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Controversial legislation to cut $1.2 billion from California's prison spending will return today to the Assembly, which will convene at noon.

The lower house balked Thursday at approving a Senate-passed prisons bill that is supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass ultimately adjourned her house at midnight without settling on a plan.

California is under judicial and budgetary pressure to overhaul its prison system, which is accommodating far more inmates than it was designed to house.

Negotiations reportedly continue on a compromise plan between the two houses, but meanwhile, Assembly members were expected over the weekend to consider amendments crafted their leaders.

Key changes proposed by the Assembly would:

  • Eliminate a proposal that would allow the release of up to 6,300 "lower-risk" inmates -- under house arrest with electronic monitoring -- who are medically infirm, aged, or serving the final 12 months of their sentence.
  • Retain the ability for prosecutors to charge suspects with felonies for committing any of three crimes: writing bad checks, receiving stolen property, or petty theft with a prior conviction.
  • Require theft of property valued at about $950 or more to support a felony charge of grand theft. The Senate version would have raised the current $400 threshold much higher - to $2,500.
  • Allow inmates to earn up to four months in additional sentencing credits for completion of rehabilitation, education or vocation programs in prison. The Senate version called for up to six weeks of credits.
  • Alter the structure of a proposed sentencing commission that would have broad powers to rewrite sentencing guidelines.

The Assembly version would raise the commission's voting members from 13 to 14. It also would grant law enforcement more clout both by adding a representative from rank-and-file and by requiring that any actions of the commission by approved by two law enforcement members. A requirement that an ex-felon receive a nonvoting seat would be eliminated.

The Assembly's changes to the sentencing commission proposal angered California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, representing public defenders and criminal defense attorneys in private practice.

"This amendment will eliminate any independence of the proposed sentencing commission," said Ted Cassman, president of the group, in a written statement. "A single interest group should not be able to hold sentencing reform hostage in California."


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