Bill Update

Criminal Justice Bill Roundup

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

Each year, WitnessLA tracks criminal justice-related bills through California’s legislative session. Below is the first cluster of noteworthy bills we didn’t want you to miss.


GETTING RID OF FEES AND FINES LEVIED AGAINST PARENTS FOR THEIR KIDS’ INCARCERATION

Many California counties collect fees from families for kids’ juvenile justice system involvement.

These charges often push poor families into serious financial strain and debt, while pushing their children further into the justice system. Charges can include GPS monitoring, community supervision, nights in juvenile hall, transportation, and more.

SB 190, introduced by CA Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), would eliminate these administrative fees, which can cost up to $30 a day for juvenile detention, and $17 a day for use of an ankle-monitor.

Last year both Contra Costa County and Alameda County stopped collecting juvenile justice-related fees.

(In case you were wondering, Los Angeles and San Francisco do not charge these administration fees to kids’ families. LA County approved a moratorium on the fees in 2009. SF never charged fees.)

CA counties are not alone in charging parents of incarcerated kids. Earlier this month, the Marshall Project

SB 190 is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Public Safety Committee on March 21. Mitchell introduced a similar bill last year, but it did not make it onto the governor’s desk.

A related bill, also from Sens. Mitchell and Lara, would ensure that only adults who are convicted of a crime are required to reimburse the courts for their legal fees when they are represented by a court-appointed attorney. SB 355 is scheduled for a hearing on March 28.


BAIL REFORM

Another noteworthy bill, SB 10, aims to reform cash bail system, which has a disproportionately negative impact on poor and minority Americans, and contributes to overcrowding in jails. In LA County, nearly half of jail inmates are being held while they await trial—usually because of an inability to post bail.

The bill, which was introduced by Assm. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), is slated for a Public Safety Committee hearing on April 4.

“California’s bail system punishes poor people simply for being poor,” said Bonta. “In many cases, if you have enough money to pay your bail, you can get out regardless of whether you are a risk to the public. But if you’re poor, you have to sit in jail even when the charge is a misdemeanor like a traffic ticket. That’s not justice.”


SEEKING DIVERSITY IN JURY POOLS

A bill introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would require 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. SB 576 would require the jury commissioner to collect data on each juror’s race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, and ZIP code of residence.

“The California Public Defenders Association has had repeated complaints for several decades from countless numbers of criminal defense attorneys in our organization that the current system of summoning jurors based solely upon DMV and registered voters lists results in the underrepresentation of minority residents on juries in communities throughout this state,” said Oscar Bobrow, Solano County Chief Deputy Public Defender and California Public Defender Association Board Member. “Many empirical studies by social scientist have confirmed this. This legislation is a first step toward identifying and correcting this problem.”

In San Francisco, less than 6% of the population is African American. Last year, 39% of people booked into jail in SF (and 51% of people represented by public defenders) were black. These and other factors have led to a growing concern that black defendants are not being given trials before a jury of peers.

“Senator Wiener’s bill will provide badly needed transparency in the demographics and diversity of jurors called to serve on trials,” said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “In San Francisco, where we’ve seen African American jurors disappear from jury panels, we need to see whether this exclusion is systematic or not. This bill will provide means to obtain this critical information.”


CA’S SANCTUARY STATE BILL ADVANCES

California’s polarizing sanctuary state bill passed through the state Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, and now heads to the Senate floor for a full vote. If approved by the Senate, it will move on to the Assembly.

The bill, AB 54, aims to prevent the federal government from using state and local public resources—like law enforcement personnel—to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents investigate, arrest, or detain immigrants. The bill does not, however, stop law enforcement officers from complying with warrants to transfer immigrants who have committed violent crimes into federal custody.

“A warrant requirement will enable California to preserve our civil liberties and enhance public safety by maintaining the trust and effectiveness of law enforcement,” said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón. “A warrant requirement will ensure the government confirms a person’s identity and whether they are subject to deportation before they can be detained, thereby preventing citizens, authorized immigrants and victims of crime from being jailed.”

In addition, AB 54, titled the California Values Act, would designate schools, hospitals, and courthouses as “safe zones,” banning immigration enforcement on premises.

Critics worry that the bill will keep law enforcement from communicating with ICE about immigrants in custody who have committed serious crimes. In an interview with ABC7, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the bill “puts us in a bad position on being able to communicate with our federal partners on sex trafficking, drug trafficking, gang activity.”

The LA Times’ Jazmine Ulloa has an in-depth look at the debate surrounding AB 54.


COPS ON CAMPUS

AB 163 would require school districts to clearly define the scope of school peace officer interactions with students. The bill would also require districts to consider ways to reduce the presence of officers on campus.

Asmm. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) put forward the bill in the wake of a nearly two-year-long NBC Bay Area investigation, which revealed that schools call the police on black children and kids with disabilities at far higher rates than they call the police on other students.


REDUCING INCARCERATION BY TAXING PRISON COMPANIES TO PAY FOR EDUCATION

A bill from Assm. Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) would collect a tax on for-profit companies, including private prisons that provide goods or services to state prison facilities. That money would be spent on currently underfunded programs that prevent future incarceration, like preschool and after-school programs.

“[Early education] programs have the ability to excite children about learning and strengthen a student’s engagement in school, while helping them set higher educational goals for themselves, said Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, AB 43‘s author. “The purpose of this bill is to educate and not incarcerate our youth by investing in programs that directly benefit children.”


A VETERANS’ COURT IN EVERY COUNTY

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 bill, introduced by Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside), is slated to be heard by the Committees on Public Safety and Veterans Affairs. Its first hearing is scheduled for April 4.


SEEKING DNA FROM PEOPLE ACCUSED OF PROP. 47 MISDEMEANORS

Currently, California law only allows law enforcement officers to collect DNA from people suspected of committing felonies. A proposed bill would allow officers to collect DNA from people accused of the six low-level crimes that were downgraded from felonies to misdemeanors through the voter-approved Proposition 47.

AB 16 was introduced by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, a former Sacramento Sheriff’s deputy, and co-authored by Sen. Kevin de León.


ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE RAPE KIT BACKLOGS

AB 41 aims to reduce massive rape kit backlogs by requiring law enforcement agencies to report data on sexual assault evidence kit collection and testing to the California Department of Justice. The data would be public record.

The proposed legislation passed through the Assembly Public Safety Committee, and was re-referred to the Committee on Appropriations.

“Survivors of sexual assault deserve to know what happened to the sexual assault evidence kits they submitted,” said the bill’s author, Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco). “To get at the heart of the backlog problem we need to know how many kits are collected each year, and if they’re not analyzed, we need to know why. This data will help shed some light on improvements that law enforcement needs to make and whether or not they need more resources to get the kits tested.”

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