Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D-Inglewood) has introduced bills that would protect victims, reduce recidivism, and treat substance-use disorders. (Antonio Ray Harvey/CBM)

Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D-Inglewood) and Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Ladera Heights), both members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), have joined other lawmakers and criminal justice reform advocates to address public safety in the state.

On April 2, CLBC members gathered outside the State Capitol for the unveiling of the #SmartSolutions Public Safety Policy Platform, a package of 30 bills that addresses the top concerns of retailers, retail workers, the fentanyl crisis, and support for victims and survivors of crime.

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“Instead of being tough on crime, we need to be smart on crime,” Smallwood said at the press briefing. “I am not saying that we’re not going to be holding folks accountable for the actions that they take. But we will not rely on incarceration as a solution.”

McKinnor, Smallwood-Cuevas, a coalition of advocates, addiction treatment experts, and Yurok Tribal leaders joined Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), and Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-Colton) at the press conference organized to promote legislative solutions that ensure safety and justice.

Organizers say #SmartSolutions is an intersectional campaign that combats criminalization and mass incarceration by pushing for the redirection of state resources to fund housing, health care, schools, services for victims, and programs that reduce recidivism and promote accountability, beyond incarceration.

Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Ladera Heights), a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), speaks outside at the State Capitol about public safety legislation she introduced in the Legislature. (Antonio Ray Harvey/CBM)

Opponents of the bills proposed in the #SmartSolutions campaign say their colleagues who support reform-focused strategies are looking the other way on crime and encouraging lawlessness.

For example, Assemblymembers Wendy Carillo (D-Boyle Heights), Carlos Villapudua (D-Stockton) and Mike Gipson (D-Carson) are supporting Assembly Bill (AB) 1990, legislation that would allow a peace officer to arrest shoplifters without a warrant or without witnessing the theft.

Assemblymember James Ramos (D-Highland) authored AB 1772 and introduced it in January. The legislation proposes sterner penalties for retail theft, particularly for repeat offenders.

The #SmartSolutions campaign is co-sponsored by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Smart Justice California, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) California Action, Californians for Safety and Justice, and Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB).

Smallwood recently introduced two bills she hopes will provide solutions to the escalating retail theft problem in the state. Senate Bill (SB) 1446 addresses theft, technology and job security in retail establishments and aims to minimize workplace violence, according to supporters. SB 1282 requires counties to expand the use of a diversion program for theft cases.

The Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee is currently reviewing SB 1446 and SB 1282 has been referred to the Senate Public Safety Committee for consideration.

McKinnor’s Assembly Bill (AB) 2833, the Restorative Justice Integrity Act, supports survivors of crimes. AB 2833 was created to “address critical gaps in the current legal framework by providing comprehensive admissibility protections for people who participate in these Restorative Justice processes,” as stated in the bill’s language.

McKinnor said AB 2833 draws inspiration from successful models in 15 other states, including the state of Illinois’ SB 64. Later in the day, the bill passed out of the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee with an 80 vote and is on its way to the Judiciary Committee.

“Restorative Justice is the essential pillar of making our criminal justice system more fair, just, and equitable,” McKinnor said. “Restorative justice recognizes the trauma of victims and preparatory of crimes and provides a constructive space for victims to find healing.”

Dr. Amiee Moulin, founder of the California Bridge program and chief of the Division of Addiction Medicine at the University of California (UC) Medical Center, said drug “addiction and overdose” are taking a toll on patients, families and the community.

“I believe that California’s proposed legislation focused on expanding access to treatment is a crucial step towards saving lives,” Moulin said. “By removing barriers to care and embracing evidenced-based strategies we can provide patients the support they need to heal and recover.”

Reyes’s AB 1956 will require the state to support funding for crime victim services, including services normally funded by the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), which she says expires this year. Advocates also urged support for bills that address the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

“Public safety is a priority here in the California Legislature,” Reyes said. “Legislation that I have introduced will eliminate barriers to accessing life-saving medication in our battle against fentanyl while another bill will ensure we do not encounter major reductions in victim services for those who have suffered from sexual assault, human trafficking, and various crimes.”