Assembly Passes Bail Reform Package

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Without debate, the Assembly passed the high-profile bail reform package.

It puts a constitutional amendment on the fall ballot allowing judges to deny bail to dangerous offenders.

A companion bill allows low-level, non-violent offenders to get out of jail without posting any bail.

“We wanna make sure that the high-risk offenders do not get the option of being out and hurting somebody else. And those low-risk that actually can’t afford bail are being able to get out and not get caught up in the system and rot away in jail,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

“We have violent offenders that commit crimes and within days they’re out on the street to commit more violence on other people. This will hopefully prohibit that,” said Assemblyman Anthony Bucco.

Gov. Chris Christie called a special session of the legislature last Thursday to push bail reform.

The Senate passed it that day.

The Assembly waited until today, the deadline for getting a measure on the fall ballot.

The vote on letting low-level offenders out was 53 to seven, with nine abstentions.

On the constitutional amendment denying bail to dangerous offenders, 60 to zero with eight abstentions.

“Along with education and public safety, having a justice system that works and works fair for all, I don’t know that there’s a higher priority for government,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli.

The Assembly also voted to put an open space funding measure on the fall ballot.

It would dedicate 4 percent of existing corporate business tax revenues to open space purchases, rising to 6 percent in 2019.

“I’m thrilled about this. I’ve worked on this for 12 years,” said Assemblyman John McKeon. He said it represents “a permanent source of funding for open space, and it’s all existing revenues.”

“It’s incredibly important we have continued open space funding. It’s one of the most successful programs in the state of New Jersey. Fifty years of funding for parks, farmland, and historic preservation and the coffers were about to run dry,” said Keep It Green Coalition Coordinator Kelly Mooij.

“We’re concerned because in the out-years it expands the constitutional dedication from 4 percent to 6 percent and that basically encumbers an additional $50 million a year in perpetuity,” said NJ Business and Industry Association First Vice President David Brogan.

The vote on open space was 58 to nine with one abstention.

“You passed an open space amendment to go in the constitution, and you passed bail reform, and you did it with both sides of the aisle. I think that’s pretty cool,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.

Constitutional amendments do not require the governor’s signature to get on the ballot, just a three-fifths majority for the current year or a simple majority two years in a row. Today the Assembly handed up two in less than half an hour.