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NJ Assembly to vote Monday on bail reforms

Gov. Chris Christie used a special session address Thursday to plead with lawmakers to vote on bail reform measures. The Senate approved the legislation, but the Assembly bailed from the State House just minutes after hearing what the governor had to say.

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Gov. Christie makes a statement about bail reform
Gov. Christie makes a statement about bail reform (Gov’s Office)

It’s possible that issues have already been addressed, because the Assembly has scheduled a Monday session to vote on the bail reforms.

“We’ll continue to talk about it, issues, concerns. Things they like, things they don’t like,” said Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus).

There are two pieces to the bail reforms. The first would amend the constitution to give judges the discretion to deny bail for dangerous criminals. If passed by both houses before Aug. 4, a question would be placed on the November 2014 general election ballot asking voters for their approval.

The other part is a bill that would set guidelines to determine bail eligibility and create non-monetary bail alternatives for people charged with nonviolent crimes.

Some Assembly Democrats are concerned about how risk assessments will be done to determine who is denied bail, Prieto said. Others want to make sure a person’s right to a speedy trial is not violated. Another sticking point is how much it will cost to house more prisoners.

“You hear anywhere from $30 million to $100 million. It’s probably somewhere in between. So, that’s something,” Prieto said.

In his speech before the special joint session of the Legislature, Christie said the measures were long overdue and he implored lawmakers not to leave Trenton Thursday without voting on them.

“I don’t come here lightly today and don’t ask you to come here lightly today, but everybody, this is our responsibility,” Christie said. “There is no one else to pass this one off to. This is something that we need to do.”

The speaker told reporters before the governor’s address that there would be no vote. He was asked if the reforms would have passed the Assembly if posted, and he sounded cautiously optimistic.

“I didn’t take a head count just so you know. I will do that,” Prieto said. “I believe, in essence, we probably can get it accomplished.”

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