Last Thursday and Friday were the final two days for the California Senate and Assembly Appropriations committees to approve or abandon the 800 bills placed on suspense.
WitnessLA has been keeping track of justice bills of note, many of which were saved for this two-day rapid fire suspense file decision-making event.
(If you’re unfamiliar, the suspense file is a tool unique to the fiscal committees. The Appropriations committees can vote to put bills on suspense that have a fiscal impact of $50,000 or more from the General Fund, or $150,000 or more from any other source. Legislators use the suspense file process to meet and decide behind closed doors which bills will move on and which will be dumped.)
Bail Reform Advances
The Senate passed SB 10, a bill that aims to reform California’s cash bail system, which has a disproportionately negative impact on poor and minority Americans, and contributes to overcrowding in the nation’s jails.
In LA County, for example, nearly half of jail inmates are being held while they await trial—usually because of an inability to post bail, not because they are a threat to public safety. In March, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to explore possibilities for reforming the county’s bail and pretrial release system. (In a previous WLA bail-related post, we pointed to an excellent John Oliver segment on the horrors of the cash bail system.)
Justice Package from Sens Mitchell and Lara Move Forward
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a package of juvenile and criminal justice reform bills from Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).
The first bill, SB 395, would require that kids under the age of 18 consult with an attorney before they are interrogated by police, and before they waive their Miranda rights.
Another important bill, SB 393, aims to break down a major barrier to employment and housing for people with prior arrests by clearing a tangled legal path to seal arrest records for people arrested but not convicted of a crime. The bill passed through the fiscal committee and onto the Senate floor, where it was quickly approved on Tuesday.
SB 190 aims to eliminate the fines and fees levied against families for kids’ juvenile justice system-involvement.
With SB 394 would bring California into compliance with a US Supreme Court ruling that the 2012 Miller v. Alabama decision—which declared mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional—must be applied retroactively.
Several bills in the group, including SB 439, which would ensure that children under the age of 12 are excluded from prosecution in juvenile court, and SB 180, which seeks to combat jail overcrowding by doing away with a sentence enhancement for a repeat non-violent drug offense, advanced to their house floors earlier in April and May, before the 800-bill scramble. SB 355, which would make sure that only individuals convicted of a crime are required to repay the courts for court-appointed legal representation.
An eighth bill, which would have created a tiered sex offender registry based on the seriousness of a person’s offense, their risk of reoffending, and their overall criminal history, appears to have been dropped from the bill package—likely because of SB 421, a similar bill from Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco, that is making its way through legislature. SB 421 advanced through the Senate on Tuesday and is now headed for the Assembly.
For a breakdown that’s a little more in depth, check out WLA’s previous story on the bills.
More Juvenile Justice Bills to Watch
The Assembly fiscal committee also approved AB 935, which acknowledges that juvenile halls can be inappropriate placements for kids suffering from mental illness who need long-term mental health care. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Mark Stone and sponsored by the Chief Probation Officers of California, would give minors the same protections as adults during competency proceedings. Essentially, when defendants are deemed unfit to stand trial, they receive mental health treatment until they can understand the charges against them. the bill would fill a gap in state law by creating clear timelines and procedures for determining whether a kid is competent to stand trial.
In an op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News, Stone and Santa Clara County Chief Probation Officer Laura Garnette explain why the lack of laws and guidelines on competency cases for juveniles mean that mentally ill kids get warehoused in juvenile halls, absent of the treatment they need. Sometimes, kids found incompetent can get stuck behind bars for even longer than the sentence they would have received, if found guilty, according to Stone and Garnette.
AB 811, which would ensure that kids locked up in juvenile halls and camps have reasonable access to computers and the internet so that they can receive a quality education and keep in frequent contact with their loved ones, also passed out of the Assembly and was ordered to the Senate on Wednesday. The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson), would also establish that foster youth have a right to use computers and the internet. (Read more about AB 811: here.)
Foster Care Remedies
The Assembly moved forward with AB 1164, a bill introduced by Assembly Member Tony Thurmond, would provide foster parents or relative caregivers taking in a child with emergency vouchers for six months of child care. Foster youth who have children of their own would also have access to the vouchers. During those six months, “navigators” would work to help families transition to long-term subsidized child care. Once the child care is selected, funding would go toward training child care providers in how to give “trauma-informed care” to foster children.
This bill is particularly important because Los Angeles and other counties are experiencing serious shortages of available foster parents, and a lack of childcare is one of the top barriers to finding a home for foster kids under five.
Reforming the Adult Criminal Justice System
AB 284 would create an independent review team within the California Attorney General’s Office to be used to investigate incidents in which officers shoot civilians and civilians shoot officers, moved from the Assembly to the Senate on Thursday. The idea is that having an independent review unit, as opposed to local DA’s offices, investigate shootings would promote accountability and increase public trust.
Another bill that made it to its house floor, AB 90, would ramp up oversight of the state’s controversial gang database, CalGang. The bill, introduced by California Assembly Member Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), would require audits and other regulations to improve accountability and accuracy for the database, which is shared by law enforcement agencies across the state. (Read more about the bill: here.)
SB 339 would expand the use of alternative veterans’ courts that aim to help, rather than punish, law-breaking vets who are often suffering from PTSD, other mental illnesses, substance abuse, or a combination of those issues. The Senate passed the bill unanimously. SB 339 now heads to the Assembly.
SB 185, authored by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), would prevent the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses based on unpaid traffic citations, and would require traffic courts to consider violators’ ability to pay before setting a fine amount. The bill survived the Senate and was read in the Assembly for the first time on Thursday. (A related bill got stuck in Appropriations. Read more about that bill in the final section of this roundup.)
Proposed legislation from Sen. Lara, SB 29, also known as the “Dignity Not Detention” bill, would block local governments in California from joining new contracts or extending old contracts with for-profit companies to detain immigrants. The bill also would require facilities holding immigrants to abide by Immigration and Customs Enforcement standards for lock-ups, including providing access to medical treatment, honoring the right to file grievances, and allowing visitation by attorneys and loved ones. SB 29 landed in the Assembly.
Bills to Protect Victims of Sex Trafficking and Assault
AB 1312, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights ramps up requirements that law enforcement officers and medical providers inform sexual assault victims of their rights prior to conducting an examination or interview, which include free emergency postcoital contraception, and the right to shower or bathe at a medical facility after a forensic examination.
The bill, from Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) and Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), was approved by the Assembly on Wednesday, and now heads to the Senate.
Last week, the Assembly Appropriation Committee also approved AB 1384 by Assm. Shirley N. Weber (D-San Diego), which aims to expand trauma recovery services to crime victims across California.
If signed into law, AB 1384 would designate San Francisco General Hospital’s Trauma Recovery Center as California’s official pilot trauma recovery center. The center, which serves people who have suffered from violence and trauma, employs three service strategies—assertive outreach, clinical case management, and evidence-based trauma-focused therapies.
Another bill to support sex crime victims that made it out of the suspense file, SB 597, would expand California’s “Safe at Home” confidential address program to victims of human trafficking. The program, which provides a free post office box and mail forwarding services, is currently offered to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
The Assembly floor passed AB 1227, which would require California school districts to provide age-appropriate preventative education to students about abuse, including sexual abuse, and human trafficking. Authors Assm. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) hope to educate children and teens through this bill so that they can recognize and avoid exploitation.
The Bills Left Behind
Some of the noteworthy bills that did not make it out of the suspense file include, AB 43, a bill to create a tax on for-profit companies, including private prisons that provide goods or services to state prison facilities. The resulting funds were to be spent on underfunded incarceration prevention programs, like early education and after-school activities.
The Senate Appropriations held back SB 576, which would have required the collection and public sharing of data regarding the demographic composition of jury pools in order to determine whether the juries in CA accurately reflect their communities.
AB 412, also held in the fiscal committee, aimed to block courts from penalizing the poor by levying $300 late fees on those who can’t afford to pay their traffic tickets on time. (Read more about how traffic tickets lead to serious consequences—even incarceration—for indigent Californians: here.)