Saturday, July 9, 2011

CCBA-Sponsored AB 545 Becomes R/OCA Victim

Question: How can a bill which is authored by the Speaker of the Assembly; which enjoys the strong support of law enforcement, women's groups, and anti-domestic violence organizations statewide; and which passed the first house of the Legislature without a 'No' vote, still be held in the Senate Public Safety Committee?

Answer: When the bill comes up against the committee's absolute R/OCA policy.

The bill in question is AB 545 by Assembly Speaker John A. PĂ©rez, which would add persons in a dating or engagement relationship to the list of person's protected by the felony domestic violence battery statute (Penal Code §273.5), thereby conforming the list of protected persons to all other DV-related statutes in the Penal, Family, Civil and Evidence Codes - and providing needed protection to, among others, pregnant teenagers who do not live with the father of their child-to-be. The bill is co-sponsored by the Los Angeles District Attorney's office and the CCBA (Resolution 06-05-2009, sponsored by 10 individual delegates under Conference rules), and is supported by the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, the California State Sheriffs’ Association, the California Commission on the Status of Women, and many others.

R/OCA stands for "Receivership/Overcrowding Crisis Aggravation" and, at its simplest, is a policy adopted by the Senate Public Safety Committee in 2007 in response to the prison overcrowding issue (in which the U.S. Supreme Court last May affirmed an order by a three-judge federal panel requiring California to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of design capacity -- a reduction at that time of roughly 40,000 inmates -- within two years) by holding in committee all legislative proposals which "could further exacerbate prison overcrowding through new or expanded felony prosecutions."

Because it would expand the list of persons who could be prosecuted for felony domestic violence (to include persons in a dating or engagement relationship), AB 545 fell into the R/OCA policy - even though in real life the bill probably would serve to reduce the number of individuals actually serving time in prison by making alternative - and more appropriate - sentencing available (e.g., felony probation). Thus, after receiving extensive testimony in support of the bill (and no testimony against) during the AB 545's June 28 hearing, committee Chair Loni Hancock announced with reluctance, and with apparent support for the bill's intent, that AB 545 would be held in committee until next year (see video of the hearing, starting at the 0:22:00 mark).

The good news is that the Budget package of bills recently signed into law by Governor Brown provides the framework for the state to comply with the federal court's order to slice California's prison population through the Governor's prison realignment program, and Hancock did express an intent to reconsider the R/OCA policy next year. The question is whether the state is far enough along towards meeting the goal by next June for AB 545 (or any other R/OCA victims) to be considered on their merits alone.

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