California governor signs bail reform; gun control measures advance
Gov. Jerry Brown is being criticized for allowing the bail reform bill to be watered down. | AP

When California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 10, the California Bail Reform Act, on Aug. 28, the state took a step no other state has yet taken – it replaced the current money bail system with a system of procedures to assess a defendant’s risk of failing to appear in court or causing further harm.

SB 10 was first introduced last year by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, with co-author Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Alameda. It aims to replace the current system under which many people who can’t afford bail are jailed for long periods awaiting trial, with standardized “risk assessment tools” meant to let low-risk defendants stay out of jail before they are tried. Judges will also have broad powers to order “preventive detention” when a defendant is seen as a flight risk or a danger to the community.

“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor are treated fairly,” Brown said as he signed the bill.

Hertzberg said SB 10 creates a fairer system for all Californians. “Our path to a more just criminal justice system is not complete,” he said, “but today it made a transformational shift away from valuing private wealth and toward protecting public safety.”

Bonta added, “Freedom and liberty should never be pay to play,” while California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye called the signing “a transformative day for our justice system.”

But other responses, including from civil rights organizations strongly backing the bill at the time of its introduction, were less positive.

On its way to enactment, SB 10 was amended following negotiations with Brown and with the state Judicial Council, which sets policy for the state’s court system. When the new version was introduced, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, Human Rights Watch and others dropped their support.

Among their concerns was judges’ ability to order “preventative detention” which they said could result in disproportionate numbers of people of color being held before trial, rather than creating a fairer, more just system.

After the bill was signed, the executive directors of the ACLU’s three California affiliates said in a statement that they were “disappointed” in Brown’s action. They said the amended bill “is not the model for pretrial justice and racial equity” the state should strive for, and contains key provisions creating “significant new risks and problems.”

The three – Abdi Soltani of Northern California, Hector Villagra of Southern California and Norma Chavez Peterson of San Diego and Imperial Counties – pledged to work with lawmakers to achieve “significant reduction in incarceration” while providing due process and promoting racial justice.

SB 10 is slated to go into effect in October 2019, but predictably, the bail industry is trying its best to make sure that won’t happen. A coalition of bail industry associations, crime victims and others has just announced a campaign to put an initiative to block it on the November 2020 ballot. If in the next three months they can get some 336,000 voters to sign on, SB 10 will remain in limbo for an additional year.

Meanwhile, this is the week the legislature must wrap up its work for 2018. Among the many bills it is sending Gov. Brown to sign or veto are four measures further tightening the state’s already stringent gun ownership laws. Brown has until Sept. 30 to do so.

AB 3129, introduced by Assemblymember Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, would impose a lifetime ban on gun ownership for people convicted of serious misdemeanor domestic violence. The bill would replace the state’s current 10-year ban, which is much more lenient than the lifetime ban imposed by federal law.

Noting that half of all female homicide victims “are killed by intimate partners,” Rubio said Aug. 27 that the legislature must do more to ensure the safety of survivors of domestic violence.

“This bill is about saving lives,” Rubio said. She pointed out that abused women are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser owns a firearm, while domestic violence assaults involving a gun are 12 times more likely to end in death than assault with other weapons, or other forms of physical harm.

The measure would take effect on Jan. 1, 2019 and would not be retroactive for prior misdemeanor offenses.

Another measure, AB 2103, introduced by Assemblymembers Todd Gloria and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher – both Democrats from San Diego – would require applicants for concealed-carry weapons permits to take a minimum of eight hours of training in firearm safety and handling, and demonstrate their proficiency by performing live-fire exercises on a firing range.

California currently has no minimum training requirement, so a person who has never fired a gun or been trained to handle one safely can obtain a permit to carry a loaded gun in public.

Joining Gloria and Gonzalez Fletcher as co-authors are 13 Assemblymembers and two state senators – all Democrats.

A third bill, AB 1968, introduced by Assemblymember Evan Low, D-Campbell, provides that Californians who are placed in involuntary psychiatric holds by a court more than once a year could be barred for life from owning firearms.

Low said the measure “tightens our laws to keep firearms out of the hands of people who may be suicidal or violent. Restricting their access to firearms will save lives.” He noted that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention calls mental health afflictions a leading contributor to suicide, and 51 percent of suicides involve firearms.

A fourth, AB 2888, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida earlier this year, would let teachers, employers and co-workers ask judges to take firearms away from people they see as threats to the public for at least 21 days and possibly as long as a year.

Ting noted that before that shooting, “teachers and administrators expressed increasing concern about the gunman’s behavior at school … We need to give California schools more tools to prevent another campus tragedy.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for the People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.

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