The leader of the Connecticut Senate said Wednesday night he has the votes to pass Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s criminal justice reforms and last week’s budget deal when the Senate returns Thursday in special session. The House of Representatives has yet to schedule a vote.
Despite lobbying in the week since the regular session ended and legislators departed Hartford without a budget vote, Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said the $19.76 billion budget deal is intact.
“We are where we were last Wednesday,” Looney said after a caucus of the Senate Democratic majority.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, reiterated his call for a delay, complaining all related documents still were not public, despite Malloy’s agreeing eight days ago with House and Senate Democrats on the principles of a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“Clearly, they have been in the majority too long because they think that they don’t have to answer to anyone but themselves,” Fasano said, framing a message geared to the campaign for control of the General Assembly. “But the reality is that they have to answer to the public and, in November, to the voters.”
Looney said the Senate would vote Thursday on several bills: a budget and related implementation bills, including a bond package, a land conveyance act and the criminal justice reforms dubbed “An Act Concerning a Second Chance Society.” The Malloy administration says the budget deal assumes the passage of the reforms, which it says would save about $15 million, primarily in prison costs.
Administration and legislative sources say legislators displayed some jitters at passing reforms that Malloy calls the second piece of his Second Chance initiative. It would eliminate bail for most misdemeanors and require treating defendants charged with other than major felonies as youthful offenders until age 21.
“We’ve counted, and we have the votes,” Looney said.
House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he believed some members of his caucus still are uncertain about elements of Second Chance. The House has no session Thursday and is considering taking up the budget and related bills Friday or Monday, he said.
Malloy said legislators should be happy to take credit for supporting Second Chance, not fearful of being tagged as soft on crime.
“I don’t think folks are looking at the whole picture,” Malloy said Wednesday. “In 2014 our reduction in violent crime in Connecticut was two-and-a-half times the national average. We are doing things in Connecticut they should be taking responsibility for. We’re lowering recidivism. People are coming out of the prison system better prepared to confront that which lies before them.”
In previous years, the legislature accepted Malloy’s proposals to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession. Since decriminalization, there have been 8,000 fewer arrests annually, he said.
His latest proposals are geared at reducing the number of indigent defendants now being jailed for the inability to post low bail and also are intended to save defendants up to age 21 from a public, adult criminal record for other than serious felonies.
“This is a continuation of one of the most successful anti-crime efforts in America and, perhaps, in American history, and we need to rewrite that book because permanent punishment is punishment for the broader society as well as the individual,” Malloy said.
Michael P. Lawlor, the governor’s criminal justice adviser, said some legislators have misread the proposal and believe it would divert all criminal defendants to juvenile court until age 21.
“That’s not the case at all,” Lawlor said.
Lawlor said the legislation actually would expand the number of felonies for which a juvenile could be transferred to adult court in response to a request by state prosecutors, and class A and B felonies would be automatic transfers with the exception of first-degree larceny. Prosecutors asked for the exception on the larceny charge most often used in car thefts, he said.
The goal is not to provide blanket leniency for younger offenders, but to extend one of the key protections of juvenile court – saving a young defendant from a record that will follow them through life – to the many cases in which charges are eventually dropped or no prison time is imposed, Lawlor said.