These updates were part of the Daily Appeal and Political Report newsletters. Find more on our legislative round-up page.
Arizona and Virginia
Activists held a rally at the Arizona state capitol on Jan. 22 in support of House Bill 2270, a bill sponsored by Republican state Representative Walt Blackman that would change the state requirement that people serve 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for release by lowering that percentage for most incarcerated people. “You’re surrounded by the best examples of the truth of the matter, which is that people can and do change for the better and they deserve an opportunity to come home to us,” Caroline Isaacs, program director at American Friends Service Committee’s Arizona office, told the Arizona Daily Star.
The Virginia Prison Justice Network also organized a rally in front of Virginia’s state capitol building on Jan. 14 in support of reinstating the availability of parole. Various bills have been introduced in the current legislative session to advance this goal, as the Capital News Service details.
The Connecticut Sentencing Commission, a state agency that makes policy recommendations, has released its proposals for the next legislative session. The commission’s recommendations are forwarded to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. “There has to be a public hearing on anything that the sentencing commission proposes,” Alex Tsarkov, the commission’s executive director, told me. “We take a very active role in the legislative process.”
The commission grouped its proposals into three documents. The first reforms the state’s sexual offender registry, in part by creating a new board that is meant to assess risk, and in part by creating a process with which people on the registry can petition to be removed from it. Connecticut currently lacks such a removal process. The second reforms sentencing guidelines for child pornography offenses by enabling deviations from mandatory minimums in some circumstances, and by toughening penalties in others. The third is more of a medley. It includes: reducing the sentence associated with some misdemeanor convictions from 365 days to 364 because a full one-year sentence can be grounds for ICE deportation proceedings (Section 1), improving the parental and visitation rights of incarcerated parents (Sections 3-6), restoring the voting rights of people who are on parole (Section 7), and automatically erasing some of the records of people convicted while minors (Section 8). The proposal to shorten misdemeanor sentences for immigration reasons already received a favorable vote by the Judiciary Committee in 2018 (HB 5544), but it was then not called for a vote in the state House.
San Francisco, California (city-level)
San Francisco considering ban on government use of facial recognition technology: A city lawmaker introduced legislation yesterday that includes a blanket ban on city departments purchasing or using facial recognition technology. The Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, proposed by supervisor Aaron Peskin, would also require departments to seek approval from the Board of Supervisors before using or buying surveillance technology, a requirement already in place in cities like Berkeley and Oakland. The legislation would require annual audits of surveillance technology to ensure its proper use. The proposal comes at a time when issues of error and bias in facial recognition technology are getting increased attention. Peskin portrayed the bill as an extension of the “Privacy First Policy,” approved by voters in November, which created limits and imposed transparency requirements on the collection and use of personal data by city agencies and by companies doing business with the city.