California Considers Limits on Self-Service Checkout

Crime has become a big topic in the California State Legislature, reflecting the growing frustration many residents have expressed over crime rates.

Several Democratic lawmakers are championing legislation intended to crack down on crime, including bills to toughen penalties for retail theft and to prosecute more people who break into cars. There will probably be a measure on the ballot in November asking voters whether to impose harsher penalties for shoplifters and fentanyl dealers.

Another group of Democrats is taking a different approach. Saying that the state should not rely on mass incarceration as a solution, progressive lawmakers introduced a 29-bill package last month that focuses on crime prevention, rehabilitation and services for offenders.

One of those bills, Senate Bill 1446, has attracted a lot of attention recently for the way it might change an everyday activity — grocery shopping.

The bill would require grocery stores and drugstores that have self-checkout stations to assign employees to watch over them with no other tasks — and with no more than two machines each to monitor. Customers would be allowed to use the stations only if they were buying 10 items or fewer.

The idea is to reduce theft, keep workers from being overwhelmed and reduce the danger of violence by shoplifters, according to State Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, Democrat of Los Angeles, who introduced the measure.

“We have so many bills in this Legislature that are trying to increase penalties,” Smallwood-Cuevas told me. “We know that what makes our community safe is not more jail time and penalties. What makes our community safe is real enforcement, having real workers that are on the floor.”

The bill is backed by labor groups, but opposed by business groups, who say the rules would stifle growth without deterring crime. “Retail theft committed in stores has been brazenly committed regardless of whether there’s employees staffing checkout lanes or the presence of self-checkout lanes,” the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Retailers Association told a state legislative committee in a letter, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Still, Smallwood-Cuevas said that her bill would create a better environment for workers and customers alike. “I don’t want to be just hard on crime,” she said. “I also want to be smart on it, and I think this is a way to do it.”

After an exceptionally wet winter, California’s reservoirs are looking pretty full.

Lake Oroville, the state’s second-biggest reservoir, was at 100 percent capacity last week, The Los Angeles Times reported. “This is great news for ensuring adequate water supply for millions of Californians,” the Department of Water Resources wrote on Facebook.


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Geordon Wollner, Maia Coleman and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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