California propositions: A guide to the 12 statewide measures on the 2020 ballot

Election guide
A mural by artist Eric Junker is seen on Oct. 2, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A mural by artist Eric Junker is seen on Oct. 2, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

With another election comes another set of measures that California voters get to decide together.

In a nutshell, here’s what voting yes means for the 12 statewide propositions on the ballot:

  • Prop 14: Funding medical research that uses stem cells
  • Prop 15: Raising taxes on commercial properties worth more than $3 million
  • Prop 16: Bringing back affirmative action in public hiring, contracts and college admissions
  • Prop 17: Restoring the voting rights of people on parole
  • Prop 18: Letting some 17-year-olds vote in primary and special elections
  • Prop 19: Letting senior homeowners pay low property taxes if they move while raising taxes for people who use inherited property as a rental or second home
  • Prop 20: Rolling back reforms in criminal sentencing, parole and DNA collection
  • Prop 21: Letting cities implement stricter rent control
  • Prop 22: Letting Uber and Lyft continue treating their drivers as contractors, not employees
  • Prop 23: Establishing new care standards at kidney dialysis clinics
  • Prop 24: Expanding data privacy laws
  • Prop 25: Eliminating cash bail 

Need some context? Below, you’ll find more information about the props, including what your decision could mean for California, as well as who’s supporting each measure and who’s not. 

We even have some short explainer videos, produced by our sister station KSEE/KGPE in Fresno.

Prop 14: State funding for medical research that uses stem cells

Voting yes means supporting stem cell research through a $5.5 billion state bond. It’s a loan that California, through its taxpayer-supported general fund, would have to pay back with interest over 30 years.

Prop 14 would extend funding that has almost run out for the state’s stem cell research institute, which was created with the approval of California voters in 2004 after President George W. Bush banned federally funding studies that use newly created stem cell lines.

The research supports the development of treatments and cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and other medical conditions. Prop 14 also comes with new rules on spending the funds, including more access to stem cell treatment for patients.

Voting no means rejecting a new bond to continue state funding for stem cell research.

Supporters: Cedars-Sinai, City of Hope, the Michael J. Fox Foundation and other research and patient advocacy groups have helped raise more than $6.5 million to promote Prop 14. The coalition says stem cell research has led to “significant progress” that includes clinical trials, more than 2,900 medical discoveries and benefits for patients with chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and ALS.

Critics: No organized effort has raised money to oppose Prop 14, but some newspaper editorial boards such as the L.A. Times’ argue that the measure isn’t the best way to back stem-cell research. “The idea was never for California to become the long-term replacement for federal funding,” the L.A. Times editorial board said. “It was to kick-start an industry that would then operate on its own.”

Prop 15: Raising taxes on commercial properties worth more than $3 million

Voting yes means taxing commercial properties more. Owners would have to pay taxes based on the property’s current market value, instead of the price they paid when they bought it — no matter how long ago.

Prop 15 doesn’t affect business owners with properties worth less than $3 million, nor homeowners and agricultural properties such as farms. Those kinds of properties would continue to be taxed based on the property’s purchase price.

Passing Prop 15 could provide an estimated $6.5 to $11.5 billion in additional funding for local governments and schools.

Voting no means commercial properties would continue to be taxed based on their purchased price, with yearly increases for inflation or 2%, whichever is lower, as they have been since the 1970s.

Supporters: Teachers’ unions and school districts, including United Teachers Los Angeles and the L.A. Unified School District, support the measure, as well as politicians including Gov. Gavin Newsom and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“We’re asking for companies like Disneyland or Universal Studios that make huge amounts of money to pay property taxes based on fair market value — the same thing that homeowners and, frankly, most businesses have to do,” said California Federation of Teachers President Josh Pechthalt.

Critics: Citing the financial toll of the pandemic, many business groups oppose the measure. So does the California Farm Bureau Federation, which said: “Although its proponents claim agriculture would be exempt, the measure would allow reassessment of agricultural facilities and improvements such as barns, dairies, orchards, vineyards and processing plants.”

Prop 16: The return of affirmative action in public hiring, contracts and college admissions

Voting yes means reversing a 1996 decision by state voters that banned public institutions from considering race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin when it comes to hiring, offering contracts and college admissions.

Voting no means California would remain one of eight states that prohibit affirmative action by public institutions.

Supporters: Vice presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala Harris is just one of many high-profile officials backing Prop 16. The UC Board of Regents, ACLU of California and other advocacy groups support the measure as well. They say that lifting the ban would increase diversity and help address race and gender inequality.

Critics: O.C. Supervisor Michelle Steel and state Sen. Ling Ling Chang of Diamond Bar, both Republicans, oppose Prop 16. Led by former University of California Board of Regents member Ward Connerly, the Californians for Equal Rights calls the measure “divisive and discriminatory.” Connerly chaired the campaign for Prop 209, the divisive 1996 ballot measure that banned affirmative action in California.

Prop 17: Restoring the voting rights of people on parole

Voting yes means giving people back their right to vote after they’ve served their prison sentence. This affects about 50,000 Californians.

Voting no means people would remain unable to cast an election ballot while on parole, or the supervision that follows the completion of a prison sentence. This could last a few years or in some cases, the rest of a person’s life.

Supporters: The California Democratic Party, along with ACLU of California and other activists, have pushed for the passage of Prop 17. “Parole by definition is not punishment — it’s to help reintegrate people back into the mainstream,” state Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Democrat from Sacramento, told CalMatters.

Critics: Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen argues that consequences of crime include serving a parole period. “The victims cannot so blithely put the crimes behind them,” he told the Associated Press.

Prop 18: Letting some 17-year-olds vote in primary and special elections

Voting yes means amending the state constitution to let 17-year-olds vote in primary and special elections if they will turn 18 by the next general election. That would have allowed 200,000 more Californians to vote in 2016 and 2018, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Washington, D.C. and 18 states already practice this.

Voting no means the current law would remain so that Californians can vote only if they are 18 years old at the time of any election.

Supporters: Advocates like the California Democratic Party and the California League of Conservation Voters argue that passing the measure would boost engagement among young people and motivate them to become lifelong voters. Alex Padilla, who as secretary of state is the chief election officer of California, has been raising money to promote Prop 18 (as well as Props 16 and 17).

Critics: Concerned about high school students being able to vote on tax increases that appear on primary and special election ballots, the conservative Jarvis Taxpayers Association opposes the measure.

“They are almost all still living at home and under the strong influence of their parents,” said the Election Integrity Project California. “This is not conducive to independent thought and voting without undue pressure from their immediate superiors.”

Prop 19: Letting senior homeowners pay lower property taxes if they move while raising taxes for some people with inherited property

This is a complicated one. Hang on to your hats.

Voting yes means amending the state constitution so that homeowners who are 55 or older, victims of wildfires or who have a disability pay property taxes based on their previous residence when buying new homes.

This would save them money: Homes bought years ago have much lower property taxes compared to newly purchased homes, thanks to Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 ballot measure that has only allowed for incremental increases on property taxes (see this year’s Prop 15, which addresses commercial property tax).

Prop 19 would also require higher taxes from people who have inherited homes and don’t use them as their primary residence. Their property taxes would be reassessed based on a home’s current market value.

The proposition originated after a 2018 ballot measure, Prop 5, failed. It was meant to benefit seniors’ property taxes, and enable them to move out of long-held homes. Then a Los Angeles Times article brought to light a beachfront Malibu home owned by actor Jeff Bridges and his siblings that they inherited from their mother. The four-bedroom home, which at the time was renting for $15,995 a month, only cost them $5,700 in property taxes annually.

Voting no means senior homeowners who move will have to pay property taxes based on their new home’s purchase price, just like almost every other California homeowner. If seniors want to take advantage of tax breaks when moving, they would continue to have to meet strict conditions, such as where they can buy a new home or how much they can spend.

And also, people who inherit properties could keep paying lower taxes even if they rent those properties out or use them as second homes.

Supporters: The measure, which is expected to generate tens of millions of dollars in government revenue each year, would establish a fire protection service fund that has received support from firefighters. That element of the measure is the result of the firefighters’ union’s opposition to Prop 5 in 2018.

More people are expected to buy homes if Prop 19 passes, and it has the enthusiastic backing of California Association of Realtors, which also authored Prop 5.

The California Democratic Party and Newsom also support the measure.

Overall, proponents have spent more than $36.6 million to promote the proposition.

Critics: The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has spent $45,000 to oppose Prop 19. Opponents say it would increase taxes on families, and that the measure “takes away one of the best tools parents have to help their children … .”

Prop 20: Rolling back reforms in criminal sentencing, parole and DNA collection

Voting yes means supporting a slate of tougher law enforcement rules:

  • more people who commit theft and drug crimes could face harsher penalties such as longer jail time
  • those who review inmate requests for early release would have to consider additional background on the applicant before making their decision
  • more misdemeanors would be added to the list of crimes that require the collection of DNA samples

Prop 20 would roll back changes within the past decade intended to reduce the inmate population in California.

Voting no means keeping in place recently passed criminal justice reform.

Supporters: The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the Association For Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the Los Angeles Police Protective League and state Assemblymember Jim Cooper, a Democrat and a former captain with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, have helped raise more than $4.3 million to promote Prop 20. The California GOP has also endorsed the measure.

Critics: Former Gov. Jerry Brown, who pushed for some of the reforms Prop 20 would roll back, opposes the measure along with the California Democratic Party, the ACLU and other liberal advocacy groups. Philanthropists including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative have helped raise more than $5.79 million in an effort to defeat the proposition.

Prop 21: Letting cities implement stricter rent control

Voting yes means local governments can cap rent increases on housing that’s more than 15 years old.

This won’t affect landlords who own fewer than three properties. The city of L.A. estimates that 141,000 more apartments would become eligible for rent control if the new rule passes, the L.A. Times reported.

Voting no means keeping current restrictions that prevent local governments from imposing rent control on housing built after 1995 or earlier, like in L.A., where rent on most apartments constructed after 1978 can’t be restricted. 

Supporters: Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Maxine Waters, civil and labor rights activist Dolores Huerta have endorsed the measure, along with the Los Angeles Tenants Union, the California Nurses Association and the cities of Santa Monica and West Hollywood. 

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which sponsored the measure, has contributed about $24 million to promote Prop 21. 

Critics: The state’s major landlords have contributed a large chunk of the $44 million raised to defeat the measure. 

Newsom also opposes the proposition, citing the law that he signed in 2019 that already caps annual rent increases across the state at 5% plus inflation, according to the L.A. Times. 

Prop 22: Classifying Uber and Lyft drivers as contractors, not employees

Voting yes means letting Uber, Lyft and other rideshare and delivery companies classify drivers as independent contractors, not employees.

This would exempt the companies from AB5, the landmark law approved by California legislators in 2019 that required businesses to extend protections such as minimum wage and health benefits to more freelancers and independent contractors. If Prop 22 passes, gig-economy companies would have to provide alternative benefits that include minimum compensation and health care subsidies based on driving time, car insurance, safety training and sexual harassment policies.

Voting no means the companies would not be exempt from AB5. Uber and Lyft, both based in San Francisco, have threatened to leave California if Prop 22 fails. 

Supporters: Uber, Lyft and Doordash sponsored the bill. They argue that drivers are not a core part of their businesses since they are technology companies, not transportation companies. With help from Postmates and Instacart, the companies have spent more than $180 million to promote the measure.

Critics: Labor advocates and unions have denounced the proposition. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters said, “Prop 22 exempts these multi-billion-dollar gig corporations from contributing to safety net programs we all need like Social Security, Medicare and Unemployment Insurance.” State Attorney General Xavier Becerra has also sued Uber and Lyft for misclassifying their drivers under AB5.

Prop 23: Establishing new care standards at kidney dialysis clinics

Voting yes means requiring a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant to remain at the site of a dialysis clinic while treatment is taking place. 

The clinics would also have to offer the same care to patients regardless of their source of payment or insurance, report infections and get permission from the state health department before closing down. 

The measure would affect the estimated 80,000 patients treated at nearly 600 dialysis clinics across California each month. 

Voting no means opposing the new rules on patient care standards at kidney dialysis clinics. 

Supporters: The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West backs the proposition. The powerful union placed a measure on the 2018 ballot that similarly targeted California’s dialysis clinics. It would’ve capped the companies’ profits, but voters rejected it.

Proponents have contributed more than $6.2 million to promote this year’s initiative.

Critics: Dialysis companies spent more than $111 million to defeat the 2018 proposition, compared to SEIU’s $18 million — making it the most expensive initiative battle that election. 

This time around, opponents have spent at least $93 million to kill Prop 23. 

The California Medical Association is opposed to the measure, saying it would increase costs to patients and make a doctor shortage worse.

Prop 24: Expanding data privacy laws

Voting yes means building on the California Consumer Privacy Act that went into effect last January, prompting companies to send out emails and pop-up messages that let people opt out of having their information sold. 

Prop 24 would create a new state agency to oversee and enforce privacy laws, as well as let consumers tell businesses to limit use of their data, such as their location, race and health information. 

Voting no means keeping in place existing privacy laws, which would continue to be overseen by the state Department of Justice.

Supporters: San Francisco real estate magnate Alastair Mactaggart, who said that he became a consumer advocate after learning about how much tech companies know about their users when he had lunch with a Google employee, pushed for the state’s landmark consumer privacy law. 

Now, he’s arguing that “there are additional rights that Californians deserve” and is bankrolling Prop 24. 

Former Democratic presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang also supports the measure, along with the Consumer Watchdog

Critics: Opponents include the Consumer Federation of California and the ACLU, which says that Prop 24 “requires people to jump through more hoops and adds anti-privacy loopholes for big business.” 

The opposition argument in the official voter guide says that the initiative “was written behind closed doors with input from social media corporations.”

Prop 25: Getting rid of cash bail 

Voting yes means upholding a law passed by the State Legislature in 2018 to get rid of cash bail. 

People suspected of crime and who can’t afford to bail out of jail have the option of paying bond companies or waiting for their trial behind bars. Prop 25 would replace this practice with a system based on a person’s assessed risk. 

Voting no means suspects would continue to pay cash bail, bond companies or wait behind bars while they wait for their trial. 

Supporters: Newsom is among the long list of California Democrats who back the measure. The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which works to end mass incarceration, and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights also support Prop 25.

L.A. Clippers owner and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, philanthropist Connie Ballmer, have helped raise more than $8.3 million to promote the proposition. 

Critics: The bail bond industry, including the parent company of Aladdin Bail Bonds, have contributed much of the more than $9 million raised to beat Prop 25.

The companies collected signatures to put the measure on the ballot after California lawmakers voted to end cash bail two years ago. 

The ACLU has also come out against Prop 25, saying that the risk-assessment system that would replace cash bail would be “racially and socioeconomically biased.” Passing the measure would also increase police agency funding, the group said. 

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