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California Legislature

At least one of several state bills to expand the list of 'violent felonies' in California is likely to die

 (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A state proposal that sought to expand the list of violent crimes under the California penal code failed to make it out of Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. 

Senate Bill 75, introduced by state Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), would have reclassified more than 20 offenses as violent felonies, including certain forms of rape and crimes such as inflicting injury on a child and assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon.

The legislation was voted down with a 5-2 vote along party lines. It was granted the option of “reconsideration,” meaning the committee could take it up again at a later date. But its chances of approval are slim.

In a statement released shortly after the vote, Bates said she respected her Democratic colleagues "for philosophically disagreeing with me on the length of prison sentences." 

"But blocking my violent felony bill today nevertheless jeopardizes the safety of all Californians," she said. “I do not understand how anyone can say with a straight face that crimes such as assault with a deadly weapon on law enforcement should continue to be considered ‘nonviolent.’" 

The bill is one of several this legislative session that seek to broaden the legal definition of a violent crime as California undergoes a massive overhaul of its parole system.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 57, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November, will expand good behavior credits and give new power to the state parole board to consider the early release of prisoners who have served the full term of their primary sentences, and whose crimes are not designated as “violent” under the California penal code.

In guidelines to implement Proposition 57 laid out in his budget proposal, Brown excluded all death row inmates, prisoners serving life sentences without parole and all sex offenders from early parole consideration. Temporary guidelines now in effect make the same exclusions.

But lawmakers and prosecutors argue those exemptions can be challenged in court. Expanding the violent felony list, they say, is the best way to ensure sex offenders and other violent prisoners are not benefiting from the implementation of Proposition 57.

A bipartisan proposal filed by Assemblywomen Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) would add to the list all forms of rape, spousal rape, sodomy, oral copulation and sexual penetration committed against a victim incapable of consent, including those victims who are intoxicated or mentally ill. It moved out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee last week with a 6-0 vote.

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