A 42-page bill drafted by Senate Republicans and released Tuesday proposed changes to how Connecticut’s criminal system handles juvenile offenders and called for rollbacks of the 2020 police accountability law.
The language, posted to the Senate Republicans’ website, largely mirrored the proposal the caucus announced during a press conference in October. It includes both support for community programs aimed at curbing crime and harsher penalties for young offenders already engaged in it.
“We all deserve to live in a state where we feel safe,” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said in a press release. “We need immediate action to properly respond to crime. We need to ensure law enforcement and our justice system have the tools to keep all people safe.”
Among other elements, the bill would require GPS monitoring of youths arrested on violent crime charges while awaiting trial, make it easier for police to detain juvenile offenders, and automatically transfer cases involving certain violent crimes to adult court.
The legislation also calls for the state to scale back elements of the police accountability law passed in response to George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a former Minneapolis police officer. That law included a provision which limited the situations when a police officer could use qualified immunity as a defense in a lawsuit. The Republican bill would restore that immunity except in cases where the officer demonstrated “extreme indifference to human life.”
In October, Kelly told reporters the legislation had gone too far, making some officers wary of responding to dangerous situations.
“What you want are police officers who are proactive in their approach to law enforcement and you want somebody that’s not worried about losing everything they’ve worked for and ending up with a lawsuit,” Kelly said.
Laws governing police and the issue of juvenile crime in Connecticut are sure to be among the issues stressed by Republican candidates during this year’s election season. Republicans opposed the police accountability legislation in 2020 and began calling unsuccessfully for a special legislative session on juvenile crime last year.
Democrats have resisted those calls, saying any increase in crime has been the result of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and have been experienced across the country in red and blue states alike.
During a Tuesday Zoom call with reporters, Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said the policies in the Republican proposal would get a fair hearing before the committee. But Winfield was wary of making broad changes to how young offenders are handled by police and the court system.
“The one thing we don’t want to do in a policy discussion is scare people into making a decision they otherwise wouldn’t make,” Winfield said. “We saw that 20 years ago in this country — 30 years ago now, with the crime bills we did in the 90s. That wasn’t smart policy then and it’s not smart policy now.”
Winfield said there were elements of the Republican bill that Democrats were willing to have a conversation about. He pointed to proposals to have school guidance counselors discuss the benefits of trade schools with students and another element which would develop summer jobs programs for young people in high risk communities.
On the other hand, Winfield said he was not inclined to make the Republicans’ recommended modifications to the police accountability law.
“At a certain point, the bill has become law, has been re-litigated and I don’t think it should be re-litigated again this session,” Winfield said. “But, if people want to do that, this bill will be up. People can come and say what they have to say. We should never foreclose that someone says something that changes a perspective you have. I don’t see it as likely, but that’s within the realm of possibility.”