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Senator Nicholas J. Sacco. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Mandatory minimums bill heads back to governor’s desk

Identical bill vetoed in April

By Nikita Biryukov, June 24 2021 7:51 pm

Lawmakers in the Assembly approved in a party line vote a bill eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for a series of non-violent drug and property crimes that also eliminates sentencing guidelines for a series of offenses to the public trust Thursday.

The chamber’s 44-25 vote comes after the Senate passed the bill earlier this month. Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed an identical bill earlier this year over the inclusion of official misconduct and related offenses, including certain bribery charges, earlier this year.

The governor’s opposition stemmed from the bill’s departure from the recommendations of the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, which did not urge the removal of minimum sentencing guidelines for the public trust offenses.

An earlier version of the bill did not remove minimums for official misconduct, its impact limited to drug and property crimes, but was instead added by an amendment put forth State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen).

Politico New Jersey later reported Walter Somick, the son of Sacco’s longtime girlfriend, faced a count of official misconduct in North Bergen.

Sweeney is hoping time, along with a campaign to remove the state’s mandatory sentencing guidelines that has kept some level of activity since the governor’s April veto, will have changed Murphy’s mind.

“We’re going to try to work with the governor. Sometimes things, they change they minds,” Sweeney said. “We felt strongly. We really felt strongly as a body, and I appreciate the Assembly doing it because what are we talking about? We’re talking about letting judges decide.”

It’s not clear that the result will be different the second time around.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a directive ordering prosecutors to waive mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes in time with Murphy’s veto, and a bill loosening penalties for official misconduct and similar crimes poses an obvious political liability in an election year.

It’d take little work for Jack Ciattarelli, Murphy’s Republican opponent for the governorship, to turn the bill into an attack over enabling public corruption.

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