By Gretchen Schuldt
What a busy April! Elections, Easter, spring vacations! All this means we fell behind with our legislative updates, so we are catching up.
The Parole Commission would be required to make public information about the cases it considers and what happens to them, under a bill approved, 77-20, by the Assembly.
The commission also would be required to publicly publish statistical reports and the guidance documents it uses when considering parole applications.
All of the representatives voting against the bill were Democrats. In addition, 15 Democrats joined the Republicans to vote in favor of the bill. A chart showing individual votes is at the bottom of this post.
Issues involving the commission, "including a lack of transparency and accountability,...create a serious threat to public safety," Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield) said in public testimony. The commission paroled a person in 2022 without notifying the victim's family, a violation of law and the Marsy's Law victim's rights amendment to the state constitution, he said. When legislators requested information from DOC and the Parole Commission, they got different responses or were ignored.
"They do not value transparency or respect state law, and their public notices do not list individuals whose applications are to be heard, something which is standard practice for the Governor's Pardon Board," Spiros said. "The Parole Commission's meeting minutes do not Include statutorily required votes to enter Into closed session, and the Commission often fails to notify victims' families of upcoming parole hearings. Additionally, neither DOC nor the Parole Commission provide any statistics on who is being paroled."
Opponents of the bill did not speak during discussion on the Assembly floor last month. The bill, Assembly Bill 47, is pending in the Senate.
The Assembly approved Assembly Bill 57, which would require prosecutors to seek permission from judges to dismiss certain charges against defendants, even if a prosecutor learns the defendant is innocent of the charge or believes the evidence does not support the charge.
The bill would also prohibit prosecutors from offering deferred prosecution agreements to individuals charged or who could possibly be charged with certain crimes.
The vote was 62-35. All Republicans supported the measure. All Democrats opposed it.
For more information on the bill, check out WJI's previous post here. That bill, too, is pending in the Senate.
Finally, the Assembly approved, 62-35, a bill establishing a mandatory minimum prison term for people convicted of felon-in-possession of a firearm if they previously have been convicted of a violent felony. The original bill, Assembly Bill 58, would have mandated a bifurcated sentence that includes at least five years of initial confinement if there was a prior history of any felony conviction. An amendment, however, increases the maximum penalty from five years years in prison and five years of supervised release to a total of to 12½ years, and allows an incarceration period of up to 7½ years followed by five years of supervised release. The five-year mandatory-minimum provision and the amendment would both apply only to those whose previous records include "violent felony" convictions.
A bill that would establish much tougher sentences for those convicted of making or supplying certain drugs that lead to the death of another person (known as the "Len Bias" law) was approved by the Senate. The maximum prison term under the bill would increase from 40 years to 60 years. The vote on Senate Bill 101 was 28-3.
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