Senate Democrats Block Sen. Bates' Bill to Reclassify Heinous Crimes as "Violent"

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Democrats on the Senate Public Safety Committee today voted down Senate Bill 75 by Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) on a partisan 5 to 2 vote that would have expanded the definition of “violent felonies.” It would have covered additional offenses deemed to be serious and violent in nature by many Californians, including solicitation to commit murder and assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer or firefighter.

“I respect my Democratic colleagues on the Public Safety Committee for philosophically disagreeing with me on the length of prison sentences, but blocking my violent felony bill today nevertheless jeopardizes the safety of all Californians,” said Bates. “I do not understand how anyone can say with a straight face that crimes such as assault with a deadly weapon on law enforcement should continue to be considered ‘non-violent.’ People who commit the crimes covered by Senate Bill 75 deserve to be in prison longer because of the physical and emotional harm they inflict on victims.”

Californians passed Proposition 57 last year that increases parole and good behavior opportunities for prison inmates convicted of “non-violent” crimes and allows judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court. Opponents of the measure lacked the financial resources to broadly convey the argument that several serious crimes are legally considered “non-violent” and could make such offenders eligible for early release.

Though Prop. 57 was intended to save the state money, it could lead to more crimes being committed by criminals released early from prison. SB 75 sought to address this weakness in law by expanding the definition of “violent felonies” to include:

  • vehicular manslaughter
  • human trafficking involving a minor
  • battery with personal infliction of serious bodily injury
  • throwing acid or a flammable substance
  • assault with a deadly weapon
  • assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer or firefighter
  • assault with a deadly weapon by a state prison inmate
  • discharging a firearm at an occupied dwelling, building, vehicle or aircraft
  • rape where victim is legally incapable of giving consent
  • rape of an unconscious person
  • rape/sodomy/oral copulation of an unconscious person or by use of date rape drugs
  • inflicting corporal injury on a child
  • domestic violence
  • arson of a structure or forest land
  • arson of property
  • solicitation to commit murder
  • grand theft of a firearm
  • any felony involving the personal use of a deadly weapon
  • holding a hostage by a state prison inmate
  • exploding a destructive device or explosive with intent to injure.

Some argued that SB 75 was unnecessary because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has adopted new emergency regulations that exclude all eligible sex offenders, some “three-strikers” and anyone with a recent disciplinary violation from benefiting from Prop. 57. However, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report earlier this month finding that the new emergency regulations appear to violate Prop. 57. This could lead to costly litigation and potentially the reversal of the emergency regulations.

While a bipartisan proposal (Assembly Bill 27) authored by Assembly Members Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) and Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher (D-San Diego) has already cleared the Assembly Public Safety Committee, that bill only focuses on sex crimes. Bates’ SB 75 would have covered additional crimes, which would have made it harder for those convicted of such crimes to qualify for early release as provided by Prop. 57.

The committee discussion on SB 75 can be viewed here. Testimony by Dawn Froeschner, a mother and former CDCR parole agent who spoke in favor of SB 75, can be viewed here.