Friday, May 15, 2009

More News on the Sentencing Commission Bill

Following the Appropriations Committee hearing of the Sentencing Commission bill, it has been moved to the Suspense File. I made some phonecalls to find out what that meant. As it turns out, any proposal above a certain amount - not a lot, these days - or any proposal that saves money above a certain amount - is placed in the Suspense File, and all proposals in the file are then dealt with by the CA State Assembly in a quick-firing session. Since budgeting is a major consideration these days, the proposals might we weighted one against the other.

What impact might this information have on the proposal's chances? As you may recall, the proposal was amended and its text is now very vague on what the role of the commission might be. Sometimes, vague legislation is passed in hopes that later it will be amended by the Senate. There are some encouraging aspects to all this, which suggest that the proposal might not die a slow death in the suspense file:

1) The proposal comes from Karen Bass, the Assembly Speaker. The previous incarnations of sentencing bills came from a variety of lawmakers.

2) The analysis that accompanied the bill created a strong link between sentencing reform and avoidance of overcrowding. While the expenditures and savings that might result from what is currently a very vague bill are unclear, a strong argument in its favor might be that this is a much better, more organized, and more controlled, alternative to the arbitrary release of tens of thousands of prisoners, and is therefore a more palatable response to overcrowding. In that sense, ironically, the bill has perhaps a better chance to pass in times of scarcity than in times of plenty.

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