THE UPCOMING 2018 LEGISLATIVE SESSION
We are scheduled to meet with key legislators regarding some bills of interest for the upcoming session. Once a bill is written and obtains an official sponsor, we will keep you informed.
THE FIASCO OF BILLS AT THE 2017 LEGISLATIVE SESSION
During the 2017 regular legislative session, no new bills were passed into law which changed the sentencing laws in Arizona. One bill was proposed to change some future sentences to 75%, but it also required non-violent offenders to serve 42% of the imposed sentence on community supervision (currently; 15%). This bill, SB 1068, was authored by American Friends Service Committee and/or by their paid lobbyist, Barry Aarons. On the AFSC website, they claimed that the bill would reduced Class 2,3,4,5 and 6 non-violent offender sentences to 65%, but the math in their proposed bill amounted to 75%. They did not understand how to calculate earned release credits in Arizona's criminal code. They also thought they were improving the community supervision requirements for the same cohort, but -- again -- did not know how to calculate community supervision time under Arizona's criminal code. We opposed this bill, pointed out its inherent flaws to the committee members, and the bill was held. A bill that Middle Ground was asked to write for Sen. Sylvia Allen -- SB 1171 -- proposed 66% time for Class 4,5 and 6 non-dangerous/non-repetitive offenders, but the Chair of the Judiciary Committee refused to hear the bill. When SB 1068 was held, AFSC then adopted into 1068 the language we had used in 1171, but they proposed 66% for Class 5 and 6 felonies only, and they included repetitive offenders in this bill. We could not support this bill either because including repetitive offenders meant that no matter if someone had a previous sex offense, murder offense, or ten or twelve previous offenses, they would still receive the benefits of having to serve only 66% to release eligibility on a subsequent Class 5 or 6 offense, and this is just insane. The bill was HELD and we believe it is "dead" for 2017. We hope that AFSC will learn more about the actual criminal code in Arizona (ACLU lawyers, David's Hope, The Salvation Army and other lawyer groups also signed on in support of 1068, so we hope they will also study the code) and we will work to insure a proper bill is once again introduced in the 2018 session. As written, 1068 had no chance of passing into law and it would have been grossly unfair to non-violent offenders if it had passed into law.
Meanwhile, SB 1067 proposed to require the DOC to write a "graduated sanctions policy" for those released prisoners on parole or community supervision. However, one portion of the bill proposed to allow the DOC to "sanction" a released person with up to 5 days in county jail, with no more than 30 days/year in jail. The decision to impose this sanction was proposed to take place behind closed doors in the office of a parole officer, with no right to public scrutiny of the process, no right to an attorney or witnesses for the parolee or released person, and without involving the Board of Executive Clemency at all. This is a gross violation of due process and the DOC has no legal authority to "sentence" (sanction) anyone to county jail as part of a punishment. Again, this bill was written by AFSC/Barry Arrons, and we had to strongly oppose it on due process grounds. ACLU, David's Hope, The Salvation Army and other lawyers supported the original version of this bill which is sad and quite revealing. Don't they READ bills before they agree to support them? Don't they concern themselves with the Due Process rights of persons who are no longer prisoners, but who are RELEASED persons?
Interestingly, SB 1067 was never vetted with the Board of Executive Clemency -- which is the agency that is responsible for revoking persons on community supervision or parole. We have no idea why they were not consulted prior to writing this bill.
It should be clear that "do-gooders" sometimes don't do good. And thank goodness that Middle Ground is well versed in Arizona criminal sentencing laws and policies! SB 1067 was held in committee and revisions were made, including completely eliminating the 5-day jail sanction, but in order to proceed in the Legislature it will have to be attached as a "strike-everything" measure to another bill with a different bill number. At this posting, we don't know if that has taken place or not.
NO bills have been introduced to vastly modify the entire criminal sentencing code OR to apply to people already in prison.
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.