Criminal Justice Bills Clear a Major “Suspense File” Hurdle to Land on the House Floors

By Taylor Walker, Witness LA

Late last week, the California Assembly and Senate’s fiscal committees decided the fate of more than 1,000 bills packed into their “suspense files.”

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These suspense files act as holding pens for bills that would have an annual financial impact of more than $150,000 for the state.

Although there are some exceptions to the rule, the Senate and Assembly’s Appropriations Committees generally send $150,000-plus bills into their suspense file to be acted upon by a mid-May deadline. Once that deadline hits, the committees hold high-speed mass-hearings, during which bills will either clear the key hurdle or quietly meet their end–at least for this year. (The file has become a place where lawmakers can kill bills they don’t like without attracting much attention, and without having to actually vote them down.)

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few of the noteworthy criminal justice bills that will now move on to their respective house floors for a vote, and some of the bills that will remain locked away, this year.

Bills That Survived the Suspense

Among the bills that now move on to the next stage of the legislative process, is AB 1076, a bill to automate the expungement process statewide.

Data suggest that approximately two million people are eligible to have old arrests and certain crimes removed from their records. Yet the complicated petition process keeps most from clearing their criminal histories.

AB 1076, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco)–in partnership with SF District Attorney George Gascón–would automatically complete expungement and resentencing processes for people convicted of eligible low-level offenses (not violent crimes and sex offenses), as well as people with arrests that never resulted in criminal convictions, as long as the statute of limitations has passed. (Read more about the bill: here.)

A second piece of proposed legislation to pass last week’s test, AB 680, by Assemblymember Kansen Chu (D-San Jose), seeks to reduce the criminalization of people suffering from mental health emergencies, and improve their interactions with police, by requiring all 911 dispatchers to receive mental health crisis intervention training. (Read more about AB 680: here.)

A bill to expand California’s collection of criminal justice system-related data, AB 1331, also survived the Appropriations Committee’s suspense file.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and Assemblymember Rob Bonta introduced the bill, called The Criminal Justice Data Improvement Act, in response to an April report from Measures for Justice and the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. The report shed light on how difficult it is—even for researchers, let alone the public—to access criminal justice data in California. The report also highlighted glaring gaps in the state’s criminal justice data that “limit the ability of researchers, policymakers and the public to assess criminal justice policies, especially critical during the current period of reform.” These missing pieces in the data picture are not only a “threat to public safety,” but “also a threat to good governance,” said DA Gascón.

SB 114, by Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys),

Another safe-for-now bill from Sen. Mitchell, SB 555, aims to reduce commissary prices and phone call costs for jailed people and their family members, who often bear the financial burden of communicating with locked up loved ones.

A final Mitchell bill to move forward, SB 716, would require court schools–inside local juvenile lockups–to offer post-secondary classes and/or vocational courses for kids who have finished high school.

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