Will California allow ballots behind bars?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Ben Christopher BY Ben Christopher February 8, 2023
Presented by American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and New California Coalition

Will California allow ballots behind bars?

Assemblymember Isaac Bryan says it’s time to let California prisoners vote. 

To be clear, the Culver City Democrat who leads the Assembly election committee, isn’t talking about extending the franchise to people with felonies on their record. California and 21 other states already allow for that. 

Bryan’s bill, which he introduced as a proposed amendment to the state constitution on Monday, would allow people to cast ballots while they are still in state prisons. 

  • Bryan: “Voting reduces recidivism and increases the community connectivity for people upon release…Democracy thrives when everybody has a chance to have their voice heard.” 

For both supporters and opponents of the idea, it might look like the inevitable conclusion to a decade of California legislation on both voting rights and prison rehabilitation policy:

  • In 2016, lawmakers passed a law allowing people in county jails to vote;
  • In 2020, voters approved Proposition 17, which extended the right to people on parole;
  • From universal vote-by-mail to same-day registration to pre-registration for some teenagers, lawmakers have been on a steady campaign to make it easier for more people to vote;
  • Last year, lawmakers passed a bill that would have allowed certain inmates to relocate to low-security facilities where they would be taught to be self-sufficient and receive job training, à la Norwegian prisons — though Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed it.

If Bryan is successful — something that would require approval from at least two thirds of both the Assembly and Senate, then a majority of voters statewide — California would join Vermont, Maine and Washington D.C. 

Bryan’s bill is sure to be a heavy political lift.

Last year, a proposed constitutional amendment to ban forced, unpaid labor in state prisons failed, lacking support from the Newsom administration, some moderate Democrats in the Senate and all Republicans.

Bryan already knows he won’t be able to count on the support of the election committee’s vice chairperson, Tom Lackey, a Palmdale Republican. 

  • Lackey on Twitter: “Criminal acts should have consequences. Voting is a sacred privilege, not an absolute right of citizenship.”

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Isaac Bryan

Isaac Bryan

State Assembly, District 55 (Culver City)

Isaac Bryan

State Assembly, District 55 (Culver City)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 55 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 66%
GOP 9%
No party 21%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Isaac Bryan has taken at least $502,000 from the Labor sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 31% of his total campaign contributions.

Tom Lackey

Tom Lackey

State Assembly, District 34 (Palmdale)

Tom Lackey

State Assembly, District 34 (Palmdale)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 34 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 32%
GOP 39%
No party 20%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Tom Lackey has taken at least $1.8 million from the Party sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 36% of his total campaign contributions.


Electric vehicles: CalMatters is writing a series of stories on California’s road to more electric cars and trucks. Starting in 2035, no gas-powered vehicles will be sold in the state. Do you have questions about this transformation? Submit them here.  


1 The Legislature’s Legacy Caucus

Republican gubernatorial candidate, state Sen. Brian Dahle, right, hugs his wife, Assemblywoman Megan Dahle, in celebration at an election night gathering in Sacramento on June 7, 2022. Dahle faced-off against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in the November general election. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo
State Sen. Brian Dahle, right, hugs his wife, Assemblymember Megan Dahle, at a primary night gathering in Sacramento on June 7, 2022. Republican Dahle lost to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in the November general election. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

You already know these famed political surnames: Kennedy, Roosevelt, Clinton and Bush.

But what about Dahle, Rubio, Bonta and Lowenthal?

Meet California’s Legacy Caucus — the state lawmakers related by blood or marriage to other legislators past and present. This year, they make up 10% of the Legislature — with more likely on the way in 2024.

Why does winning elections seem to run in some people’s families? How does politics as a family affair change the culture of the Legislature? And for the lawmakers in question, what are Thanksgiving dinners like? 

I’ve had these questions on my mind since last December, when Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, a Corona Democrat, announced she’s running for state Senate, clearing the way for her sister, Clarissa, to campaign for her soon-to-be-vacant seat.

As I reported the article, new examples kept popping up: 

Having family in the politics business can help a candidate in a number of ways: Name recognition among voters, connections to endorsers and funders, a family environment that fosters respect for a certain kind of public service.

  • Claremont McKenna College politics professor Jack Pitney: “The Nepo phenomenon is not confined to Hollywood.”

For Assemblymember Blanca Rubio and her younger sister, Sen. Susan Rubio, serving in the Legislature at the same time comes with its own benefits. For example, sometimes it’s difficult for an Assemblymember to find someone to introduce their bill in the Senate and vice versa.

  • Blanca Rubio: “I know that if I can’t find anybody I can, you know — I’m the oldest, I’m gonna make her take the bill.”

2 What now on natural gas bills?

Calgren’s renewable fuels facility that cleans dairy methane into natural gas is shown in Pixley on Oct. 2, 2019. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

For those following the saga of California’s eye-searingly high natural gas prices, the worst seems to be behind us, at least for now. 

Months of high demand and constrained supply led to budget-buckling bills. But come February, more natural gas is flowing into the state, bringing prices down. Plus, state regulators are coming to the rescue with relief credits for families. 

Both Gov. Newsom and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California called for a federal investigation into possible market manipulation.

But as CalMatters’ economy reporter Grace Gedye reports, the California’s Public Utilities Commission, is already worried about the next crisis. 

At the commission’s meeting Tuesday, there was a lot of head scratching about what the state can do, if anything, in the face of future price spikes. Not much, it turns out.

  • CPUC President Alice Busching Reynolds: The modest relief credits were “a short-term Band-Aid and this is a longer-term problem.”

Unlike electricity rates, which are tightly regulated by the state, natural gas prices are left to boom and bust with the gyrations of the market.

But the commission does have a say about how and where energy companies store their surplus product, when facilities are allowed to operate and when bills are sent to customers, all of which can indirectly affect the ultimate price, Grace explains.

3 CA behind on dyslexia screening

Dominic Levy does homework at his home in Clayton on Jan. 29, 2023. Photo by Shelby Knowles for CalMatters
Dominic Levy does homework at his home in Clayton on Jan. 29, 2023. Photo by Shelby Knowles for CalMatters

Over the last decade California lawmakers have thrown money at research into dyslexia. They’ve mandated new types of teacher training and called for more reading coaches. They’ve rallied around Gov. Newsom, among the state’s most famous dyslexic public figures.

But CalMatters’ education reporter Joe Hong explains, legislators have never required universal dyslexia screening for all children — something 40 other states do, even though many early education scholars and advocates call it a “basic” and critical tool to keep kids reading at grade level.

  • Rachel Levy, a Bay Area parent: “Most kids who are dyslexic end up in the special education system…because of a lack of screening.”

What’s the hold-up? As Joe reports, the opposition of one of California’s most powerful interest groups.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Two long-serving veterans of Capitol politics died within hours of one another. Allan Zaremberg and Rex Hime have been widely praised, and the plaudits are richly deserved.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Downtown San Diego homeless population reaches new record // San Diego Union Tribune

Silicon Valley layoffs mean D.C. is the hotter tech job market // Wall Street Journal

More than 36 million trees died in California last year // Los Angeles Times

San Jose-based Zoom Video to cut 1,300 jobs, or 15% of global workforce // Mercury News

S.F. to barricade Mission District street over sex work’ // San Francisco Chronicle

S.F. Muni faces massive $214 million deficit // San Francisco Chronicle

UC Riverside study suggests new way climate change is fueling itself // Press-Enterprise

New law restricts Hollywood on projects modified to appease China // Deadline

San Jose tech rollout tests appetite for parking contraction // San Jose Mercury News

Porter says governor should appoint Black woman if Feinstein resigns // NBC Los Angeles

SF supervisor parties in Colombia, delays reparations hearing // San Francisco Standard

Senior officials ordered destruction of Vallejo police shooting evidence // Open Vallejo

The Pill Club strikes Medicaid fraud settlement with California // California Healthline

Data reveals racial disparities in police stops in wealthy enclaves // San Francisco Chronicle

San Diego sheriff’s union changes leaders, signaling political shift // Voice of San Diego

California bill would cut college tuition for some students in Mexico // Los Angeles Times

Here comes Bard, Google’s version of ChatGPT // Recode

City received 2,700 applications for 250 slots in guaranteed income pilot // Long Beach Post

Gustavo Dudamel, L.A.’s star maestro, to leave for New York Philharmonic // New York Times

Opinion: Why YIMBYs are about to sue the daylights out of Bay Area cities // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow


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