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Assembly delays vote on prisons package, will remove sentencing review from bill

August 24, 2009 | 12:27 pm

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass has put off a vote on a package of legislation intended to trim spending on state prisons, and she intends to eliminate a provision of the plan that would have created a commission to reevaluate California’s sentencing laws, according to an Assembly source who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

After keeping Assembly members until midnight Thursday in the hope of reaching a deal on prisons, Bass (D-Los Angeles) said she would try to approve it today. But based on conversations over the weekend, she still does not have enough votes from the Democrats who control the chamber.

“When we arrive at a responsible plan that can earn the support of the majority of the Assembly and makes sense to the people of California, we will take that bill up on the Assembly floor,” Bass said in a statement.

Bass and Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) met with representatives of law enforcement on the issue this morning.

Legislation is needed to approve more than $500 million of the $1.2 billion in prison cuts in the budget deal reached by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers last month.

On Thursday, the Senate passed a package that would achieve the savings through measures including home detention, changes to sentencing laws, shortened prison terms for inmates who complete rehabilitation programs behind bars and ending parole supervision for lower level offenders. Those provisions were estimated to reduce the number of inmates in state prisons by 37,000 over two years.

The Senate plan also included a sentencing commission to reevaluate the state penal code by 2012.

Based on the objections of Assembly Democrats, many of whom are running for higher office, Bass previously stripped out the home detention and other components. But there were still some sticking points.

Although Bass agreed to bolster the law enforcement representation on the sentencing commission, Assembly member Alberto Torrico (D-Newark), one of three Assembly Democrats running for attorney general, said Sunday that a key issue remained: how much power lawmakers would have over whether to implement the panel’s recommendations.
Under the Senate’s plan -- and in the Assembly version, until now -- the commission’s recommendations would automatically take effect if the Legislature and governor failed to reject them. That way, even if lawmakers rejected the panel’s findings, they would still go into effect if the governor vetoed the lawmakers’ vote.
“The notion that the Legislature would not be required to vote on a sentencing commission proposal, I just think it’s real problematic,” Torrico said.

-- Michael Rothfeld, in Sacramento