Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Governor Christie Calls Special Legislative Session

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is calling a Special Session of the State Legislature for this Thursday, calling on the Legislature to seize the moment and pass bipartisan legislation that will keep dangerous individuals off the streets and bring greater fairness to the system. For two and half years, the Governor has engaged the legislature and continually called for this type of reform, beginning with his State of the State Address in 2012.

Now, we are finally on the cusp of seeing action, with broad-based reform supported by the Governor, bipartisan members of the legislature, the judiciary, interest groups such as the NAACP, ACLU, and Drug Policy Alliance, and opinion leaders from across the state.

As the Star Ledger Editorial Board pointed out in an editorial on this very topic this morning, reform is “desperately needed” and at risk of falling victim to legislative dysfunction. From the piece on the reform package and the need to act now:

The only people who win if this reform doesn’t pass are bail bondsmen. And the victims will be the poor, who continue to sit in jail for an average of 10 months for minor offenses, even though they pose no risk to the community.

Rich people who can afford a bail bond simply walk free, no matter how dangerous they may be. This broken system is an economic injustice, a threat to public safety and a drain on state taxpayers. We are warehousing people who don’t pose any danger.

Under the proposed reform, most people arrested for minor crimes would simply be released without bail. Those accused of more serious crimes or thought to be a flight danger would get a risk assessment, and only the biggest threats would be detained.

It’s a sorely needed overhaul, but comes with a short window. If Monday’s vote is delayed, the legislation would likely be passed next year at the earliest, and might not take effect until 2018. And it may never be passed at all: Who knows if legislators would have the appetite to take this on again?

Instead of a system that allows people charged with the most serious violent crimes out on the street, and keeps those who commit minor offenses and just can't afford bail behind bars, this legislation will finally bring common sense and fairness to the system. The legislation being debated includes the following:

·        SCR128: A Constitutional Amendment that would provide necessary flexibility in the justice system to allow for individuals proven to be dangerous or a threat to public safety to be held without bail ahead of trial through a pre-trial assessment.  If approved, this would appear for voter approval on the November 2014 General Election ballot.
·        S946: Legislation that would set the parameters for dangerousness when determining bail eligibility and create bail alternatives for individuals charged with nonviolent offenses.  This would bring fairness to low-income individuals who have not been charged with violent crimes and do not belong warehoused in jails awaiting trail, but cannot afford bail.

BIPARTISAN CONSENSUS ON THIS ISSUE – The moment for action is now, with bipartisan consensus on sweeping reform being reached by the Governor, the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Stuart Rabner and his special commission formed to look specifically at bail reform, members of both parties of the legislature, interest groups as diverse as the NAACP, ACLU, and Drug Policy Alliance, and opinion leaders from around the state.

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