Which of the retail theft bills do city leaders need to know about?

Apr 3, 2024

By Jolena Voorhis, legislative affairs lobbyist and Brian Hendershot, Cal Cities Advocate managing editor

Lawmakers have introduced a whopping 30 bills on retail theft this year. Cal Cities is front and center on this issue, having testified in committee hearings on most of the measures. Cal Cities is also working with a broad coalition to ensure their success.

So far, the legislation broadly falls into four categories: organized retail theft, cross-jurisdictional issues, repeat offenders, enhanced penalties, and online resellers. But the biggest measure by far is AB 2943 (Rivas and Zbur), the main vehicle for comprehensive reform.

The current version of AB 2943 proposes several changes, including creating a new crime for retail theft, extending the sunset date on the organized retail theft statute, allowing for collaborative courts and diversion programs, and permitting police to arrest shoplifters without witnessing the crime. 

Crucially, the bill would not make any changes to Proposition 47, which changed some nonviolent offenses to misdemeanors. Cal Cities has worked closely with the author to address concerns raised by city officials and is expecting amendments in the coming days. Cal Cities will issue a formal position after the Board votes on the issue in mid-April.

AB 2943 is just one of the many measures Cal Cities has provided feedback on. The others — listed below — are all supported by Cal Cities.

Organized retail theft and cross-jurisdictional issues

Commercial burglary is at its highest rate since 2008, especially in the state’s largest counties. But retail theft shot to the forefront of public consciousness last year after videos of smash-and-grab robberies went viral. One retail theft ring reportedly stole $8 million in cosmetics in 21 different counties.

Yet, current state law makes it difficult to prosecute these crimes across jurisdictions and appropriately punish offenders. Lawmakers have introduced several bills aimed at reducing organized retail theft, including:

Cal Cities is also supporting two measures that would remove some cross-jurisdictional hurdles. AB 1779 (Irwin) would allow prosecutors to file charges for offenses committed in different counties. AB 1794 (McCarty) would allow prosecutors to aggregate multiple thefts with several victims.

Enhanced penalties and enforcement

Identifying and treating the causes of crime — such as employment or disinvestment — often produces the best outcomes for people and businesses alike. However, accountability is also important, especially when dealing with repeated theft.

As such, lawmakers have introduced several measures that would increase penalties for different retail theft-related actions. SB 1242 (Min)would create higher penalties for people who commit arson to attempt retail theft. SB 1416 (Newman) would enhance sentencing for professional organized retail theft, particularly large-scale resale. AB 1960 (Soria) would impose stiffer penalties for property loss or damage that occurred during a felony. Other key bills include:

Legislators introduced several sentencing bills targeted specifically at repeat theft. Both AB 1772 (Ramos) and SB 923 (Archuleta) would reinstitute penalties for repeat theft eliminated by Prop. 47. If passed, the bills would go to voters for approval.

Cal Cities is also closely following and supporting two other measures focused on misdemeanor retail theft: AB 1787 (Villapudua) and AB 3109 (Muratsuchi).

Online resellers and fencing stolen property

One major hurdle to reducing retail theft is how easy it is to sell stolen items through online marketplaces. There are a few measures that would help to address this problem, including:

  • AB 1845 (Alanis) Crimes: Grant Program for Identifying, Apprehending and Prosecuting Resale of Stolen Property
    Cal Cities Position: Support
  • SB 1144 (Skinner) Marketplaces: Online Marketplaces

    Cal Cities Position: Support

  • SB 1381 (McGuire) Property Crimes: Regional Property Crimes Task Force

    Cal Cities Position: Support

  • SB 1416 (Newman) Sentencing Enhancements: Sale, Exchange, or Return of Stolen Property
    Cal Cities Position: Support

The bills propose several ways to reduce the resale of stolen property and fencing locations. These range from providing funding and task forces to identify and crack down on fencing operations, to enacting stricter sentences for people convicted of selling stolen property. 

What’s next

Many bills are now winding their way through policy committees and to appropriations. Legislators in both houses have until April 26 to get any bills with notable fiscal impacts through appropriations. Some bills were recently modified using the gut-and-amend process, which allows lawmakers to replace the wording of a bill with something entirely new.

Policy committee hearings are great opportunities for city officials to voice their support or opposition to a particular bill. Starting next week, Cal Cities will break down the biggest bills scheduled for hearings each week in its State Bills in Brief series.