Outgoing House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Monday that he supports Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s efforts to reform the criminal justice system. But he said it will be up to the governor to make sure the House has the votes.
“I support the governor’s efforts on this,” Sharkey said at a press conference to formally announce that he won’t be seeking re-election to his House seat.
But Sharkey said it’s up to the governor and his staff to convince Democratic lawmakers in the House to vote for it.
Neither the House or the Senate have taken up Malloy’s proposal to raise the age at which defendants are considered juveniles by the court system and also to get rid of bail bonds for most misdemeanor charges.
Sharkey said it’s really important for the members of the House Democratic caucus to understand what’s in the proposal, which wasn’t posted online until after 9 p.m. last Thursday.
The governor’s staff has been waging an aggressive campaign to convince lawmakers to get on board and support the legislation, which some fear will make them look like they’re soft on crime.
“If it’s good legislation and represents what people believe is a good thing for Connecticut, then that’s the support they’ll get and we’ll be able to move forward,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey said his lawmakers need to understand the legislation better before they vote, and if it’s good legislation then it will get a vote.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said it’s not good legislation — it’s bad policy and shouldn’t be raised for a vote.
“This bill is having a hard time because it’s simply bad policy,” Fasano said. “People are afraid to vote in favor of it because they know it’s bad policy and they will have to answer to the public on why they voted for a bad bill.”
Fasano said there are concerns about treating young adults up to age 20 as minors when they commit certain serious crimes, but are considered adults in all other aspects of life.
“These same young people’s brains are developed enough to tell right from wrong when they sit as jurors at felony criminal trials, so why would we enact legislation saying they cannot be trusted to be responsible for their own criminal actions?” Fasano said.
Sharkey said Republicans have a tendency to speak out of both sides of their mouth on criminal justice reforms. National Republicans support efforts to reform the bail system, which also is part of the legislation.
Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s criminal justice adviser, has said criminal justice reform brings together fiscal conservatives, Evangelicals, and social progressives.
“There’s a unity around the thought that the criminal justice system is making things worse, not better,” Lawlor said.
He said that fiscal conservatives are behind the issue because the money isn’t being spent efficiently, Evangelicals believe in redemption, and people like Malloy would say it’s not fair and there’s racial disparities.
That doesn’t mean House Democrats seeking re-election aren’t nervous.
The Democratic majority has been greatly reduced since its peak in 2008, when they held a 114-37 super majority in the House and a 23-13 majority in the Senate.
Democrats currently hold 87-64 and 21-15 majorities in the House and the Senate.
“I think many members are nervous about facing that gauntlet again,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey said his decision not to seek re-election won’t impact his ability to inform his caucus about what’s in the Second Chance 2.0 package. He said he’s told the governor that what’s being proposed “in a general sense” is a “good thing” and he’s trying to facilitate the governor’s efforts on this.
“In the end, like everything, it’s about whether we have the votes to pass it,” Sharkey said.
According to Malloy, there’s about $15 million in savings included in the budget that assumes this legislation will be implemented.