The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Tensions rise over Board of Pardons legislation
HARTFORD — A feud broke out on Tuesday between Senate Republicans and the bipartisan leaders of the legislative Judiciary Committee over proposed parole reforms that were overwhelmingly approved last week in the House of Representatives.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford and Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, charged that the bill governing the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which won approval in the House on May 24 in a 10245 vote, does not do enough to help victims and their families, who must relive their tragedies when convicted felons ask for their sentences to be commuted.
“That’s really our primary focus here, is to make sure that at the heart of this victims were going to be heard,” said Kelly during an afternoon news conference in the Capitol. “So we remain dedicated to that purpose as a caucus. We will continue to stand with and fight for victims.” He said that despite the recent action in the House and the bill that awaits action in the Senate, more work needs to be done for victims.
“For those who are the victims of a crime where they have a loved one who’s been killed, murdered, raped and murdered, molested and murdered, whether it be a daughter, a son, a father, a friend, a colleague they have been handed a lifetime sentence, a lifetime sentence that can include trauma, extreme loss, despair,” Somers said. “And let me be clear the victims in these cases do not get a second chance.”
But Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, and Rep. Craig Fishbein, RWallingford, the co-chairman and top Republican, respectively, on the lawwriting Judiciary Committee, defended the legislation, stressing that victims were a major consideration in the bill. The impetus of the legislation was the recent controversy over the reappointment of pardons panel members, including its former chairman, and the dozens of incarcerated people who were released in recent years.
They warned that if the bill stalls in the Senate and the legislative session ends on midnight June 7 without action, changes in the House bill restricting the power of the pardons board, will not go into effect.”
“It is extremely unfortunate that they appear to be playing politics,” Stafstrom told reporters in a brief news conference with Fishbein outside the House chamber. He said that Senate leaders had a draft of the commutations bill two weeks before the revised legislation passed the House. “They received the final draft of the bill 24 hours before it was going to be taken up on the
House floor. We were told there were going to be substantive comments from the Senate Republicans on the bill and we never saw those in the two weeks leading up to its passage. So what their specific objections are to the bill, I have no idea.”
“I think even at the press conference today, I don’t know that anything has been shared of any changes,” Fishbein said. “I’ll tell you that if they actually review the policy that was actually passed on the 24th, we go a step further in particular we bar certain individuals from being able to be eligible to apply” for commutation. “The legislation that we passed restores the power of the legislature in the process. Should the bill fail, I guess what we’re left with is the Board of Pardons and Paroles continues to make the rules. And I thought that’s what Republicans in the Senate were opposed to.”
Stafstrom said the proposal would restrict the unilateral power of the
Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant commutations.
“We gave a lot of rights to the victims in the process,” Fishbein said. “One of the complaints was that victims were getting notice of these applications upon their filing. We put in place, through this legislation, victims would not find out unless after the screening process that the state’s attorney knows about, that the board’s panel would go through and would evaluate that criteria. If the hearing were to happen, then the victim would get notice. We’re trying to keep away the revictimization there was complaint of.”
“Literally by the Senate Republicans trying to block this legislation they are going back to the status quo,” Stafstrom said. “They are putting politics over policy. It is a legislative compromise. We worked in a bipartisan fashion to craft good policy. They seem to want to play politics.”