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Juvenile crime bill gains final passage in Connecticut Senate

Hartford — The state Senate passed a bill focused on juvenile crime following the House’s passage last week.

The bill passed 35-1 with Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, the lone no vote.

The Senate’s final passage of House Bill 5417 came on Wednesday, the last day of the legislative session, after an arduous process in which concessions were made — Democrats giving up gun control initiatives and Republicans unable to secure police accountability rollbacks — in order to make the bill amenable to both parties.

Senate debate mostly mirrored House debate, with many on the left criticizing the bill for going too far in politically driven, “tough on crime” measures criminalizing youth and for not getting at the root causes of crime among young people in the state. Republicans on Wednesday acknowledged the bill did not get at root causes but was a step in the right direction.

Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, referred to himself as the “reluctant proponent” of the bill during debate on Wednesday.

“Although I’m standing as the proponent of the bill, I don’t think there’s a victory here today. I think that we gave gotten here because of a conversation people engaged in before they knew the facts on the ground,” Winfield said. “We have had a discussion about car thefts as they relate to juveniles, and people went out very early and started talking about the crisis that we had before we knew what that meant.”

Car thefts in Connecticut decreased in 2021, according to police data.

Ken Barone, the associate director of the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at the University of Connecticut, made a presentation to the Juvenile Justice Policy Committee during a virtual meeting in March. His presentation contained findings — such as the fact that there were fewer car thefts in Connecticut in 2021 compared to 2020 — that run contrary to Republicans' claims that Connecticut is facing a juvenile car theft problem.

“We’re not necessarily experiencing a continued expansive growth in auto thefts from last year,” Barone said at the time. 

Republicans argued on Wednesday that the state does not hold repeat juvenile offenders accountable.

“Data may reflect arrests or reported crimes. But if law enforcement’s not there ... then there’s not going to be an arrest,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said Wednesday. “If there’s not an arrest, there won’t be a conviction.”

Before voting on the bill, Republicans introduced an amendment that essentially would have added much of what was not included from their juvenile crime proposals related to summer jobs programs, workforce development and housing, and rolling back police accountability measures. The amendment failed.

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said the amendment is “looking to support more intervention and more services focused around elements that we all know contribute to crime. We’re looking at opportunity and jobs and how can we create workforce opportunity and development and get to individuals sooner in the process and show them there are good-paying jobs in the state of Connecticut.”

Kelly and other Republicans also argued that the police accountability law hamstrings law enforcement and went too far in its reforms in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by police in Minnesota.

“We can have an argument on the merits of this bill,” Winfield said. “This bill is not about the police accountability bill ... this bill is about juveniles and what we can do for juveniles.”

According to the Office of Legislative Research’s bill analysis, HB 5417 would allow for "more immediate arraignment and services for juvenile offenders, electronic monitoring in certain circumstances ... expansion of programs serving juveniles and reducing crime, and require the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection to inform the Chief of Police or other appropriate official of the town in which a firearms permit applicant resides if such applicant fails a background check."

The bill would increase the maximum time, from six hours to eight hours, that a juvenile can be held in lockup without a detention order from a judge. The legislation also addresses an issue Republicans have been raising for months, as it extends access to juvenile delinquency case records and proceedings to municipal agency employees and state and municipal law enforcement officials conducting investigations.

s.spinella@theday.com

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