Death and Tax Measures Hold Low Profile

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the March 26 primary ballot are measures that could alter the lives of millions of people, not to mention quite a few mountain lions.

Voters will be determining, along with the fate of the large cats, whether to change the rules on auto insurance, lawyer income and primary election ballots, and whether to approve school and road building bond measures.

But not all ballot propositions change the world. For the dedicated voter, there are four less sweeping issues on the March ballot, all placed there by the Legislature:

* Proposition 193 seeks to eliminate a tax bite on grandchildren who assume ownership of family property.

* Proposition 194 would deny prison inmates employed on certain work projects unemployment benefits upon their release.

* Proposition 195 would permit imposition of the death penalty or a life sentence without parole for carjackers who kill their victims, as well as for criminals who kill a juror.

* Proposition 196 would raise the penalty to death or life without parole for fatal drive-by shootings.

The property tax measure, Proposition 193, would expand the exemption permitted now when property owned by a parent is transferred to a son or daughter. The law keeps increases in the property tax rate to 2% per year, not the rate based on a reassessment of the property, which normally occurs when title changes and which can result in a steep increase.

On the same grounds, this measure would extend the exemption to property sold or transferred to grandchildren.

Arguments in favor: Only a small fraction of homeowners would benefit, but they are just as deserving as those enjoying the exemption now. Also, only grandchildren who had lost both parents could qualify. Proponents include Republican Assemblymen David Knowles of Placerville and Bill Hoge of Pasadena and state Sen. Maurice Johannessen (R-Redding).

Arguments against: Passage would aggravate the lopsidedness of California's property tax structure brought about by Proposition 13 by creating another class of privileged property owners, often paying far less in taxes than neighbors owning comparable homes. Opponents include San Jose attorney Gary B. Wesley.

Proposition 194, the prison work measure, would eliminate unemployment insurance benefits accrued under the Joint Venture Program worked out between the California prison system in conjunction with a dozen or so private employers.

About 80 inmates take part in the program doing work such as furniture assembly and computer data entry. The convicts see only a fraction of the prevailing wage they earn because of deductions for room, board and victim compensation. But they do build up unemployment insurance benefits payable on their release.

Under this measure, those benefits no longer would be available.

Arguments for: Allowing ex-convicts to collect unemployment checks "offends all notions of common sense," according to supporters. The unemployment insurance system supported by employer contributions was never meant as a benefit for paroled prisoners. Proponents include state Sen. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove); Tom McClintock, former Republican assemblyman; and Jeff Thompson, lobbyist for the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn.

Arguments against: Prisoners qualify for the benefit, therefore should collect it in the difficult period they undergo trying to adjust to life on the outside. Opponents include Stephen C. Birdlebough of the Quaker group Friends Committee on Legislation.

Also, analysts point to warnings from the U.S. Department of Labor that denial of benefits may violate federal law and lead to a loss of tax credits for all employers statewide. Independent analysts said, however, that legislative or administrative solutions may eliminate that problem.

* Proposition 195 would expand the state's death penalty law to permit imposition of the death penalty or a life sentence without parole on carjackers who kill their victims. The murder of a juror would also be punishable by those penalties. In targeting two types of killers, the measure is largely technical in addressing carjackers but clearly means a harsher penalty for the murderer of a juror.

Already, a prosecutor can obtain the death penalty for carjacking with murder, but it requires conviction for first-degree murder coupled with a second conviction for robbery or kidnapping. The measure seeks to "clean up the criminal code" by allowing for a death sentence or a life sentence without parole upon a conviction for first-degree murder and for the specific crime of carjacking.

For the deliberate killing of a juror--though such a crime has seldom if ever occurred--Proposition 195 would authorize a death sentence or life sentence without parole, whereas the offense now would carry a penalty of 25 years to life, with a chance for parole.

Argument in favor: With passage of this measure, carjackers would get the penalty they deserve. The crime would join the list of other felonies that, when committed with first-degree murder, allow for a sentence of death or life without parole. Right now, all felonies except carjacking, when committed with murder, allow for the maximum penalty.

The murder of a juror is an "equal outrage" to murder of any participant in a court trial, say proponents. The law already allows for a death penalty or life without parole for the retaliatory murder of a judge, prosecutor or witness.

Among the proponents are state Sen. Steve Peace (D-Chula Vista), Assemblyman Peter Frusetta (R-Tres Pinos) and Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury.

Argument against: Capital punishment has never been proven the deterrent that its proponents claim, and only adds to huge court costs that result from death sentences. The money would be better spent on crime prevention and gun control and on better training of police officers.

Opponents include retired Rabbi Leonard I. Beerman, formerly of Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles; Jeannette G. Arnquist, director of human concerns for the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino; state Sen. Milton Marks (D-San Francisco); and the Rev. Jerry A. Lamb, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California.

Proposition 196 raises the penalty to death or life without parole for drive-by murder. Proponents legally joined Proposition 196 to Proposition 195 for mutual benefit. If both pass, they will carry equal weight in the courts.

Argument in favor: The drive-by shooting epidemic in California calls for the harshest of penalties against those responsible. Supporters include Gov. Pete Wilson, state Sen. Ruben Ayala (D-Chino) and Gregory D. Totten, executive director of the California District Attorneys Assn.

Argument against: The death penalty is never a deterrent. Additionally, proponents call for capital punishment in this narrow circumstance, but not "for the same killer who walks into a restaurant and shoots a child." Among those opposing the measure are Michael Hennessy, San Francisco city and county sheriff, and Wilson C. Riles Jr., executive director of the American Friends Service Committee of Northern California.

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