Sen, Henry Stern: Protecting Our Voting Rights and More

Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.By Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.      October 16, 2020

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Sen, Henry Stern: Protecting Our Voting Rights and More
Courtesy of Henry Sterns Office

“Every citizen has a role and we need an army of citizens. Hopefully this is a tool to help.” —Senator Henry Stern

Our mailboxes, real and virtual, are filling up with election information coming from both sides of the issues and we try to make sense of the abundance of literature, the internet filled with sponsored ads, recommendations, and shared information, in hopes of finding information that aligns with our values. The dilemma comes when we don’t really know what is factual and what is propaganda, what is truthful and what is intentionally misleading information. It is so easy to go on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, read shared information and, without critically assessing it, share it. How can we tell if what we are reading is true? Fact checking on Snopes.com is time-consuming. We can hope the sites themselves monitor content. Unfortunately, we’ve learned that a lot slips through the cracks. To discourage the deliberate spreading of misinformation, especially in a critical election year, State Senator Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) has successfully authored Senate Bill 739. Millions are already voting thanks to early voting and voting by mail. With co-authors Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez , Speaker Pro Tempore Kevin Mullin, Assemblymember Robert Rivas, and Senator Tom Umberg, SB 739 has put an end to misinformation and enabled prosecution of people who intentionally attempt to use social media and/or traditional media to suppress the rights of voters who vote by mail. The bill was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom as an urgent measure in order to ensure voters are not misled about their voting rights before the November 3 statewide general election and a proper administration of that election. SB 739 is supported by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the California Clean Money Campaign, the California League of Conservation Voters, and the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials. Building on a California law that makes it a misdemeanor for a person to distribute information attempting to deceive voters about polling places, ballots, and qualifications to register to vote, this bill also includes internet social media that targets voting by mail. According to Sen. Stern’s press release, “If you’re putting out tweets, Facebook posts, or using social and other types of media to intentionally mislead voters about their rights and ability to vote by mail, that is now a crime and it’s my hope local district attorneys and the state Attorney General will go after violators the moment they see them. In the midst of this worldwide pandemic, it is imperative that voters, especially those who are getting a vote-by-mail ballot for the first time, know their rights and are getting accurate, reliable information.” The urgency for the bill became evident as a record number of voters in California and across the nation prepared to use vote-by-mail ballots. Stern acted to inhibit social media from being misused and that is the goal of SB 739, according to the official press release on Stern’s website (d27.senate.ca.gov/news/20200921-cracking-down-vote-mail-misinformation). “Democracy is too fragile to allow reckless disinformation campaigns to compromise the right of anyone to cast his or her ballot.” To report violations: Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office is responsible for tracking violations, receiving tips and leads via the Fraud Hotline: English: (800) 345-VOTE (8683); Spanish: (800) 232-8682. Persons convicted of this misdemeanor will face fines and, in extreme cases of intent, possible jail time (up to six months) at the discretion of the state Attorney General and/or city District Attorneys.


GETTING TO KNOW SENATOR HENRY STERN

Upon interviewing Sen. Stern, who has completed his first term as our California Senator and is up for reelection, I was impressed with his dedication to his constituents and the area he serves. I was curious about other legislation he has written and the ideas he supports.

He is a sixth-generation Californian and grew up in the Los Angeles area, and represents nearly one million residents in the 27th Senate District. He has chaired the Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee since 2018, working to bolster the state’s wildfire preparedness, pushed to have the state address climate change; improve our democracy and fight for California’s most vulnerable members. He also sits on the Senate’s Budget, Judiciary, Environmental Quality, Elections & Constitutional Amendments, and Energy, Utilities & Communications committees.

Henry Stern is most passionate about our democracy and protecting constituents’ rights. Two important Senate Bills were signed into law prior to and relevant to SB 739.

Other legislation that he has supported, won and lost, include:

Climate Change. He is committed to attacking climate change and increasing the use of renewable energy as evidenced by the legislation he has written and supported.

Emergency Preparedness. While three of the bills he wrote in 2020 died in the Assembly, he persists in his commitment to Wildfire Preparedness and the area he has called home.

Assisting Vulnerable Populations. During the 2019-20 and 2020-21 budget cycles, Stern championed funding for programs to help those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).  For the 2019-20 budget, he successfully pushed for $250 million in additional IDD funding.  The following year, he sought to increase the IDD budget by another $400 million, but due to COVID-19 related budget cutbacks, the funding was not approved. 

Upon examining legislation that he supports and reading through SB 739, there is more to his story than the new legislation protecting our voting rights. We are fortunate to have Senator Stern supporting the values and concerns many of us have and preserving the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains we call home.
Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.
      October 16, 2020

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