Lawmakers looking to change California's Three Strikes law

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Some state lawmakers want to ask voters to revise California's Three Strikes law as a way to reduce prison sentences and save money on corrections, but they're having a hard time getting the issue through the Legislature.

The Assembly on Monday failed to pass AB327, which would require that a defendant's third strike be for a serious or violent felony. Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, asked for the bill to be taken up again Tuesday, the deadline for each house to pass legislation introduced last year.

"This bill is necessary because current three strikes law has led to many unjust sentences over the past 18 years that are not proportionate to the offense. As an advocate for fair and just society, this reality is quite troubling," Davis said Monday.

Democratic supporters say the change is needed because many third-strike offenders have been sentenced for petty theft and less serious offenses. Debate is split largely along partisan lines, with Republicans saying the bill dilutes the intent of the 1994 voter-approved law, which was intended to punish repeat offenders.

"This is a grave issue," said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. "Three strikes came to pass because repeat, unrehabilitated offenders were preying again and again and again upon our families, our children, the people of our community. And it has worked."

Under California's Three Strikes law, any third felony can earn a repeat offender a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. Similar laws have been enacted in 26 states and the federal government has some variation of it, but none is more punitive than California's because the third felony does not have to be labeled serious or violent.

California voters passed Proposition 184 back in 1994. Because it was enacted by voters, the Legislature may not amend the statute without voter approval.

Six previous legislative efforts to change the three strikes law have failed. In 2004, voters rejected Proposition 66, which would have required that the third strike be a serious or violent crime and could have reduced the number of offenses deemed serious under state law.

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