Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was confident Friday morning that there was enough support in the House to approve his package of criminal justice reforms, but that confidence faded after a day of backroom talks and vote counting.
This was the second day in a row that Democrat-controlled majorities in the House and the Senate failed to raise his so-called “Second Chance 2.0” bill for debate.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said they were hitting the “pause” button and didn’t plan to raise the bill Friday night because there were a lot of last-minute changes the caucus still needed to digest.
Assuming his caucus is comfortable with the changes, he said they will reconvene at some point in the future to debate the bill and pass it. But as time dragged on Friday during more than six hours of debate on the budget, it looked like the Second Chance bill wouldn’t have the support it needed to pass in the House.
“We really just needed some more time,” Sharkey said. “. . . Too many things were happening at the last minute.”
He said they will delay voting on the bonding bill, which will act as an insurance policy to return for another session, and both sides of the aisle have an interest in that bill.
However, the governor’s office hadn’t given up hope on the Second Chance legislation.
“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,” Devon Puglia, a spokesman for Malloy said Friday night.
It’s the politics, not the policy. That was the message some lawmakers expressed to the governor.
Lawmakers seeking re-election are concerned that treating individuals up to the age of 20 as juveniles could be seen as being soft on crime. And even if the underlying policy isn’t considered soft on crime, Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern about voting on Republican amendments that will become campaign fodder.
The Senate postponed a vote on the measure Thursday. The vote in that chamber is so close that it’s likely Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman would have to break a tie. Because of the late hour of the debate Thursday, and the loss of one member to a previous engagement, the Senate decided to postpone the vote until next week.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, also said he wanted the House to go first and didn’t want to subject his caucus to hours of debate if the bill wasn’t going to get called in the lower chamber.
If the bill isn’t called, Malloy said it would be a “gigantic missed opportunity.”
“What we’ve shown is that smart criminal policies trump, literally, stupid or dumb criminal policies,” Malloy said.
Malloy said there are upwards of 550 people in jail because they can’t pay a $250 to $2,000 bond. The legislation would also allow individuals arrested for misdemeanors to leave a police department on a promise-to-appear in court.
Malloy maintained that these individuals are being incarcerated because of their poverty and the state is paying for that.
There’s about $15 million in savings included as part of the budget that assumes this legislation will be implemented. Malloy said the savings come from reducing the amount of pre-trial incarceration among low-level, but poor offenders.
But some Democratic lawmakers were not comfortable with changing the idea that an 18-year-old should be treated like a juvenile, instead of an adult.
“If you can go to war, then you should be treated like an adult,” Rep. Antonio Guerrera, R-Rocky Hill, said.
He said he’s against the proposal because 18-year-olds are allowed to protect our country, but “now suddenly they don’t have the mental capability to be responsible for a crime they committed?”
He said it just doesn’t make any sense.
But Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who chairs the Children’s Committee, said the research is telling “us that the brain is not fully developed and still impulsive.” She said she understands that the research is hard for people to get their heads around.
However, she said the most egregious crimes would still be transferred to adult court.
At the same time, Urban said anytime you’re explaining, you’re losing.
Malloy has had to do a lot of explaining about the issue to lawmakers, many of whom received phone calls from the governor personally related to this issue.
Malloy still has plenty of leverage with a number of bills still awaiting his signature. It’s unclear what he will do to encourage lawmakers to return and vote on the bill.