Death penalty measure on state ballot a tight fight 

Proposition 34 on November’s ballot would end the use of the death penalty in California and convert the sentences for all 725 people on death row to life imprisonment without parole. In a well-intentioned bit of bribery to prevent public safety groups (read: unions) from opposing the proposition, it creates a $100 million fund from which law enforcement agencies can get grants to investigate homicide and rape.

Gov. Jerry Brown says he won’t comment on any proposition other than his tax initiative, even though it was his call to his father — then-Gov. Pat Brown — that persuaded the elder Brown to grant a 60-day stay of execution for Caryl Chessman in 1960. Jerry Brown then went on to veto the proposal to reinstate the death penalty in 1978 (the Legislature overruled him) and appoint three judges who would later be voted off the bench for opposing capital punishment.

The 1986 election in which the judges were ousted wasn’t the only pro-death penalty election we’ve had. Twice, capital punishment has been ruled unconstitutional in California and twice a new version has been reinstated by voters — by 68 percent in 1972 and 71 percent in 1978. Subsequent expansions of the crimes for which a person could be sentenced to death in 1990 and 1996 won by landslides.

On Aug. 16, the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University School of Public Policy released the results of an online poll of this November’s ballot propositions. It shows 38 percent in favor of Prop. 34 and 52 percent  opposed, with only 33 percent “strongly no.” The poll has a margin of error of 3.4 percent, with a sample size of over 800 likely voters.

In light of our history (and recent comments by certain people about our lefty looniness) the fact that only 52 percent appear to be in favor of keeping the death penalty is actually quite remarkable. According to historical Field Poll results, support for the death penalty hasn’t been that low since 1971.

From 1971 to 2011 the percentage of Californians in favor of the death penalty averaged 73 percent, topping out in 1985 and 1986 at 83 percent.

Even if Prop. 34 doesn’t pass, opponents of the death penalty can see that they have made serious progress, and we can expect it’ll be on the ballot again.

I don’t think they have exhausted their appeals.

Olympics tax break may cover hot dogs

The Olympics are over and the athletes will be coming home, some to lucrative endorsement deals.  For each medal an athlete wins, there is a monetary reward attached: $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. In all, 22 California athletes earned a total of 24 medals — 17 gold, four silver and three bronze. In California, gold medalists could pay $1,450 in state taxes.

Politicians from both parties have lined up to seize the patriotic moment, introducing legislation to exempt Olympic winnings from taxation.

The analysis of the legislation (AB 1786) contains this criticism of the wording, “For example, International Hot Dog Corporation could include as part of an advertising campaign its commitment to give each gold medal winner 100 packages of hot dogs to show its commitment to the success of American Olympic athletes. Normally, once received, the hot dogs would be taxable income to the athlete.” But under the new law, it might not be. I, for one, am outraged. We tax free hot dogs?

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Melissa Griffin

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