THE 2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION
The 2019 Legislative session is up and running. We will soon be adding a list of all bills of interest. For now, we've listed one bill in particular that is of interest to many. In order to become a law, a bill must pass through committees, floor votes in each chamber, and be signed into law by the Governor. Most bills will simply not be heard. If you want to read the full text of any bill, go to the ARIZONA STATE LEGISLATURE website and type the bill number in the upper right-hand corner of the page. Then, press "documents" to read a pdf version of the bill:
HB = House Bill SB=Senate Bill
HB 2270: This bill does propose to alter the criminal sentencing code in Arizona by reducing sentences from flat-time to 85% for some sex offenders; 85% to 75% for some dangerous offenders, and from 85% to 50% fo all others. Unfortunately, the writers of the bill, AFSC in Tucson, are publicizing that the bill will reduce dangerous sentences to 65%, but their math calculation for that portion of sentences is actually proposing 75%. It is extremely important to note that NONE of the sentences changes proposed in this bill would apply retroactively. That means that no one currently in prison or in jail who is currently charged with a crime would be affected by this bill. The proposed sentencing provisions would apply ONLY prospectively -- in the future, after the effective date of the new law. If you sign up for our digital alerts, we will keep you notified as to the progress of this bill. We have notified the bill's sponsor and other key legislators about the bill's proposal for 75% instead of 65%, and we don't know if that will result in a proposed amendment to the bill or if it would be left as is. The bill seems to have some support by both Republicans and Democrats, but it will be aggressively opposed by prosecutor's, victim's rights groups, and possibly by police. The Governor has not given any hints about his opinion on major sentencing reform; he openly supports programs to "reduce recidivism." No hearings have yet been scheduled. We will update this site and notify our email alert list members as new information becomes available.
UPDATE: Many, many of you have sent emails, called or contacted us on other forms of social media. Some have been angry, assuming we are "killing" hope and that we don't support sentencing reform. This couldn't be further from the truth and any suggestions in this light are patently false. No group in the state of Arizona has worked LONGER or MORE INTELLIGENTLY for prison/sentencing reform than Middle Ground. What we are is: Truthful. Accurate. We believe it is utterly cruel to spread false hope, incorrect information and bad rumors and we simply won't stand by to let that happen when we have a platform (and a responsibility) to live up to our own expectations. If we are perfectly candid, we think the writers of HB 2270 went way too far to try to overhaul the entire sentencing code in Arizona. There has never been a time in the history of Arizona's criminal code when any prisoner has EVER been released from prison automatically after serving only 50% of his/her sentence. But that is what a portion of HB 2270 does propose. Most sentences for sex crimes are flat-time sentences. Yet, HB 2270 is contradictoy in that regard because in one section it states that flat-time sentences are not impacted by the bill. In another section, it says that dangerous crimes against children sentences will be reduced to 85%. But most of them are flat-time. It is as though no one with a background in criminal justice sentencing actually read the draft bill. Yet, we were challenged by AFSC when we advised of the problems with their bill by assuring us "we have consulted with licensed practicing attorneys and respected national organizations" (who vetted or wrote the bill). Hmmmmmmm.
James Hamm is the only person in the state of Arizona who doesn't work for the DOC who is qualified in the courts as an expert witness on time computation with regard to Arizona's criminal code. We trust his expertise when examing legislative proposals that seek to alter the criminal code.
HB 2270 was not vetted with the necessary stakeholders. It is sponsored by just one lone legislator; a new legislator at that. It has been assigned to two committees (plus Rules committee) which is usually the "kiss of death" to a bill. The writing, folks, is on the wall. Sentencing reform in Arizona is not going to proceed like it has or will in other states. Calling in outside groups to weigh in and give their opinions about how Arizona should run its criminal justice system is never a good idea here. It is resented and mocked by legislative leaders; it is not revered as it seems to be by some who propose reform. This is not killing hope -- it is being utterly, stubbornly and completely honest. And that's what we will continue to be and do.
If you are a person who wants sugar-coated information, pie-in-the-sky 1970's rah-rah rallies, or other pollyanna slogans to make you feel better, then we are not the group for you. MIDDLE GROUND means middle-of-the-road approaches which take into consideration all stakeholder's, including victims, into account when making proposals and suggesting solutions. We aggressively protect the civil and constitutional rights of prisoners, but respect and acknowledge the rights of others who also have a stake in the operation of the criminal justice system. We believe the sentencing code in Arizona is too harsh and that many changes are necessary, but we don't believe that sweeping, revolutionary changes which occur all at once are possible or practical. And we don't believe that our Legislature and our Governor (two necessary components in the process of changing our criminal code) have given indication of support for sweeping change.
We will all have to wait and see what happens with HB 2270, but we are not holding our breath.
To pass into law, a bill must be heard by two committees in its originating chamber (either the House or the Senate) and then, if passed out of those committees, it must be voted on and passed by a majority vote of the entire chamber. It can be amended along the way. Then, it moves to the next chamber where it is reheard in two more committees, with possible amendments added, and must be voted on by a majority of the second chamber, too. Sometimes, it has to go back to its originating chamber. Next, it goes to the Governor's office where it can be signed into law or vetoed. Citizens cannot introduce a bill; it must be introduced by a member of the legislature. Due to our Republican controlled House and Senate, a bill has a much greater chance of being heard in committee (and eventually passed into law) if it has multiple sponsors who are Republicans. Bills sponsored by Democrats only are rarely even heard in a committee, much less passed into law.
Now is the time to register to vote if you are not already registered. You should become aware of your two (2) state representatives (in the House of Representatives) and your one (1) state senator. These are the people that you should contact when we ask you to support or oppose a bill. You may think that your vote doesn't count, but that simply isn't true. It is important to vote and to keep your voter registration active so that you do have a voice in the way the government is operated in Arizona.
When dealing with state prison or county jail legislative issues, you have to be aware of the correct people to contact. Members of the United States Congress do not deal with individual state issues; for example, the U.S. Congress only deals with the Federal Prison (BOP - Bureau of Prisons). Most of the issues we deal with are state prison or county jail issues. So, if you are dealing with a state prison issue, you must contact the Governor and your state representatives or senator. If you are dealing with a county jail issue, you must contat your elected representative on the County Board of Supervisors. If dealing with a private prison, you must deal with the agency that contracted with that private prison in order to house prisoners for the agency.