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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe.)

Murphy will conditionally veto mandatory minimums bill

Governor opposes plan to end 5-year sentences on criminal misconduct charges

By David Wildstein and Nikita Biryukov, April 18 2021 5:11 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy will conditionally veto legislation that eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for official misconduct offenses involving public official, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

The governor’s office has begun notifying interested parties that he won’t sign a bill also ends mandatory minimums for a series of drug and property crimes.

Murphy is expected to act before a deadline of noon tomorrow.

Though he supported a previous bill eliminating mandatory minimums for a set of non-violent drug and property crimes drafted in line with recommendations from the New Jersey Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, Murphy balked after State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen) amended the bill to also remove minimum sentences for official misconduct.

Sacco abstained on the measure when it came before the Senate in 2007.

That bill stalled after Murphy signaled his opposition, but lawmakers later advanced a new version that removed mandatory minimum sentences for a greater number of crimes against the public trust, including certain bribery charges and document tampering, among others.

Lawmakers sent the newer bill to Murphy’s desk on March 1.

In New Jersey, bills that sit on the governor’s desk for 45 days become law when the chamber they originated in next meets for a quorum.

The rarely relevant rule came into play during the state’s efforts to stand up its legal marijuana market earlier this year, and it’ll likely force Murphy to act on the mandatory minimums bill before noon on Monday, when the State Senate is set to meet for its first quorum since March 22.

Murphy has repeatedly declined to say how — or whether — he would act on the bill, though he’s signaled opposition to removing sentencing requirements for official misconduct and related offenses.

Senate President Steve Sweeney last week declined to say what the Senate will do if Murphy conditionally vetoes the bill.

A conditional veto could leave legislators with few options. It’s unlikely they’ll have the votes to override a veto. The latest version cleared the Senate in a 23-14 vote that largely fell along party lines, with three members not voting. Twenty-seven votes are needed to override a veto in the upper chamber.

It passed the assembly 46-20 with four abstentions. It would need 54 yes votes for an override.

But it’s not clear lawmakers would be willing to override a veto as they and the governor prepare to seek re-election this year.

Sweeney, for one, declined to say whether he would pursue the avenue or believed he could secure the votes for an override.

Though Democrats in the legislature came close to overturning a 2019 veto Murphy issued on a bill requiring issues-advocacy non-profits and some other groups to disclose their donors in certain circumstances, that was avoided after Murphy agreed to sign a bill largely identical to the one he vetoed.

Sweeney also looked to President Joe Biden’s administration in hopes that a campaign promise to provide grants to states that eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes could bring the governor around on the issue.

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