Editorial: Voting matters – to wage earners and felons alike

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The 2020 ballot was already shaping up to be a referendum on lawbreakers – quite possibly in the White House, depending on what the Mueller report turns up – and now voters will likely also be weighing in on tens of thousands of felons in California. That’s because state legislators are proposing an initiative to decide whether paroled felons should be allowed to vote.

If passed, the proposal would grant long-denied voting rights to tens of thousands of convicted felons after they have been released from custody.

Proponents of the idea frame it as an equal rights initiative: since criminal convictions are handed down disproportionally toward minorities, the denial of the vote to parolees after they’ve “paid their debt to society” is seen as a form of race-based voter suppression.

Many crime victim groups are likely to oppose the measure.

As many as 50,000 parolees in California would be affected by the decision. An estimated 6 million Americans are unable to vote nationwide due to a felony conviction.

Quote of the week, if not the year: “Does a judge turn a blind eye and let PG&E continue what you’re doing, let you keep killing people?” U.S. District Judge William Alsup asked inside the San Francisco courtroom at the utility’s Jan. 30 probation hearing, A day after PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection from what could be multi-billion dollar wildfire liability costs. “Can’t we have electricity that is delivered safely in this state?”

On Monday, Feb. 4, the Sonoma City Council is holding a study session on raising the minimum wage at a more accelerated rate than the state’s current plan to incrementally bump wages at businesses with more than 25 employees to $15 per hour by 2023. The idea was first pitched last year by Councilmember Amy Harrington and is only now seeming to gain steam on the council – and beyond.

Sonoma’s not alone among North Bay communities considering mandating low-wage increases in high-cost-of-living areas in a strong economic climate. Novato and Sebastopol have scheduled similar study sessions and other towns are starting to talk minimum wages as well. One proposal in Novato would see wages jump to $12.75 per hour by July 1 of this year and $15 per hour by July 1, 2020 – that’s just 17 months from now.

According to city staff, a similar plan in Sonoma would affect about 5 percent of the businesses in the city.

In response to the often-asked question – Whatever happened to the Sonoma City Council vow to consider a minimum wage hike in 2014? – the city staff report for Monday’s meeting addresses the nearly five-year delay. In September of 2014, the City Council voted 3-2 to study the creation of a local minimum wage. But two months later, following that year’s November election, two of the councilmembers who proposed the wage study – Steve Barbose and Ken Brown – were no longer on the council.

As the current city staff puts it: “It appears that city staff began to look into finding a consultant, but after the November 2014 election there was a change in the City Council. New Council goals were created after the election and the local minimum wage project was not included.”

Elections matter, folks.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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