April 12, 2021

MORRIS COUNTY AFRO-AMERICAN NEWS

MORRIS COUNTY AFRO-AMERICAN NEWS

Murphy: Still no timeline on mandatory minimums bill

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Measure nearing procedural deadline that could make it law without governor’s signature, but that’s likely a non-issue

April 07 2021 3:46 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday again declined to say when he might take action on a bill eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for a series of drug, property and public trust offenses that has sat on his desk for 37 days.

“No update on mandatory minimums,” he said.

The bill, passed both chambers of the legislature in narrow party-line votes. The Assembly sent it to Murphy’s desk on March 1, where it’s remained since, unsigned.

The governor supported an earlier version of the bill but balked after State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen) amended it to include official misconduct.

The current version of the bill eliminates mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for a slew of other offenses to the public trust, including tampering with public records and information and bribery in official matters, among several others.

The initial bill, based on the recommendations of the New Jersey Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, eliminated mandatory minimums only for a set of drug and property crimes.

Advocates argue official misconduct and the other offenses should be included in the bill because those laws are still prosecuted and enforced disparately along racial lines.

The time horizon threatens to bump the bill against a procedural deadline that could make the bill law without Murphy’s signature, though the situation is different than it was when marijuana legalization and decriminalization bills Murphy has since signed into law touched that deadline in February.

Bills that sit on the governor’s desk for more than 45 days become law when the chamber they originated in next meets for a quorum. That’s normally a big hurdle, but lawmakers in the statehouse are focused on the budget this month.

The Assembly’s next quorum isn’t until May 5, and the Senate won’t gather for the same until May 6.

Murphy is expected to conditionally veto the bill, and while the timing remains unclear, it’s likely he’ll put pen to paper before those quorums.

The Senate, the chamber that first introduced the bill, could schedule an earlier quorum in an attempt to skirt around the governor, though it’s not clear how successful such a maneuver would be. Quorums must be noticed under the state’s Open Public Meetings Act. It’s also not clear whether there’s appetite among Senate Democrats to attempt such a move.