STATE – Gov. Chris Christie is calling the Legislature into special session Thursday to consider changes to the state’s bail system that would provide for pretrial detention of certain criminal defendants, establish non-monetary alternatives for release and authorize the judiciary branch to revise fees for certain legal programs and services, upon voter approval.
In order for a constitutional amendment to get on the ballot this November, lawmakers must approve the measure with 60 percent majorities in both houses no later than Monday, Aug. 4.
“Together we can take action on this critical matter of public importance,” said Christie in a letter to legislative leaders. “The security and stability of our communities demands that we take this action now.”
“We can only improve our quality of life by keeping the most violent criminals off the streets,” Christie wrote. “So, I ask you to approve my bail reform package, which would mirror the federal system. It would keep offenders with a history of violence who are a danger to our communities in jail until the time of their trial, instead of releasing them into society to prey on the public… This, too, is just simple common sense.”
Christie, who has been travelling throughout the country, is planning visits to more than half a dozen states, including Mississippi and Alabama, as head of the Republican Governors Association.
Stops in many early-voting and swing states, have added to speculation that Christie’s intends to seek the presidency in 2016.
“The governor has authority to call a special session, but that doesn’t change the fact that this legislation remains a work in progress, with significant questions and concerns and a lack of consensus among Assembly members,” said state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson).
Two measures to overhaul the bail system are pending, including a constitutional amendment that would permit judges to deny bail to dangerous defendants and companion legislation that would establish non-monetary alternatives in lieu of bail so poor offenders don’t have to remain in jail for months waiting on a trial.
Current state law only allows judges to deny bail to persons charged with capital offenses but since New Jersey repealed the death penalty in 2007, there are no capital offenses and it is impossible to deny a prisoner bail.
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