House Republicans announced proposals Wednesday to toughen Connecticut’s juvenile crime laws and revisit recent police accountability policies, reaffirming their positions on two issues they expect will be on the minds of voters in November.
The lawmakers summarized their crime prevention agenda during a press conference in the state Capitol building where they were joined by victims of crimes. The event echoed others which House Republicans have organized since July, when they began calling for a special legislative session to pass their proposals.
“We’re hearing stories about people’s lives that have been changed forever. We need to change that trajectory in the state of Connecticut,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said. “We’re very frustrated. We think it should have been done this summer.”
Among the legislative changes Republicans plan to seek during the session that begins next week were stiffer penalties for carjacking with a weapon and crimes committed using stolen cars. They also called for more juvenile offenses to be transferred to adult court.
Several of the speakers who joined Republicans during the event were recent victims of car theft related crimes including Madison residents John and Kathy Rasimas who recounted being hit by a youth offender while they were riding a motorcycle in 2019. Kathy Rasimas lost a leg as a result of the accident.
“Juvenile court, we know, is a joke. What happened with this case is it went youthful offender,” John Rasimas said. The minor involved in the accident was ultimately released last month after serving less than six months of his sentence, he said. “This young boy — again, I’m not going to call him a man — he was released. Changes need to be made to the system and they need to be made now.”
Other proposals would allow police to hold child offenders longer while trying to execute a detainment order. Another set of policies would scale back some of the police accountability law passed by the legislature in 2020. Proposed changes included expanding the situations in which an officer could use qualified immunity as a defense in a lawsuit.
In a joint statement, two ranking House Democrats said that despite the Republican event, Connecticut remained one of the safest states in the nation. Rep. Steve Stafstrom, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Toni Walker, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday’s press conference amounted to election year spin when the pandemic had driven an uptick in the rates of certain crimes around the country.
“We hope the Republicans will also join us this session in working to fill the open positions in our courts, and investing in urban schools, children’s mental health, and programs to prevent recidivism,” Stafstrom and Walker said. “We also hope they will work with us to address the proliferation of guns on our streets.”
However, the two Democrats said they agreed that the legislature could provide police more flexibility to hold juvenile offenders while seeking detention orders and expand the use of GPS monitoring, another policy Republicans have pushed since last summer.
Car thefts and juvenile crime seem certain to be a political talking point before the November elections and the Republican event took place within an hour of Gov. Ned Lamont’s announcement of his own election year proposal to cut taxes by more than $300 million.
During that event, Lamont was also optimistic that the two parties could find common ground on the juvenile justice issue. Part of that equation would involve more social services for first time offenders impacted by two years of COVID. Another part would involve stiffer penalties for others, he said.
“This is about being really strict with those repeat offenders, some of them gang related,” Lamont said. “What that means in terms of cops. What that means in terms of speeding up the arraignments. What that means — making sure they’re not back out on the street.”
“We’re going to find a reasonable common ground, Democrats and Republicans, get something done in this next session,” Lamont said.
Candelora said Connecticut voters expected a response to crime and would make it an election issue if the legislature did not take action on the proposals.
“Talking to our constituents, they’re very upset. They’re angry. They’re scared. It’s impacted them economically and physically, as we’ve heard these stories,” Candelora said. “I think that the Democrats continuing to ignore this — they do it at their peril.”