Two states move to protect immigrants, marijuana meets varying fates, Oklahoma tackles sentencing reform
Updates drawn from the Political Report newsletter. Find out more on our legislative roundup page.
Connecticut and New Jersey: Marijuana
Efforts to legalize marijuana in New Jersey derailed Monday, just hours before a scheduled vote, because of a lack of support in the Democratic Senate. Negotiations to legalize marijuana stalled in New York as well. But legalization took its first step in Connecticut. Connecticut and New Jersey bills include provisions that state advocates deem essential to social and racial justice. Connecticut’s contains provisions to boost ownership and employment in the marijuana industry for people in “communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and conviction.” New Jersey’s also contains measures to make the marijuana industry more diverse than elsewhere in the country, and it provides for expungement of marijuana-related convictions.
Florida made it illegal for medical marijuana to take a smokable form after a 2016 referendum legalized medical marijuana; Governor Rick Scott then defended the ban in court. But Florida’s new Governor Rick DeSantis announced a policy change in January. “Whether they have to smoke it or not, who am I to judge that?” he said. This month, the legislature adopted Senate Bill 182, which repeals the ban on smokable marijuana; DeSantis signed it into law.
Florida: Voting rights
Two bills, each restricting the right to vote in a different way, have moved forward one legislative step in recent days. Since Amendment 4’s implementation in January, people who have completed their sentence for felony convictions other than sexual offenses and murder have been able to register. But new legislation would shrink the pool of eligible voters by redefining what counts as murder and as a felony sexual offense. One such bill has passed a House subcommittee; another, a Senate committee. The House version also ties restoration of voting rights to repayment of court fines and fees, a measure that would impact lower-income Floridians’ ability to register to vote. An analysis by WLRN found that courts label the majority of fines and fees they impose as unlikely to be repaid because of the defendant’s financial ability.
Oklahoma: Sentencing reform
In 2016, Oklahomans approved State Question 780, which reduced drug possession and some theft offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor. But SQ 780 did not apply retroactively, which means it gave no relief to people already serving harsh sentences. This month, the state House approved legislation (House Bill 1269) that would remedy this by resentencing people who were already convicted of those offenses before SQ 780 was passed. The bill instructs state authorities to identify and resentence people convicted of drug possession, while those convicted of property crimes would still need to file a petition. At least 2,000 incarcerated people could see their detention shortened or gain immediate release, according to NPR. Many more who have already completed their sentence would have an easier time navigating matters like job applications. HB 1269 now goes to the Senate.
Oregon: Detention conditions
Oregon’s Senate has passed legislation (Senate Bill 495) to prevent the use of attack dogs on people detained in the state. “Assuming the House passes the bill as well and the governor signs it into law, there will be five other states that still allow this,” writes Vaidyda Gullapalli in the Daily Appeal.
Utah and Colorado: Immigration
Utah adopted a new law Monday that cuts the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor by one day (from 365 to 364). This small change has big implications. Under federal law, noncitizens sentenced to at least one year of detention face deportation, so Utah’s change effectively shields noncitizens from facing such dire consequences based on a misdemeanor conviction. The bill was championed by the Refugee Justice League and Republican Representative Eric Hutchings.
Colorado may soon follow suit: The legislature passed a bill that reduces the maximum sentence associated with some misdemeanors and municipal violations to 364 days. (The highest class of misdemeanors would still carry longer sentences, however.) It awaits the governor’s signature. Similar reforms have been proposed in other states such as Connecticut and New York. (Update: Governor Jared Polis signed this bill into law on March 28; it was sponsored by Senator Julie Gonzales and Representative Leslie Herod.)