases Funding for Public Schools, Community Colleges and Local Government Services

Proposition 15 would increase funding for local governments and schools by changing California’s current tax system for commercial property taxes and business property. In particular, commercial land and buildings would no longer be taxed on their original purchase price, but instead would be taxed on its current value. This would only apply to owners with commercial land and buildings worth more than 3 million dollars. At the same time, as taxes would increase for such properties, it would decrease taxes on business equipment (meaning appliances, machinery, computers and furniture) by lowering its taxable value by $500,000. 

This change in property taxes could mean an increase of between 8 and 12 billion dollars in tax revenue, as per California’s Legislative Analyst. However, the decrease in taxes on business equipment could mean the loss of a couple hundred million dollars in revenue as well for certain towns. The proposition counts on directing 60 percent of the revenue directly to cities, counties and special districts, with 40 percent going to public schools and community colleges, as well as additional funding for local governments to carry out the new changes. 


Prop 16: Allows public institutions to consider diversity in decision making

Under Proposition 16, public employment, public education and public contracting would now be able to consider the factors of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in their decision-making process. This would repeal Proposition 206, passed in 1996, which banned affirmative action except under very specific circumstances; for example, the state can consider an employee’s sex when assigning them to work at a specific state prison, in order to fulfill the state’s requirement that inmates and employees need to be the same sex.. If Proposition 16 passes, however, , public institutions would have the right more broadly to grant preference based on factors of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

 Before the passing of Proposition 206, affirmative action programs often considered such factors in trying to increase opportunities and representation for groups who faced inequalities due to these demographic categories. Proposition 16 would allow for these programs to exist once again, as long as they are legal under the federal government’s equal protection clause.


Prop 17: Restores voting rights after completion of parole

Currently, ex-prisoners who have been released on parole do not have the right to vote. Proposition 17 would restore the right to vote to state parolees, which would also give them the right to run for office if they meet the qualifications to do so. This could cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars statewide to provide ballot materials and update voter registration systems. As per the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation weekly report released on Sept. 23, there are currently 57,070 parolees in California. 


Prop 18: Allows 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections and special elections 

Proposition 19 would amend the constitution by allowing 17-year-olds to vote in any primary or special election if they are going to turn 18 by the next general election, which usually takes place in November. In California, individuals who have the right to vote also have the right to run for office, meaning the group eligible to vote under this proposition could also run for office – as long as they meet the other eligibility requirements for elective office. This would cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars statewide to provide ballot materials and update voter registration systems. 


Prop 19: Changes Special Property Tax Rules

Certain special property tax rules apply to homeowners who are 55 or older, who are severely disabled or whose property has been impacted by natural disaster or contamination. Under current legislation, the taxable value of a property increases by two percent each year to account for inflation, even though most properties’ value increases more quickly than that. Furthermore, the taxable value is set to the new purchase price when sold to a new owner, and hence property taxes greatly increase when a property trades owners. As a result, new homeowners often find themselves paying more property taxes on their new home than their old one. Special property tax rules, like the ones being altered in Proposition 19, protect eligible homeowners from these property tax hikes, capping the property taxes on their new home to the value of property tax they paid in their old home if the new home isn’t more expensive. 

The first change Proposition 19 makes to these special rules would allow for these eligible homeowners to move anywhere around the state, instead of having to stay confined within their county or only being eligible to move to 10 counties that allow for these transfers. Second of all, it would offer a discount on property taxes even if the eligible homeowner moved to a more expensive house. The property tax would still go up because the house would be more expensive, but it would be cheaper than it would be for a normal homeowner. Lastly, instead of only being able to use the special rule benefits once, homeowners who are severely disabled or over 55 years old would be able to use the benefits of the special rule three times in their lifetime. 

For inherited properties, the special rules would now only apply to inherited farms or properties used as a primary home by the descendants, instead of to all inherited property. In addition to this, property taxes would go up for inherited properties whose sale value is one million dollars greater than their taxable value. 

Different parts of the measure would have different effects on the accumulation of property tax funding, but overall these changes would most likely increase this funding pool for local governments and schools, with a special portion of the funding to go towards fire protection.


Prop 20: Changes in Classification of Certain Theft Crimes, to Parole and to the Collection of DNA Samples

Proposition 20 encapsulates many changes to parole eligibility, the classification of some theft-related crimes, the release consideration process and to the collection of DNA samples. Broadly speaking, Proposition 20 would allow for certain theft crimes, which are now misdemeanors, to be considered for “wobbler sentencing,” meaning that they could be sentenced as either a felony or a misdemeanor based on the specifics of the crime. It would also remove some inmates from eligibility for the release consideration process, such as those convicted of assault and domestic violence. In addition, the state Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) would consider a greater number of factors, like the specifics of the crime, when releasing inmates and require inmates who are not released to wait another two years before submitting a new review. Importantly, the proposition would add nearly 50 crimes to the list of violent felonies, including date rape, certain types of assaults, sex trafficking. and domestic violence, which under current law are labeled as ‘non-violent felonies.’ Normally, people charged with non-violent felonies are eligible for release after completing their primary crime’s sentence; however, crimes labeled as “violent” by the state are not eligible for early release/parole.  The last provision in Proposition 20 would expand the collection of DNA samples to include criminals who committed certain misdemeanors, such as shoplifting. 

Overall, Proposition 20 encapsulates a variety of specificities regarding crime and parole, all of which would most likely increase jail populations; this is in contrast to  Propositions 47 and 57, passed in 2014 and 2016 respectively, which tried to counter jail overcrowding.


Prop 21: Expands Rent Control

Rent control sets a limit on the percentage by which landlords can increase rent each year. Proposition 21 would allow local governments, such as cities and counties. to extend rent control over a greater number of properties. They would be allowed to apply rent control to housing that is more than 15 years old, as opposed to the current law, which only allows it to be applied to housing that is more than 25 years old. Single-family houses owned by landlords with two or fewer properties would be excluded from this measure. Local governments would also now be able to regulate how much landlords can increase rent when new renters come in, while still allowing them to increase rents up to 15 percent for the first three years after a new renter comes in and guaranteeing landlords a fair rate of return.


Prop 22: Makes Drivers for App-Based Transportation and Delivery Companies Independent Contractors

Voting yes on Proposition 22 would establish drivers for rideshare (such as Uber and Lyft) and delivery companies (such as Instacart and Doordash) as independent contractors. This would oppose AB 5’s ruling, a state law passed in 2019 that classifies these workers as employees. Under the independent contractor status, drivers would be exempt from employee’s protections such as paid sick leave, employee insurance, paid family time and extra pay for overtime. If drivers became employees, on the other hand, rideshare and delivery companies would be required to provide their employees with these protections but AB 5 does not require a set number of hours per week, nor does it force these companies to create a fixed schedule for employees. 

Although these drivers would be labeled as independent contractors, Proposition 22 would provide certain protections to drivers, by requiring these companies to 1) pay their workers higher than the local minimum wage for the hours spent driving (and not those spent waiting), 2) help pay health insurance for those working more than 15 hours a week, 3) cover work injury costs, 4) cap shifts to 12 hours within a 24-hour period, 5) put in place sexual harassment policies, 6) conduct criminal background checks on their workers and 7) host safety training. 


Prop 23: Extends requirements for Chronic Dialysis Clinics

Dialysis is a life-saving treatment conducted three times a week for individuals suffering from kidney failure. This process is conducted at chronic dialysis clinics (CDCs), which currently provide dialysis to around 80,000 Californians a month. Under Proposition 23, CDCs would be required to have a doctor on site during all hours of operation, unless there is a valid shortage of doctors in the area. It would also require CDCs to report data on infection due to dialysis to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and to receive consent from the CDPH before closing or reducing their services. Lastly, it would forbid CDCs from declining to treat a patient based on the source of payment for care. 


Prop 24: Changes to Consumer Privacy Laws

Proposition 24 presents a multi-faceted 52-page plan that directly affects consumers’ privacy. Its first policy would require fewer businesses to follow existing consumer privacy laws. Only businesses who buy, sell or share the personal data of more than 100,000 consumers or households yearly would need to follow these regulations, compared to current law forcing businesses who buy, sell or share the personal data of more than 50,000 consumers, households or devices to do so. These businesses would also have to disclose to consumers how long they will keep their personal data. In addition, Proposition 24 would allow consumers to ask businesses not to share their personal data, to correct their personal information and to limit their use of sensitive personal data (such as social security numbers). It would also make penalties harsher for violations of the consumer privacy laws when concerning minors. These would be enforced by a new state agency, the California Privacy Protection Agency (CPPA), which would also be in charge of creating new consumer privacy laws. The agency would receive 10 million dollars a year from the General Fund for its operations. 

Finally, Proposition 24 would allow businesses to grant discounts to consumers who authorize the usage of their data, described as “pay for privacy” schemes by opponents such as the ACLU. Critics of the measure also argue that it does not do enough to protect consumer’s privacy, or that it would place a financial burden on current businesses.


Prop 25: Adjusts release from jail before trial, removes cash bail

In California’s current criminal system, when individuals are arrested for a crime, they have two ways to be released from jail before trial, through “own recognizance” or bail. Bail is when criminals pay a specific amount of money, determined by the county’s bail schedules. In Orange County, for example, bail for carjacking costs around 100,000 dollars, and bail for a DUI costs around 50,000 dollars. The money set under bail is returned to the individual if they attend all their court meetings; otherwise, they lose the money. This serves as the main method for trial courts to ensure that individuals who are charged with a crime attend their court meetings. 

Bail can be  paid directly or, if the individual is unable to pay the full amount, through a bail bond, in which case they pay a fee (costing no more than 10 percent of the bail amount) to a bail agent, who promises to pay the full bail if the individual doesn’t show up to court. If the bail agent must pay the full bail due to failure to attend court, the insurance backing the bail bond can demand the full bail be paid. If the individual still can’t pay that amount, they must stay in county jail until a trial is held. 

Under Proposition 25, SB 10, which was due to pass in 2018, would be approved as legislation. SB 10 seeks to eliminate the cash bail system, replacing it with an algorithm that would use different factors, such as age or past criminal history, to determine an individual’s risk of not showing up to court or committing a new crime. Those who are low risk would be eligible for release, which could include supervision, such as ankle monitors or check-ins with county probation officers. Those at medium or high risk would be stuck in jail until their arraignment. 

Under SB 10, and Proposition 25 in this case, individuals convicted of most misdemeanors would be automatically eligible for release, depending on the type of crime and past court attendance. In addition, it would change the conditions for releases at arraignment. Most individuals are released under “own recognizance”; however, if the court is unable to prove that the individual is not a flight risk or will not commit another crime upon release, they must stay in jail. Proposition 25 would uphold those measures, while removing the measure that would allow for the adjustment of bail amounts, since the cash bail system would no longer exist. 

Currently, those released in arraignment are often required to pay for supervision technology, such as electronic monitoring. Under Proposition 25, it would be illegal to make individuals pay those fees as a condition for their release. 

Fiscal costs would increase for state and local courts, since the workload would be greater. It would likely put the bail industry out of business in California, which, in 2018, issued around $6 billion in bail bonds. Lastly, the county jail populations would most likely decrease, as those who are currently unable to pay bail or who committed certain misdemeanors would be released. 


Considering the complex nature of these referenda, it is recommended to set out researching them beforehand in order to make informed decisions. You can find more information about these propositions from credible organizations such as the ACLU, Los Angeles Times and the Reason Foundation, but be wary of advertisements. This is the perfect opportunity to use your voice directly on legislation, so make it count!