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Ronald Kimbrough 3rd Dist. Morris Township

Senate Judiciary advances bill eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes

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North Bergen Mayor and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco

Inclusion of official misconduct could mean it’s dead on arrival

By Nikita BiryukovFebruary 16 2021 4:45 pm

A Senate panel on Tuesday advanced a bill that would remove mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for a bevy of non-violent drug and property crimes, but despite a new bill number, the measure still includes changes to sentencing guidelines for official misconduct.

The bill largely resembles a previous one that, on the recommendation of the New Jersey Sentencing and Criminal Disposition Commission, eliminated minimum sentencing for crimes like possession and burglary, among others.

Its provisions were broadly supported, but its path through the legislature was upended when State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen) surreptitiously added an amendment removing sentencing guidelines for official misconduct.

Politico New Jersey later reported Walter Somick, the son of Sacco’s longtime girlfriend, faced an official misconduct charge.

Those provisions still exist in the new bill, which also removes mandatory minimums for a series of offenses committed by elected officials and public employees, including some bribery charges, money laundering and tampering with public records, among many others.

The bill met with no opposition during Tuesday’s hearing. The few who did testify said it would held reduce harmful incarcerations that impose burdensome costs on the state.

Still, its future is uncertain. No equivalent bill exists in the Assembly, though it’s possible one will be introduced at the chamber’s quorum on Thursday. The chamber could also adopt it through a substitution, though that’d require lawmakers jump through some procedural hurdles, if not particularly difficult ones.

Gov. Phil Murphy may prove the bill’s largest barrier. Though he backed the original version of the earlier bill, Murphy has repeatedly said the official misconduct amendments were out of step with the Commission’s recommendations.

It’s not clear whether his thinking has changed.

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