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The Midnight Express

We have known for some time that the leadership of the California Legislature was planning some significant changes to sentencing law. Now, however, early on the morning of the vote we find out that the plan includes an appointed sentencing commission with the power to make massive rewrites in sentencing law, subject only to an affirmative veto by the Legislature and the Governor. As everyone who has done any legislative work knows, it is far easier to kill a bill than pass one.

The purpose of this commission is to effectively disenfranchise the people of California on the subject of criminal sentencing by insulating most of the legislators from the wrath of the voters when our laws are softened and criminals are let loose to prey on us again. The veto bills will be killed in committees by members from "safe" districts, and the legislators from competitive districts will be able to tell angry constituents they would have voted for the veto, but it never got to the floor.

Jack Chang has this story in the SacBee. The state's two largest newspapers are pretending the story doesn't exist.

I'd like to give you a link to the text of the bill, but it seems to be a well-kept secret as of this writing. "Don't read it, just vote on it," seems to be the message.

Fortunately, two provisions of the California Constitution come to the rescue. The referendum provision of Article II, § 9 gives the people 90 days to gather signatures to put the bill on the ballot and suspend it pending the vote. Article IV, § 8 provides the necessary delay in the effective date. Both provisions can be overridden by making the bill an "urgency" bill, but that takes a 2/3 vote of both houses, of which there is not a snowball's chance in hell.

Doug Berman has this post at SL&P. He writes, "there tends to be consensus in the academic community that the creation of a sentencing commission can help a jurisdiction reform (or at least monitor) criminal justice law and practices effectively." Yes, we must not let the Great Unwashed get their filthy little fingers on sentencing policy. Sentencing commissions allow philosopher kings to decide what is best for the people, whether they like it or not.

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