Home>Governor>Murphy still mum on mandatory minimums bill as measure brushes against procedural deadline

North Bergen Mayor and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen). (Photo: Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe)

Murphy still mum on mandatory minimums bill as measure brushes against procedural deadline

Bill could become law at Monday’s Senate quorum

By Nikita Biryukov, April 14 2021 3:29 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy is running out of time to act on a bill eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for a series of drug, property and public trust crimes.

The legislation, sent to his desk on March 1 after votes that largely fell along party lines, has sat there for 44 days, threatening to push against a procedural deadline that could make it law without his signature.

In New Jersey, bills that reach the governor’s desk but remain unsigned for more than 45 days become law when the chamber they originated in next meets for a quorum.

Unless Murphy takes action on the measure, it’ll become law on April 19, when the State Senate meets for its first quorum since March, but the governor again declined to indicate whether he would act on a bill he is widely expected to conditionally veto.

“Nothing new on mandatory minimums, although I note the same as you did that the Senate has called a quorum for Monday,” he said.

Murphy supported a previous bill that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for a list of non-violent drug and property crimes that was drafted from recommendations issued by the New Jersey Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission.

But that bill’s path through the legislature grew complicated after State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen) amended it to also remove mandatory sentencing guidelines for official misconduct.

Politico New Jersey later reported Walter Somick, the son of Sacco’s longtime girlfriend, faced an official misconduct charge, which carries a mandatory minimum penalty of five years imprisonment.

The initial bill died, its Assembly sponsor, Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Perth Amboy), backing away from a new version that expands the number of offenses to the public trust — including tampering with public records and information and bribery in official matters, among several others — that would have their sentencing guidelines removed.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has argued in favor of the newer version, saying judges should have the ability to determine sentences on a case-by-case basis.

It’s also won the support of the State Bar Association and a coalition of faith leaders who argue official misconduct and the other offenses should be included because the state’s non-white residents are still disproportionately prosecuted for such crimes.

Murphy appears poised to conditionally veto the bill, a move that will likely see him remove provisions changing sentencing guidelines for crimes against the public trust.

The governor balked after the initial bill was amended, saying the changes went against the commission’s recommendations.

It’s not clear how the legislature will respond to a conditional veto.

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