OPINION: Justice bills that make sense to pursue

Readers of this newspaper have been treated to a number of columns from people involved in or affected by the continuing Wallingford ARPA saga, all of them interesting. Regular readers of this “From Wallingford” space have seen some from this author as well, and there is so much more to say. But this is Town of Wallingford budget month, and we need a couple of weeks off from ARPA.

In that effort, I saw a headline that read “Here are 14 justice-related bills the CT legislature may take up” that caught my eye. It was written by Jaden Edison and first published in The Connecticut Mirror. Given the progressive tilt of our state, I figured these bills were addressing Climate Justice, Environmental Justice, Social Justice or any of the innumerable injustices that progressives deem certain groups to be suffering from that only they can alleviate.

But, as I read through the article, I found areas where there was actual bipartisan support for some very common-sense tweaks of the laws that govern the justice system in this state. There were three bills in particular that seemed to indicate that the state knows that people are just plain fed up with the rampant crime that all the “reforms” they passed recently have unleashed. Here are three bills in particular:

Bail Reform: The article notes that House Joint Resolution 261 “seeks to amend the state Constitution to allow courts to deny bail to people they consider a risk to safety. Under the current Constitution, courts can deny bail to someone convicted of a capital offense. But because the state repealed the death penalty in 2012, virtually anyone is entitled to bail.” Because it is an amendment to the state Constitution, the article says “Constitutional amendments must first pass through the House and Senate with three-fourths majority support or a simple majority in both chambers in two successive legislative terms.” Then it is presented to the voters.

It's a steep climb to be sure, and this may indeed have been put out for re-election purposes. No doubt progressives hope that we will forget about it during the long process, but at least they know that voters are incensed at the revolving-door bail system we have now.

Clean slate: Hopefully, voters in our state are astonished to find that some habitual criminals have had their record expunged, only to see them back at it again. There’s a lot of detail that there isn’t space to cover, but at least the article describes one of the changes like this: “It would limit clean slate to people who have completed their incarceration, have completed their probation and are not facing pending criminal charges.” That this language wasn’t in the original law is puzzling, but at least there’s an attempt to shut the door on the abuse now.

Juvenile justice: House Bill 6889 hopefully restores some of the assistance parents used to receive from the justice system that had been eliminated in recent years. Jaden Edison’s article explains: “[This bill] would restore the ‘family with service needs’ petition process and expand the definition of a family with service needs to include ‘a truant, or habitual truant, who has been continuously and overtly defiant of school rules and regulations.’ The process would allow a family with service needs to seek the help of the court who could then place the child in a community-based program or other service provider.” Now granted this is the Juvenile Court system, which appears to be notoriously lenient, but it is a recognition that there are parents in need of some serious assistance in dealing with their juvenile-delinquent offspring.

These are only three of the fourteen pieces of legislation described in the article. The entire article is worth reading, so here’s a link: https://ctmirror.org/2023/04/06/ct-legislative-session-justice-bills/. There are some proposals that you will wish didn’t have to be written into law, such as outlawing the ridiculously inhumane treatment by the New Haven Police Department that rendered poor Randy Cox paralyzed. Other bills require things that you would think wouldn’t be necessary to write into law. Some was election-year window-dressing, such as the gun control legislation, which is our politicians’ “We must do something!” reaction to almost everything.

But as can be seen if you read about all these bills, behind the scenes there was attention paid to real problems, and an unspoken admission that some of the previous laws coming out of Hartford were causing real harm as written and needed to be reexamined and tightened up. Granted that these bills aren’t law yet, and may never survive the process yet to come. But it is encouraging to see some serious work being done in the State Capitol building. Lord knows we need more of it.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.


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