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Californians, using the state’s proposition system that allows an end run around legislators, voted for a law that limits lawsuits against business and against an attempt to modify the state’s so-called Three Strikes and You’re Out initiative. Proposition 64, which limits the use of the state’s Unfair Business Competition laws to people who can prove actual harm and who meet the requirements for class actions, won 58.9% of the vote. Fifty-three percent of 9.5 million voters opposed Proposition 66, which was meant to modify “Three Strikes” so that the third felony conviction had to be for a violent or serious offense. That third conviction dooms the defendant to 25 years to life in prison. In October polling, both initiatives seemed headed in the opposite direction, with a large number of undecided voters. But in the few days before the election, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urged voters to vote for Prop 64 and against Prop 66. “I think the undecideds went with the governor on both,” said Gail Hillebrand, of Consumers Union. Consumers Union opposed Prop 64 but took no stand on Prop 66. Proposition 64 was inspired in part by the actions of the Trevor Law Firm, which allegedly sent hundreds of businesses threatening letters over claimed deceptive practices and wrung undue settlements out of them. The law firm has since been shut down. Bank of America, State Farm Insurance, Microsoft Inc., Blue Cross of California and Kaiser Permanente each gave at least $100,000 to boost the proposition. A split reaction While the California Chamber of Commerce celebrated the passage as a victory for businesses and consumers in a state with an anti-business reputation, environmentalists and consumer advocates decried the changes ahead. Environmentalists have used the unfair competition laws to force companies to comply with air and water quality rules. “Before, people who were smart enough to recognize a scam could stop it by suing,” Hillebrand said. “Now, enough people have to be hurt before you can sue. The public will be the ones who suffer.” Proposition 66 is the first attempt at revising the Three Strikes law, passed as Proposition 184 in 1994. That initiative came in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Polly Klaas by a recently released violent offender. Upon the third conviction, a felon is automatically sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. California has 163,000 inmates, about 7,000 of whom are three-strikers. Some of those third strikes were convictions for petty thefts, drug possession and other minor offenses, opponents said. This year’s ballot initiative split the Klaas family, with the victim’s father opposing, and her grandfather supporting, the proposed changes, which would have called many second- and third-strike convictions in for review. The California District Attorneys Association and the governor opposed the ballot measure, saying it was too lenient. The American Civil Liberties Union and the criminal defense bar supported it. “The proposition would not only severely curtail application of Three Strikes in the future, it would have allowed thousands of convicted felons to apply for review of their sentences,” said Kate Killeen, deputy executive director of the California DAs group. “The law has been implemented very carefully and prosecutors have used discretion to make sure that defendants facing harsh sentences are the worst of the worst. “We believe that the proposition would have resulted in a tidal wave of crime on our streets,” she added.

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