As California’s current legislative session hurdles toward a close, more than 100 bills have quietly died, tucked away in the “suspense file,” while more than 350 passed through the state’s Appropriations Committees.
A bill to authorize a study by the CA Attorney General’s Office of officer-involved shootings, and a bill to set a standard for the release of police body cam footage were among the bills that legislators left behind. Meanwhile, a bill to create legal drug injection sites and a bill to reduce the state’s rape kit backlog were among the bills that made it out of the fiscal committees and onto the house floors. Some of the proposed bills slid through after undergoing major amendments.
One noteworthy criminal justice bill, which would considerably reform the state’s sex offender registry narrowly escaped death-by-suspense.
Normally, in other committees, and on the house floors, lawmakers publicly vote on whether to approve or dump a bill, but in the fiscal committees, legislators can noiselessly kill bills without putting their reputations on the line.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it also happens every year at the end of May, the final deadline for Appropriations Committee members to approve bills and send them to their house floors of origin for a vote.
September 8 was the final day for legislators to amend bills. All pending bills with any hope of making it to CA Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for final approval are now awaiting votes on the Senate and Assembly floors. This Friday, Sept. 15, is the final deadline for bills to pass out of the two houses.
The governor will have exactly one month—until October 15—to sign or veto the bills before him.
Sex Offender Registry Bill Slips Past Appropriations
A bill to solve some of the major problems created by California’s current sex offender registry, also nearly perished at the hands of the Assembly’s fiscal committee members, but was brought back to life by a controversial process called “gut and amend.”
The bill’s author, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), gutted a bill to extend bar hours to 4:00 a.m. that had already passed out of the fiscal committee, but had been watered down via amendments–and thus made expendable to Wiener. Via an amendment to the nightlife bill, the lawmaker transferred the language from the sex offender registry reform bill into the gutted SB 384.
SB 421—now SB 384–would create a tiered sex offender registry based on the seriousness of a person’s offense and their risk of reoffending.
The bill would break the registry into three separate tiers. The first tier would hold people convicted of misdemeanors and/or non-violent sex crimes. People in the first tier would remain on the registry for 10 years. Individuals convicted of serious and/or violent sex crimes would be placed in tier two, and would be registered for 20 years. The final tier would be reserved for violent sex predators and chronic sex offenders, who would remain on the registry for life.
Individuals would not be removed from the registry automatically at the end of 10 or 20 years, but would have the opportunity to petition to be removed from the registry under specific conditions.
The district attorney would then be able to request a hearing on the petition.
Tier three individuals would also be able to petition the court to be removed from the registry after 20 years if they meet certain requirements.
In California, currently the only state with a lifetime registry in place, there are more than 100,000 people publicly registered as sex offenders. The bill was supported by law enforcement unions as a way to better monitor high-risk offenders, while eliminating the “devastating impact” that lifetime registration has on people convicted of low-level sex crimes, according to Michele Hanisee, the president of the Association of Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA), who called the current registry “woefully inflexible.”
AB 748 – access to body cam footage -Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) – died
“The patchwork releases of body camera footage only sow further public distrust with law enforcement and the communities they serve,” the bill’s author, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) said in a statement. The solution, according to Assm. Ting, is for the state to provide a statewide standard for how local law enforcement agencies deal with footage captured on body-worn cameras.
“In order to let the footage speak for itself, we need more time to find the breakthrough in this bill and I will continue to engage with stakeholders to find a transparent and equitable solution,” Ting said.
AB 284, which would have commissioned a study of officer-involved shootings between 2015 and 2016, was dumped in the suspense file. The bill had already been watered down from its original version, which would have also created an independent review team within the California Attorney General’s Office to investigate incidents in which officers shoot civilians and civilians shoot officers.
Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed AB 41, a bill that addresses California’s rape kit backlog. The bill would require law enforcement agencies to report data on sexual assault evidence collection and testing to the CA Department of Justice through the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Tracking system (SAFE-T). The data reported to the state would be public record.
Because police departments are not required by law to track rape kit numbers, we have no estimate of how many rape kits are sitting in California labs untested. The non-profit End the Backlog, gives a (very) incomplete estimate for the state of at least more than 13,600 kits.
“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,” said Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), the bill’s author. “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.”
“The neglect of sexual assault kits with no explanation of why they were not analyzed simply adds to the trauma endured by survivors seeking justice,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. “With just a few extra keystrokes to log into SAFE-T, law enforcement has the ability to improve prosecution and provide victims of sexual assault who reported a crime with information about their case that they deserve to know.”
AB 90, a bill to boost oversight of the state’s controversial gang database, CalGang, is waiting for a full vote by the Senate. 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.
SB 29 by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), 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 is before the Assembly.
Before it was amended in the Assembly, SB 395, by Sens. Ricardo Lara and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) would have required that children under the age of 18 consult with an attorney before a police interrogation, and before Miranda Rights are waived. The Assembly amended the bill to only protect kids under the age of 15, rather than all juveniles.
Another Lara-Mitchell bill before the full Assembly, SB 393, seeks to remove a 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.
SB 190, a bill to eliminate the fines and fees levied against families for kids’ juvenile justice system-involvement, landed on Governor Brown’s desk last week. This bill also belongs to a package of criminal justice reform bills introduced by Mitchell and Lara.
Also before the state Assembly is Mitchell and Lara’s SB 394, which would bring California into compliance with a US Supreme Court ruling requiring that the 2012 Miller v. Alabama decision—which declared mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional—be applied retroactively.
AB 186, a bill to authorize injection centers to combat the opioid epidemic and reduce the number of heroin overdoses in California, is currently on the Senate floor.
The bill, authored by Assm. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), would permit local governments in six CA counties to establish programs where people could use drugs while supervised by staff members trained to prevent and treat drug overdoses. The staff would also connect people with drug treatment, as well as mental health services, housing assistance, and other services.
The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), would protect people from criminalization while using the facilities.
Supervised drug consumption programs have proven to successfully reduce overdose-related deaths, illegal drug use on the streets, and transmission of hepatitis and HIV.
The bill would authorize injection centers in Alameda, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Mendocino, San Francisco, and San Joaquin counties. The bill originally included eight counties, but legislators removed Fresno and Santa Cruz from the list in a Sept. 8 amendment.
Also before the state Senate is 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. The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson), would also establish that foster youth have a right to use computers and the internet.
Image: CA Senators during floor debate.