2015 Session Overview

Californians for Safety and Justice was proud to support several pieces of legislation (and budget proposals) in 2015:

SB 176 (Mitchell) – Protecting Child Witnesses. For children 13 years or younger, testifying in open court about a violent crime can be a traumatic experience. California already provides protections, such as testifying via closed-circuit television, for child victims, but the law is unclear on whether those protections extend to child witnesses. This bill will clarify that child witnesses who testify about a violent crime are eligible for the same protections.

Status: Signed by Governor Brown on August 10, 2015

AB 1056 (Atkins) – Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.  In November 2014, California voters passed the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (Proposition 47) by 60%.  Among other provisions, Prop 47 directed 65% of the savings from reduced prison costs to the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) for grant programs to provide mental health treatment and substance abuse programs, as well as diversion programs, to people who commit low-level crimes.  AB 1056 provides additional direction to the BSCC in distributing these grants, including giving preference to applications that leverage other funding sources and include interdepartmental cooperation and partnerships with community-based organizations.

Status: Signed by Governor Brown on August 2, 2015

SB 556 (de Leon) –  Victim Compensation Program.  Receiving timely services after a traumatizing event is critical for crime survivors and victims across California.  Current law requires the Victim Compensation Program (VCP) respond to all claims within 180 days, and have an average response time of 90 days.  However, that timeline doesn’t begin until the application is “accepted”- a term that does not have a statutory definition, leading to much longer wait times for survivors and victims.  Because of this lack of clarity, an application is not “accepted” because of minor issues such as an applicant forgetting to sign the application, or because the VCP is awaiting documentation from a third party.  SB 556 would define “accepted” as when the VCP first receives the application, and requires the program to post data around the number of applications received, accepted, denied, and the number of incomplete applications.

Status: Currently on the Inactive File in the Assembly

SB 518 (Leno) – Trauma Recovery Center Grants. Victims of crime often experience long-term effects, including trauma and other mental health conditions. Left unaddressed, these conditions can impact victims’ ability to recover and may lead to further financial and health problems, including substance abuse, depression and further victimization. Current services for victims can be confusing to access and often only offer short-time recovery support. The Trauma Recovery Center model takes a more comprehensive approach to healing the person in a welcoming and safe environment that provides long-term support. This bill creates specific standards for potential recipients of TRC grants, and creates a TRC Center of Excellence to provide training, technical assistance and ongoing program evaluations.

Status: Currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee

SB 382 (Lara) – Youth Transfer Bill. In certain circumstances, California allows teenagers to be tried as adults. Laws permitting this were enacted before advances in research about child brain development (affecting their actions) and before recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions limited certain justice system policies and practices because of this new understanding about brain development. This bill will align California’s legal process with scientific research and recent court decisions by giving trial judges discretion to send minors back to juvenile court if the young person would be better served in the juvenile system. It also clarifies the factors a judge considers when determining if a child should be tried in the juvenile or adult system.

Status: Signed by Governor Brown on September 1, 2015

SB 261 (Hancock)Parole Review for Young Adults with Lengthy Sentences.  Recent psychological research on adolescent brain development shows that certain areas of the brain, particularly those that affect judgment and decision-making do not fully develop until the early 20’s.  The fact that young adults are still developing means that they are uniquely situated for personal growth.  This bill would reform California’s laws to reflect this latest scientific evidence on adolescent and young adult development, recognizing that youth who were under the age of 23 at that time of their crime have an especially strong ability to grow and change.

Status: Signed by Governor Brown on October 3, 2015