Retail theft bills steal the spotlight during public safety hearing

Apr 10, 2024

Proposition 47 bills will not advance in the Assembly, says Assembly Speaker

By Jolena Voorhis, legislative affairs lobbyist, and Zack Cefalu, legislative affairs analyst

Assembly leaders this week announced a bipartisan retail theft package after months of back and forth with lawmakers, the Newsom Administration, and key stakeholders — including Cal Cities. The move came ahead of a critical vote in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Before the committee hearing, Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas held a press conference with several of his colleagues — including Public Safety Chair Kevin McCarty and Select Committee on Retail Theft Chair Rick Chavez Zbur — to unveil the package. It includes seven bills that would strengthen public safety, protect shoppers and businesses, and improve quality of life throughout the state. While none of these bills are new, some recently received major changes.

The Assembly’s package answers the call from Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this year for both houses to craft legislation that curbs retail theft.

Notably missing from the Assembly’s package is any legislation that would amend Proposition 47. During the press conference, Speaker Rivas told reporters that he does not expect any bills that amend Prop. 47 to advance through the Assembly.

The Assembly proposal is a result of a bipartisan effort to reverse the rise in organized retail theft and smash-and-grab robberies that have gripped many communities. The package incorporates feedback from key stakeholders, including a coalition comprised of Cal Cities, business groups, and law enforcement.

Starting even before this session, Cal Cities actively testified in committee hearings about how retail theft is impacting cities. Cal Cities is at the table discussing policy solutions and working collaboratively with partners and authors on the development of these bills.

What made it through?

All seven of the bills that make up the Assembly’s package advanced out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. The Assembly’s main vehicle for comprehensive reform is AB 2943 (Zbur and Rivas). The bill would create a new crime of “serial retail theft,” allow police to arrest shoplifters without witnessing the crime, and define how multiple acts of theft with multiple victims can be aggregated into a felony charge of grand theft.

Cal Cities’ formal position on AB 2943 is pending Board action. However, Cal Cities staff is working with the author and the Speaker’s office to ensure that cities’ concerns are met during the interim. Cal Cities testified in support of the other six measures that make up the Assembly’s package. This includes:

  • AB 1794 (McCarty). Would allow prosecutors to aggregate multiple thefts with several victims.
  • AB 1779 (Irwin). Would allow prosecutors to file charges for offenses committed in different counties.
  • AB 1972 (Alanis). Would address cargo theft.
  • AB 3209 (Berman). Would create a retail theft crime restraining order for convicted offenders.
  • AB 1960 (Soria). Would impose stiffer penalties for property loss or damage that occurred during a felony.
  • AB 1802 (Jones-Sawyer). Would eliminate the sunset date for the crime of organized retail theft that was chaptered in 2017.

Cal Cities also advocated on behalf of several other bills, including AB 1990 (Carrillo), AB 2814 (Low), AB 1772 (Ramos), and AB 1845 (Alanis). All four bills, which advanced out of committee, aim to reduce retail theft.

What’s next?

Cal Cities working with a strong group of partners that includes the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Retailers Association to ensure passage of the legislation. Lawmakers are eager to hear Cal Cities’ perspective. Stay tuned for additional updates as retail theft legislation moves through both houses, as well as ways city officials can get involved.