THE 2020 LEGISLATIVE SESSION
HB = House Bill SB=Senate Bill
To read the content of any bill, type "Arizona State Legislature" into your search engine. On the home page in the upper right hand corner, there is a rectangular box for bill number. Type in the bill number you wish to view. When it comes up, click on "documents" to view the original introduced version of the bill, and be sure to scroll down to examine and adopted amendments. If you see "engrossed" version of the bill, that means it passed its original chamber (either the House or the Senate) and will now move to the opposite chamber for consideration. If you continue to scroll, you'll eventually be able to see if the bill was actually passed into law and signed by the Governor. This would be the "chaptered version." If a bill fails during one legislative session, it does not retain its bill number during any subsequent sessions. If, for example, a sentencing reform bill is introduced in one year's session and it fails or never gets a hearing (example HB 2270 in the 2019 session), it is not re-introduced under the same bill number the next year. In fact, it may not be re-introduced at all. It might be re-written in an attempt to correct the problems that resulted in its failure in the previous legislative session.
Here's What Happened At the 2020 Legislative Session: HB 2808, which proposed to allow non-dangerous prisoners to earn release credits so that they would serve 65% of an imposed sentence, instead of the current requirement to serve 85.7% until release eligibility, passed through the House of Representatives. It was not immediately scheduled for any hearings in the Senate and we heard rumors that it was in trouble with that chamber. However, before any confirmation of or resolution to problems, COVID 19 concerns caused the Arizona Legislature to adjourn early, which means that HB 2808 along with many other bills, died. If a similar sentencing reform bill is introduced in the 2021 Session, it will be assigned a different bill number. Officially, HB 2808 is dead.
Middle Ground was the only prisoner rights advocacy organization to testify in support of SB 1310 during the 2019 Legislative session. This bill allows prisoners to earn release credits at a rate that would allow them to serve 70% of the imposed sentence, as opposed to the current requirement for 85%. It applies only to those serving sentences for possession of marijuana, dangerous drugs, narcotic drugs or drug paraphrenalia. The prisoner must take a drug treatment program or "any self-improvement program," and must not previously have been convicted of a violent offense or aggravated felony. According to statistics provided by DOC, it affects anywhere between 1,100 to 3,200 prisoners. SB 1310 is being applied retroactively and became effective June 8, 2019. IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT SB 1310 WAS THE ONLY SENTENCING REFORM BILL WHICH PASSED INTO LAW DURING THE 2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION. HB 2270 died in that same session without ever being given a hearing.
Many, many of you have sent emails, called or contacted us on other forms of social media. A few 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 (since 1983). 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 BE AWARE: 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. Therefore, when we analyze a proposed bill that suggests sentencing reform by providing additional earned release credits to some classes of felonies, for example, we know exactly what the impact will be and can take into account all factors affecting sentencing calculations. The vast majority of defense attorneys and other attorneys in Arizona simply don't understand exactly how the sentencing code applies to complicated sentencing schemes, such as combining consecutive sentences; mixing flat-time and earned release credit sentences; mixing old code (pre1994) and newer code (post 1994) sentences; calculating release eligibility dates which take into account Classe time and forfeiture of earned release credits; and the difference between community supervision calculations and earned release credit calculations (they are different!). IT IS CLEAR THAT MANY CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEYS DON'T UNDERSTAND SENTENCE CALCULATIONS BECAUSE (1) THIS IS REFLECTED IN THE NUMBER OF PETITIONS FOR POST CONVICTION RELIEF WHICH ARE FILED EACH YEAR ALLEGING INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL BECAUSE THE ATTORNEY DID NOT ACCURATELY EXPLAIN THE SENTENCING CONSEQUENCES OF A PLEA AGREEMENT; (2) DEFENSE ATTORNEYS OFTEN RETAIN JAMES HAMM OF MIDDLE GROUND AS AN EXPERT TO CALCULATE SENTENCES FOR THEIR CLIENTS.
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.