Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

After hours of emotional debate Thursday night, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill aimed at reducing youth crime, which drew complaints from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. 

The bill passed on a 129 to 17 vote with the unusual distinction of receiving more opposition from the chamber’s majority Democrats than from Republicans who voted in support of the legislation despite complaints it should have gone further.

After car thefts and juvenile arrests for car thefts rose during the pandemic, Republicans characterized Democrats as soft on crime and unwilling to address minors who commit violent offenses. But the numbers have begun to decrease, according to preliminary numbers from the Judicial Branch. 

Although youth crime in Connecticut has been the subject of near constant debate between the two parties for more than a year, lawmakers were negotiating changes to the bill as late as Thursday afternoon. 

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

“Connecticut was not immune to the national uptick in crime that all states experienced in the early part of the pandemic,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee. “As we have done time and time again, we talked, we worked. We worked in a largely, although sometimes choppy, bipartisan process as a Judiciary Committee.”

The House quickly adopted an amendment, resulting in a bill which among other things gives courts the discretion to require GPS monitoring of young offenders who are charged with a crime while awaiting adjudication of another incident. 

Other provisions allow police to hold minors for an additional two hours while they seek a detention order and require quicker arraignments, meaning young offenders would appear in court within five days of their initial arrest. The bill also equalizes charges for auto theft, removing a prior policy which scaled based on the value of the stolen vehicle.

A separate section raises the maximum sentence for a minor convicted of gun crimes, murder or sexual offenses from 30 months to 60 months.

“Motor vehicle arrests of juveniles [from 2019 to 2021], they’ve almost doubled. We have to do something,” said Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford.

Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Republicans signaled earlier this week they would push for a more stringent bill including legislation that would increase the instances where severe juvenile cases are automatically transferred to the adult court system. They criticized the bill for not including those elements.

“There are people who are going to vote for this bill today, but let’s all understand: this bill is not going to fix the problem of crime here in Connecticut,” Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, said. “We’re going to read the paper in three months, six months, nine months a year and … unfortunately we’re going to see those same headlines. This bill is not the solution.”

Meanwhile, many Democrats in the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus argued the bill prioritized stricter policies over more resources for social services aimed at addressing the root causes of crime. 

Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, said the bill contained $1.25 million for judicial outreach services.

“We need to invest a lot more than that. That’s not enough,” Candelaria said. “You can spend $1.25 million in New Haven alone.” 

Another New Haven Democrat, Rep. Robyn Porter, voted against the legislation. Porter said her community had been suffering from things like auto thefts and gun violence for decades and she did not believe the solutions contained in the bill would address the problem. 

“Good schools, good jobs, all of those things matter. So when we talk about doing this, I want us to consider those things as well as a lot of other things that have been said because at the end of the day, crime is not going to go away but what is disturbing is that it only matters when it hits a certain demographic,” Porter said. “I’ve been living with this my entire life.”

Auto thefts and youth crime have been the subject of several press conferences in the last year and half and are almost certain to factor into state political campaigns ahead of the November elections. Earlier this week, Gov. Ned Lamont held a media event urging lawmakers to pass the bipartisan bill. 

The legislation will now head to the Senate for consideration.