OPINION – With hundreds of bills still awaiting a vote in the California Legislature, the end of session rush usually brings an assortment of interesting alliances.

One such alliance is the team of State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D- Van Nuys), Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) and anti-government pension advocate organization the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF).

This alliance wishes to replace the current money bail system with an algorithm-based program (Senate Bill 10) to assess the risk to public safety that releasing an arrested person pre-trial poses. Some commentators have compared this proposed legislation to the automated system used in “Minority Report” starring Tom Cruise.

Many reputable civil rights organizations have suggested this algorithm could be manipulated to disproportionately target people of color. And, there is another glaring concern that an out-of-state billionaire is trying to use his influence to muscle politicians into ramming drastic changes through the Legislature.

Enron billionaire John Arnold created the LJAF and has spent more than $50 million on political candidates, ballot measures and research projects focused on ending government employee pension programs. Lowell Goodman, communications director for the Southern California chapter of the Service Employees International Union once wrote about Arnold:

“It’s the height of narcissism for a Texas billionaire who doesn’t have to worry about his retirement to come into California and try to meddle with the secure retirement of working-class people.”

In California alone John Arnold has spent more than $3.3 million to eliminate California’s public employee pensions. Arnold was the leading contributor to former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s failed efforts to put a statewide pension initiative on the ballot, and he also funded the pension-ending ballot initiative in Ventura County.

Furthermore, there appears to be an inherent conflict of interest – SB 10 would eliminate California’s money bail system and replace it with an algorithm-based program worth tens of millions of dollars for which only one entity meets the requirements – the LJAF.

Emphasizing concerns over a sole-source contract, California Supreme Court Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, in the Judicial Council review of SB 10, wrote:

“Further the council is concerned that only the PSA-Court instrument developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation currently appears to meet the requirements of SB 10 (page 5).”

Not only do Hertzberg and Bonta give the LJAF a sole-source contract, the Judicial Council also found that the LJAF’s risk assessment tools:

“raised questions regarding validity, reliability and access. More specifically, the bill would mandate certain criteria for the tool and prohibit other criteria. This approach would undermine the fundamental requirement that the factors in an evidence-based tool, and the algorithm used to weight the factors, have been validated to be predictive of risk for a particular population.”

Will Democrats on the California State Assembly Appropriations Committee cross the picket line and give tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to the LJAF, which could use that money to continue its quest to end government employee pension programs?

To the Appropriation Committee members in the Legislature, you don’t have to take my word for it about John Arnold. You can read more about what he wants to accomplish here.
By Laura Perez

Laura Perez is a member of SEIU 721 – Over 95,000 workers comprise the membership of SEIU Local 721 – making it the largest public sector union in Southern California.