Assembly Fails to Vote on Bail Reform Package

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto put a damper on the governor’s call to pass a bail reform package today in both houses.

The deadline for getting part of it — a constitutional amendment — onto this year’s ballot is Monday.

When asked if action will be taken Monday, Assemblyman Lou Greenwald said, “Obviously, there’s certainly potential for that and we’ll have conversation with our members over the weekend.”

Supporters say the bail system needs reform.

“When we had the public hearing a week ago, we had 30 groups testify in favor,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

“We’re going to keep the worse guys in jail and we’re going to let those who are in jail be there because not how thick their wallet is but the risk to society,” said Sen. Donald Norcross.

Opponents, many of them African-American, worry about the implications of removing a right to bail from the state constitution.

“I am against tinkering with the constitution with a four-day deadline for a bill that needs a lot more discussion. It needs a comprehensive study. It needs to be vetted. And I don’t see what the urgency is to change it at this time. We have a year, two years to do it,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson.

“This is something that’s of urgent concern to our people,” said Gov. Chris Christie.

In his address to members of both houses today, Christie described a criminal justice system out of balance.

“So this is not about me or you, it is not about politics. It’s about the people whose lives are dramatically altered dramatically altered by events that happen on our streets and in our prisons because we have a system that’s supposed to be rooted in fairness and as it has evolved over time is no longer serving those people or our aspiration to have a fair and just criminal justice system,” Christie said.

Christie singled out a victim of unfair bail practices.

“I sat in there for four months knowing I didn’t do anything. I was just mad, I lost my job,” said Iquan Small.

When asked for any reaction to the news that the Assembly was not going to vote today, Christie said, “Don’t know.”

The calculus here?

“Well, you have a new leader in the Assembly and you have a Senate president who’s been around for a while. So I think you have to feel each other out. And I think the governor and Vinnie Prieto are feeling each other out a little bit,” Assemblyman Jon Bramnick said.

The Senate met around 3 o’clock and heeded the governor’s call, passing both the constitutional amendment and a companion bill despite impassioned protests from two senators.

“There’s serious civil rights and constitutional issues that make the legislation illegal. Make it bad,” said Sen. Ron Rice.

“We had in fact none of the issues we are set to vote on today in 2014, will ever be implemented until 2017. So what’s the rush?” said Sen. Nia Gill.

So now it’s up to the Assembly.

When asked if a vote was possible Monday, Prieto said, “It’s still a possibility. We have until Monday, yes.” When asked if that’s likely, he said, “It’s possible. How’s that?”