Capitol Alert

Drug crime sentence reduction passes California Senate on second try

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, speaks before the Senate on June 2, 2016.
Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, speaks before the Senate on June 2, 2016. The Associated Press

After initially falling short in April, a bill to repeal sentencing enhancements for certain drug crimes passed the California Senate on Thursday.

Senate Bill 966, by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, removes automatic three-year augmentations given to someone convicted for the sale, possession for sale, distribution or transportation of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and PCP if they have previously been convicted of those crimes.

Mitchell sought to address a practice that she said has been disproportionately used against blacks and Latinos, filling up jails while failing to reduce the availability of drugs.

The measure was amended slightly to maintain sentencing enhancements if the prior conviction was for manufacturing or using a minor in a drug crime. Opponents had maintained that the policy would embolden drug dealers by waiving responsibility for their prior actions.

Four more lawmakers voted for sB 966 than the first time, including Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, who said the changes addressed some of his original concerns about maintaining sentencing discretion for the courts. It passed by a vote of 22-14 and moves now to the Assembly.

“We added all these stupid enhancements,” Hertzberg said, and “some of them have been dumber than a box of rocks. The applications and the implications have been horrible.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff