PolitiCal News and analysis on California politics

Brown nixes bill protecting some immigrants with drug charges from deportation

A measure meant to shield immigrants with low-level drug charges from deportation, so long as they completed treatment programs, was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown Thursday.

The proposal by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) focused on a discrepancy between state and federal law. In California, people charged with minor drug crimes can plead guilty and then opt to enter treatment. When the individual completes the drug counseling program, the charge is wiped from his or her record.

But nearly all drug convictions still stand under federal law -- even if a person undergoes treatment. For immigrants, both those in the country illegally and those with green cards, such a conviction can trigger deportation proceedings.

Eggman's bill, AB 1351, would have allowed people charged with possession and other minor narcotics crimes to opt for treatment before entering a guilty plea. If they failed to complete treatment, they would face criminal proceedings.

District attorneys opposed the proposal, arguing it would create more work for prosecutors to track down offenders if they ended up not finishing treatment.

Brown, in his veto message, said that he was supportive of "giving low-level offenders a second-chance."

But, he added, he was concerned "that the bill eliminates the most powerful incentive to stay in treatment -- the knowledge that judgment will be entered for failure to do so."

"The bill goes too far," he concluded. 

Glenn Backes, lobbyist for the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that sponsored the bill, countered Brown's concern that the bill would take away a motivation for treatment.

"There is a myth of the hammer -- that if you don't threaten people, they won’t go to treatment," Backes said. "Experts know that’s not true."

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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