Newsletter: Californians’ split decision on the death penalty

Essential Politics

When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in March a moratorium on executions, critics said he was doing something that was contrary to the wishes of most Californians.

But maybe not, according to new poll results.

The poll, conducted for the Los Angeles Times by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, finds at least a majority of those surveyed are more supportive than not of Newsom’s decision.

In all, 52% back the governor refusing to carry out executions of those now serving on death row — almost evenly split between strongly and somewhat supporting. No surprise that Democrats and Republicans are sharply, if not predictably, on opposite sides of the question.


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But the numbers are different, and more in line with traditional California voter attitudes, when it comes to general support for the death penalty and the possibility of another ballot measure on its repeal in 2020 — after efforts failed in the 2012 and 2016 elections.

“There’s a certain class of crime that is so heinous that the public just wants to reserve the right for death,” pollster Mark DiCamillo said.

But why the split decision?


Shilpi Agarwal, a staff attorney with an expertise in criminal justice at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said the support for both the death penalty and the moratorium may be due to a difference in how people feel about capital punishment in theory versus how they see it being carried out.

“A majority of people recognize that it is a broken system in practice and for that reason a moratorium is appropriate,” she said.

Look for additional topics from the new poll later this week. Last week, we released polling data for how Californians feel about the Democratic presidential candidates and the issue of impeaching President Trump.



Last week, California legislators gave final approval to a bill that lays out a new state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

But that was only one bill. There are perhaps as many as 18 more bills for actually implementing the budget that remain pending. And one, in particular, could be key for Newsom’s promise to expand the tax credit for the state’s lowest income citizens.

Call it, for now, the $1.6-billion budget stumbling block.

Here’s the bottom line: the governor’s effort to offer up to $1 billion in cash through the state’s earned income tax credit program hinges on whether he can persuade legislators to raise a limited number of taxes through what’s known as tax conformity. The proposal seeks to align part of California’s tax code with changes made on the federal level in 2017.


But the $1.6 billion in new taxes needs a supermajority vote in both houses of the Legislature, and there are Democrats balking at anything perceived as a tax increase. And a sleeper issue to watch: The tax change was assumed as a done deal in the way last week’s main budget bill was drafted — which has some education groups worried. The main budget bill, after all, lays out the funding level for K-12 schools and community colleges.

For now, no word on how this will shake out or when. But expect some interesting political and policy storylines out of the state Capitol this week. (And this isn’t the only budget hiccup: There’s still internal debate over how to divvy up new homelessness help.)


On Thursday, the Assembly Health Committee is scheduled to consider Senate Bill 276, this year’s hotly debated effort to limit medical exemptions for vaccinating schoolchildren.


Last week, a prominent Hollywood actress quietly slipped in to Sacramento express her concerns about the bill. Except that she then posted something on social media. And all hell broke loose.

But the decision to speak out by Jessica Biel was notable for another reason: Fewer celebrities are now taking the side of vaccine critics, unlike the circumstances surrounding enactment of the landmark 2015 law that imposed strict limits on vaccine exemptions.

“I felt like the tides were turning and scientists and medical professionals were starting to be heard,” actress Amanda Peet said Thursday. “I don’t meet that many people who are afraid of vaccines now.”

Nonetheless, expect an impassioned debate about the bill in this week’s committee hearing.



-- From a $3-million dog park to money for a sculpture garden and more, there are dozens of items quietly tucked inside California’s new state budget.

-- California government officials will give the state’s struggling cannabis businesses more time on provisional permits.

-- California ammo buyers are making a run on gun shops ahead of a new state law, which on July 1 will require buyers of bullets to show identification and undergo a background check to screen out felons and people with illegal firearms.


-- Trump said it’s OK to take campaign dirt from foreign powers. Is it legal?

-- Jay Inslee has sounded warnings about climate change for 20 years. Now the Washington governor is basing his presidential campaign on it. Will voters listen?

-- Columnist George Skelton makes the case for why Republicans need to change their product, given that Californians aren’t buying it.



Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.

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