The first in a series of bills challenging the state's prison realignment received a cold reception today in the Assembly Public Safety Committee as members rejected legislation that would send sex offenders who violate their parole back to state prisons instead of county jails.
The 4-2 vote fell along party lines on Assembly Bill 2, which was authored by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga. Democrats voting against AB 2 cited the negative impact on the state's efforts to satisfy a court-ordered mandate to drastically reduce the prison population.
The Assembly committee's analysis of the bill said "returning perhaps thousands of violators to state custody would erode realignment and not advance the goal of reducing the prison population to required levels."
Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature launched a prison realignment in 2011 that shifted responsibility for thousands of lower-level offenders and parole violators from state prisons and parole officers to county jails and probation departments.
Morrell said the state hasn't lived up to its promise of shifting only lower-level offenders.
"The duty of the Legislature is to protect our citizens," Morrell said. "And I know there are party lines, but this was a failure today and I'm astounded that they voted it down. What they are saying is that I guess they give preference to sex offenders over families. This is bad for our state."
Morrell's proposal was one of 10 bills pegged as a Republican realignment reform package. His bill called for sex offenders who fail to register with authorities as part of the condition of their parole to serve time in prison for the violation.
Other bills include AB 605 by Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona, which would send sex offenders who violate any provision of their parole back to state prison, while AB 63 by Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, would sentence sex offenders and other criminals who remove their GPS tracking devices to state prison.
Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, introduced Senate Bill 57 to increase penalties for those who remove court-ordered GPS monitoring devices. Lieu isn't the only Democrat to join Republicans in introducing a bill that challenges the prison realignment.
Democratic Assembly members Susan Talamantes Eggman, of Stockton, and Ken Cooley, of Rancho Cordova, introduced Assembly Bill 601 to allow parole violators to be returned to state prison for up to one year.
Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, voted against Morrell's bill and said she isn't ready to ditch realignment.
"Sometimes it's difficult in situations like that," Mitchell said. "You don't want your no vote to be interpreted as a lack of sensitivity to victims. It's not about that. It's the devil is in the details."
"There already is a way in which, following the process on the books, sex offenders can be managed and dealt with, either on the local level in the county jail or being referred back to state prison," Mitchell said. "I wasn't in favor of circumventing a process that already exists."
Assemblywomen Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, and Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, voted in favor of Morrell's bill.
"To me it was a no-brainer," Melendez said. "To most people I know, it's a no-brainer."
PHOTO CREDIT: Inmates await assessment before integrating into the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer.