Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Assembly Oks Measures for Bail Overhaul

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Assembly Oks Measures for Bail Overhaul

Article excerpt

The Assembly did its part Monday to clear a bail reform package, setting the stage for a voter referendum in November that has the potential to transform New Jersey's pretrial custody system that entangles thousands of defendants every year.

Legislative leaders were so confident the measures up for votes would pass that they sent a letter to the secretary of state "in anticipation" of a favorable tally, allowing that office to print legal notices in newspapers on Monday of a planned November ballot question meeting a constitutional deadline -- the final day for such notices.

There are two elements to bail reform: The first is a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval that would allow bail to be denied to individuals considered dangerous to public safety. In order for that measure to appear on November's ballot it had to be passed by Monday to make the constitutionally mandated deadline.

The second part of the reform package is legislation aimed at providing defendants with an alternative to monetary bail. Currently, many poor people wait for trial behind bars because they can't pay even small amounts of bail. The legislation would allow them to be released on conditions such as not going near their alleged victims and promising to appear in court. In addition, the measure would provide for guidelines to guarantee a speedy trial.

Governor Christie called a special legislative session for last Thursday to deal with the issue. He pushed for reform by delivering a 21-minute speech to a joint legislative session, but only the Senate acted that day.

On Monday, the Assembly passed the measures with little discussion. Only Republican Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, made a short statement praising the effort.

"Today we have demonstrated bipartisan cooperation to move bail reform," said Bramnick, praising his Democratic counterpart for supporting the effort. …

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