Michael P. Lawlor, the governor's criminal justice adviser, lobbying Rep. Bruce Morris mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Michael P. Lawlor, the criminal justice advisor to the governor, lobbying outside the House.
Michael P. Lawlor, the criminal justice adviser to the governor, lobbying Rep. Bruce Morris outside the House. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, postponed a vote Friday on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to reform the bail and juvenile-justice systems, underscoring the administration’s difficulties in finding sufficient votes for the governor’s signature criminal-justice bill.

Sharkey said the delay was not fatal, but at the very least the postponement in the House and a similar delay Thursday night in the Senate demonstrates how tight are the margins for passage. The departure of a single legislator for a previously planned trip helped stop a vote in the Senate.

Democrats, who have an 87-64 majority in the House, said they did not believe they had the votes necessary for passage Friday in the House, when the main order of a special session was adoption of a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. With five Democrats and two Republicans absent, the budget passed on a vote of 74 to 70.

Every Republican in the Senate and House is expected to oppose the governor’s criminal just bill, “An Act Concerning a Second Chance Society.” It would eliminate bail for most minor crimes and eventually place many defendants charged with other-than-major felonies under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts until age 21.

“We’re going to pause on this and not do it tonight,” Sharkey said Friday after the budget vote. “There have been a lot of changes to this bill recently that our caucus members haven’t even had the chance to look at. On the assumption that we’ve got the votes after they have a chance to just take a look at those and be comfortable with them, we’ll be bring this up.”

Malloy was out of state when his bill was shelved for the second night. He left Friday afternoon to keep a commitment to deliver a speech at the Arizona Democratic Party’s 2016 Heritage Dinner and was scheduled to return Saturday morning.

“The bill continues to go through the legislative process and we have been assured by both House and Senate leadership that it will pass. We look forward to finalizing that process in the coming days,” said Devon Puglia, the governor’s spokesman.

Earlier, Malloy told reporters he was willing to compromise to win passage.

“If I have proven anything this legislative session it’s that I’m more than happy to compromise to reach a final product,” Malloy said. “I’m also more than happy to lead to reach a final product. So whatever needs to happen should happen.”

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who supports barring bail for low-level misdemeanors and is open to more modest changes in how young adults are treated in court, said Thursday the governor’s bail and juvenile justice reforms were too ambitious.

“It’s too broad a concept,” Fasano said. “It’s too wide a net.”

Malloy said he doubted any revisions would win the support of Fasano or any other Republican.

“I don’t think the senator is in a position to advocate for the legislation, even if he got the changes he wanted,” Malloy said. “Sometimes it’s like pushing a rock up a hill.”

Malloy, a second-term Democrat, won votes last year from Fasano, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides of Derby and other Republicans for bipartisan passage of his first “Second Chance” bill.  It eliminated prison as a punishment for many drug possession crimes.

But the threat of unanimous Republican opposition in this election year tells Democrats in swing districts they can expect a vote for the crime bill dubbed “Second Chance 2.0″ to be used against them as evidence they are soft on crime.

Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, who was targeted in a previous campaign over a committee vote to lessen drug penalties, said she told the Malloy administration a month ago she would not support his bill this year.

Malloy said earlier Friday he still was optimistic about a winning vote in the House. He also was willing to discuss changes.

“We’ve worked pretty hard at the House level, and I feel pretty good about it based on the conversations my staff and I have had, but I am absolutely available for further discussion or consultations,” Malloy said.

The governor was expected to continue lobbying for the bill, directly and indirectly. Malloy was planning public events to promote the measure, the first a hastily arranged speech in Hartford on Saturday.

“I think that would be a gigantic missed opportunity,” Malloy said, when asked about the prospects of the bill’s defeat. “Crime is at a 48 year low. Violent crime in our three largest cities declined by 40 percent this year so far. Our prison population is dropping. Our recidivism rate is dropping.”

In signing his first Second Chance bill into law last July, Malloy joined some of the nation’s most conservative governors in winning passage of a law intended to lower incarceration rates for non-violent crime, a reversal of the get-tough-on-crime trend that produced an explosion in prison populations — and a strain on state budgets.

The budget passed Friday assumed a savings of about $15 million in the correction system from his latest Second Chance bill, primarily by eliminating bail for misdemeanors. On any given day, there are about 550 inmates locked up for the inability to afford a modest bail.

The bail industry, however, says many of those inmates being held on low bails are charged with felonies as well as misdemeanors.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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