The late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously termed the individual states “laboratories of democracy.”
In this way, California’s kind of like if you let Bunsen and Beaker from “The Muppet Show” loose to do as they pleased in the nation’s most populous state.
Instead of Beaker bearing the brunt of the ill-conceived experiments, however, the 39 million residents are the ones who end up feeling the pain when it all blows up in their face.
Plastic straw bans? Guess where they started?
A law designed to turn independent contractors into full-time employees that ended in massive job losses for those in the gig economy? They’ve got that, too.
Oh, and then there are those restrictive building policies that have led to expensive housing and massive rates of homelessness.
Paper straws, unemployment and tent cities are all pretty bad.
The damage SB 889 may end up wreaking upon California could be just as awful.
The legislation is the brainchild of state Sen. Nancy Skinner, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
She’s from Berkeley, so I’ll give you 0.5 guesses as to what party she belongs to. The particulars of the bill, introduced Jan. 24, can be summed up with a wait-you’re-kidding-she-didn’t-actually-propose-that-did-she headline:
SB 889 means criminal suspects under the age of 20 could be charged as juveniles.
“Under SB 889, prosecutors who wished to charge anyone aged 16 through 19 as an adult would need to file a motion in juvenile court,” the Mercury News reported.
“What happens next is a trial in front of a judge, who is presented with aggravating and mitigating factors, and determines whether to approve the prosecution motion.”
“When teenagers make serious mistakes and commit crimes, state prison is not the answer,” Skinner said in a statement.
“Processing teenagers through the juvenile justice system will help ensure they receive the appropriate education, counseling, treatment, and rehabilitation services necessary to achieve real public safety outcomes.”
Skinner is kind of a star incubator when it comes to bad legislation.
In one of her recent bills, the ability of prosecutors to file murder charges against individuals when another person is killed in the commission of a felony such as robbery was limited.
She’s also helped restore the ability of convicted felons to serve on juries.
However, her main focus on incubating bad legislation has to do with treating adults as juveniles and making sure juveniles who commit heinous crimes aren’t charged as adults.
Another one of her bills, SB 1391, barred prosecutors from charging anyone under 16 as an adult period, no matter what the crime is. In other words, a school shooter or a serial rapist could theoretically be out on the streets in a matter of years.
“Currently, 18-and-19-year-olds can be charged as adults automatically under current state law. In a news release, Skinner’s office cited studies about adolescent brain development as a rationale behind the bill, arguing that the change was in-line with things like the current drinking age, or raising the tobacco-buying age to 21,” the Mercury News reported.
So here’s a funny coincidence: In Skinner’s hometown of Berkeley back in 2018, there was a ballot measure passed titled Measure Y1.
“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. Yet less than 20% of 18-29 year olds voted in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest youth turnout rate ever recorded. We must do something to better engage our youth — Measure Y1 will do just that by allowing 16- and 17-year olds to vote in Berkeley school board elections,” a statement in support of the measure read.
“The Berkeley City Council unanimously voted to put Measure Y1 on the ballot and the Berkeley School Board unanimously supported doing so. By lowering the voting age in Berkeley school board elections, Measure Y1 will: increase voter turnout, give young adults the ability to truly influence the direction of their local schools, increase civic engagement among young adults, and provide a strong incentive to improve civics education.”
Among the signatories of the statement — a statement in support of a measure which would allow minors with incomplete brain development who lack the decision-making capability to decide whether to smoke a cigarette, according to state Sen. Nancy Skinner, to vote — was state Sen. Nancy Skinner.
She also thinks that young people are advanced enough in their cerebral development to make other decisions rationally.
VoteSmart is a website which tracks candidate’s positions on a wide range of topics. Two of them, at least in Skinner’s case, I found particularly interesting:
“Do you support requiring parental notification before an abortion is performed on a minor?” No.
“Do you support requiring parental consent before an abortion is performed on a minor?” No.
So if you’re 16, you can elect your school board.
If you’re 16 (or younger), you can decide on having an abortion without parental consent or notification.
If you’re younger than 16, even if only by a month or so, you can’t really decide whether the murder you committed was really that bad of a murder.
If you’re younger than 16, you may not have grasped the full meaning of that mass shooting you committed — so you can be out on the street in a few years
If you’re younger than 20, you may not be mentally and emotionally developed enough to be held responsible as an adult for a crime you committed — even if there’s nothing mentally or emotionally wrong with you.
Again, you could be serving juvenile time even if you committed a very adult crime as a very adult individual.
There’s no way this will blow up in California’s face.
This time, Bunsen and Beaker will get things right in their laboratory of democracy; the volatile ingredients will mix together beautifully, and social justice and justice will live peaceably with each other like the wolf and the lamb.
Sixteen-year-olds will elect great school board officials.
Fifteen-year-old craven murderers will be released back into society just years later, totally cured of whatever anomic impulses were no doubt foisted upon them by society.
No one in California will be put in any danger.
Everything will be fine.
Just keep telling yourself that: Everything will be just fine.
This is the worldview Nancy Skinner is incubating in the Golden State.
The Mercury News says she is “on the forefront of justice reform in California.”
One can only hope that reform stays there.
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