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2 reform bills halted at Sacramento, why?

Posted by Sara Cooper | Sep 19, 2023 | 0 Comments

Highly anticipated bills to pass at the California legislature this year that focused on criminal justice issues had failed to pass in a Democratic state.

According to the Sacramento Bee, “Senate Bill 50, authored by Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, would have limited when police officers can conduct traffic stops in an effort to reduce racial profiling. Senate Bill 94 from Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, would have allowed some prisoners serving life without parole to petition courts for re-sentencing.”

“California is not as progressive as we want the rest of the world or the rest of the country to believe,” Bradford said. “We tend to continue to lean toward law enforcement and the lock-them-up attitude than real police reform and criminal justice reform that this country and this state truly needs.”

Earlier this summer, California lawmakers had been highly influenced by district attorneys and law enforcement that were in great opposition of the bills. Bradford and Cortese have both previously authored similar bills that did not make it through the Capitol. The two senators had responded how the bills were planned to be two-year measures, with hopes of the following year to make another attempt. When asked about the results of these bills passing through, Cortese said voter concerns about crime and the perceived lack of penalties for those who commit them, especially in purple districts, bleed into lawmakers' votes.

“Believe it or not, it's almost as if certain members, especially in the other house, they'll tell you, ‘I can only vote on one of one of these, I can't vote on both of these,'” the senator said. “'I'm willing to go back to my district and explain that I voted for one significant criminal justice bill, but I want to be able to say I voted no on the other one.'”

Eradicating racial profiling under SB 50 would have prohibited officers from pulling over people in vehicles and bicycles for low-level offenses, unless multiple offenses were seen or a separate reason for a stop exists according to the Sacramento Bee. Lessening illegal stops and investigations is the main purpose of this bill, also known as pretextual stops.

“We made a great case for why people shouldn't be stopped by these irrelevant police stops and, unfortunately, members of the Assembly didn't see it the same way,” Bradford said.

Offenses that are classified as low-level and are included in the bill include relations to vehicle registration, window tinting, license plates, and much more. Violations to commercial vehicles were not cited in the bill's proposal.

In 2022, a bill much similar to the current one had died in the legislative process. Fast forward to January of this year, a state board found that Californians perceived as Black by officers were 2.2 times more likely to be searched and have force used against them than people identified as white. For those perceived as Latino, officers used force at 1.3 times the rate of individuals perceived as white.

The report was based on a review of 3.1 million vehicle and pedestrian stops in 2021 according to the Sacramento Bee.

“It would make all Californians, as well as law enforcement, safer when you can avoid, many of the time, irrelevant, non-safety minor violations that create situations where people are not only harassed, arrested, but unfortunately also lose their lives.” Bradford said.

Groups such as the California State Sheriffs' Association and California District Attorneys Association, had heavily opposed the bill. They claim that the bill would prevent officers using certain techniques within their investigation process, impacting public safety and making accountability a difficult for low-level infractions.

Aging  Prisoners Eligible for Re-Sentencing under SB 94 would have allowed prisoners serving life without parole for crimes committed before June 5, 1990, to ask judges to re-sentence them to 25 years to life with parole.

Those who are eligible would have needed to serve at least 25 years in prison. According to the Sacramento Bee, “Those who killed three or more people, who committed certain sexual crimes together with murder or who killed police officers would not be able to seek re-sentencing.”

“Nothing's ever foolproof, but it's narrowed much as it possibly could be,” Cortese said. “And we trust the governors to do commutations in one step. This bill created, in effect, four steps that people have to go through. It's hard to believe that a whole series of mistakes would be made by all those entities.”

Organizations who focus on criminal justice reform that are in support of the bill make the argument that prisoners who have or will pass away while incarcerated would have gotten lesser sentencing in today's system.

Those who oppose SB 94 argue that this would a form of access of giving parole to those who are convicted of violent crimes and would break trust with victims who were told their abusers would never leave prison.

Cortese said he ultimately was not sure enough about the Assembly members' positions on SB 94 to move forward with a vote, and Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, had some concerns about the measure.

“On a bill like that, when the stakes are high, you don't want to go in there without knowing the final count,” he said.

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