John Aberg, whose grandson Andrew Slyter was murdered 16 years ago. Credit: Mike Savino photo

Senate Republicans Tuesday vowed to try and block a bill to put in place new commutation policies for the Board of Pardons and Paroles. 

They said the policies still don’t allow victims of crimes to voice their views, and they’ve lined up 41 amendments to stall the bill, 

“We are going to amend that bill and discuss it till the cows come home,” Sen. John Kissell, R-Enfield, a ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. 

But the comment drew questions from the House of Representatives, including from a Republican who helped craft the version that’s making its way through the legislature, about what Senate Republicans really want in the bill. 

“Should the bill fail, I guess what we’re left with is the Board of Pardons and Paroles continuing to make the rules, and that’s what, I thought, the Senate Republicans were opposed to,” said Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, the other ranking Republican on the committee. 

He and Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Stamford, co-chairman of Judiciary, addressed the criticisms lawmakers heard about the commutations process earlier this year. Stafstrom said Republicans ignored his efforts to include them in budget negotiations. 

The Board of Pardons and Paroles temporarily stopped taking applications for prison sentence commutations in April amid controversy over a rise in approved commutations this year. 

The board granted just three commutations from 2017 to 2021. Last year, that number jumped to 77. 

Some victims and family members objected to the spike and said they weren’t being properly heard. The controversy also prompted Gov. Ned Lamont to name a new board chairperson, Jennifer Medina Zaccagnini. 

The House last week approved the bill including the new policies by a 102-45 vote, sending it to the Senate. 

The bill would, among other things, require eligible inmates that have served at least 10 years in prison before to apply for a commutation. Inmates serving a life sentence are not eligible. 

Inmates cannot apply if they had a commutation request denied within the previous five years; or had a prosecutor nolle, or drop, criminal charges in the last 13 months; or have unresolved criminal cases, warrants or fines and fees. 

Kissell said leaders in the House shut him out of the process while crafting the bill, despite assurances earlier this session that would not be the case. 

“I think we’d be better served if we had no bill this year,” he also said, adding he’d rather let Zaccagnini come up with policies for the legislature. 

Reps. Steve Stafstrom and Craig Fishbein Credit: Mike Savino photo

But Stafstrom and Fishbein said many of her proposals are included in this bill. 

“It is extremely unfortunate that they appear to be putting politics over policy,” Stafstrom said, adding killing the bill would mean maintaining the current policies that drew objections from Senate Republicans. 

Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Lamont, agreed, saying in a statement that the bill “was the product of a collaborative process that included the Board of Pardons and Paroles, legislators of both parties, victim advocates, and the administration.” 

“It is extremely unfortunate that they appear to be putting politics over policy,” Stafstrom said, adding killing the bill would mean maintaining the current policies that drew objections from Senate Republicans. 

Stafstrom said he tried to include Senate Republicans in talks, sending a draft two weeks before last Thursday’s vote and the final version a day before. He said he never got a response. 

Senate Republicans said their primary objections revolve around victim notification, including removing a requirement that the board tell victims everytime inmates apply for commutation.

“If you are the victim of a crime like this, you want to know every single thing that person in prison who took your family member’s life does,” said Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton. 

John Aberg, whose grandson was murdered 16 years ago, said the proposed policies shut out victims and their families. 

“The amendments to this bill are not helping victim’s voices. Victims’ voices matter in this process,” he said. 

Instead, the board would be required to notify the victims’ advocate 90 days before a hearing. The advocate is required to give victims at least 30 days notice. 

Fishbein and Stafstrom said some families said each notification can bring up grief, but even when those applications don’t lead to a hearing.  

“We’re trying to keep away the revictimization that there was a complaint of,” Fishbein said. 

Fishbein also said the board even wanted the power to waive eligibility requirements when members saw fit, adding the bill “restores the power of the legislature in the process.” 

Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, couldn’t be reached for comment through a spokesman.