A controversial proposal to fill a $1.2 billion hole in the California budget by allowing the early release of 27,000 prisoners that passed the Senate Thursday has been put off until Monday by the state Assembly so that modifications can be made.
The changes, proposed by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, could make the legislation more palatable for both Republicans and Democrats, who have endured marathon sessions in an attempt to retain the state’s solvency.
When AB X3 14 – the “x” denotes the third extraordinary session required to deal with the budget – narrowly passed the Senate with a vote of 21- 19, Republican Senator George Runner vowed to file a ballot initiative to overturn the legislation if it went into effect. He’s reserving judgment to see if proposed changes are any more reasonable than some of the ideas approved by his peers yesterday.
“There are a couple of issues that are just bad,” he said. “The idea of having a non-elected board having the authority to change the law and the only way the legislature could intervene would be if it proactively took up the legislation and then it would require a two-thirds vote in order to stop it from going into law. The other issue was that they had felons on the commission.”
Cameron Smyth’s spokesperson, Sean Hoffman, told KHTS that the Assembly would probably be voting on four separate bills.
“What nobody could agree on was the sentencing commission so that will probably be tweaked,” Hoffman said.
He added that reducing the severity of some crimes was a hard pill to swallow.
“Human trafficking, elder abuse, stalking and some sex offenses aren’t considered serious enough to be felonies under this proposal,” he said.
Initially, the Senate-approved measure was to go to the Assembly for a vote on Thursday afternoon, but early polls indicated that there was great resistance from both parties and it seemed doomed to fail.
Along with the release or diversion of 27,000 prisoners with another 10,000 due for early release in July of 2010, the measure, which was proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger, allowed for the early release with electronic monitoring for inmates with less than 12 months left on their sentences, inmates over age 60 and inmates who were medically incapacitated.
It also proposed lowering sentences for property crimes such as vehicle theft, petty theft with prior arrests, receiving stolen property and check kiting. Supervision for parolees would also be lessened, which would throw a wrench into local programs such as the DISARM probation/parole sweeps and the measure also allowed inmates to earn several weeks “credit” towards release if they participated in alternative programming.
Speaker Bass put the vote off until Monday to allow for some significant changes; the elimination of the electronic monitoring and early release of the three special groups and maintaining the severity of penalties for property crimes- if changed, those convicted could have avoided state prison entirely.
One change that may meet with some resistance is an increase in the amount of time earned toward early release. The Governor’s proposal allowed for inmates to earn up to six weeks; the new revision proposes credit up to four months for completion of education, vocational or other rehabilitation programs.
What exactly the Assembly will be voting for remains to be seen, according to Hoffman.
“A lot can change before Monday,” he said.