Scales of justice(Photo: Tim Evanston/Cronkite News)
Three bills passed the Arizona Senate with bipartisan support – two of them unanimously.
All were blocked in the House by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, who won’t tell reporters why he refused to let these non-controversial bills move.
supported by the Arizona Supreme Court as needed reforms to a justice system that defies the name by treating the rich differently than the poor.
They are not soft-on-crime marshmallows.
The bills are supported by the conservative group Right On Crime and the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council. These are not squishy liberal groups.
All three were sponsored by Republican Sen. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City. He’s no liberal icon, either.
These reforms are about fairness
All had bipartisan support.
And why not?
They are about fairness, a nonpartisan concept as deeply ingrained in our national DNA as flying the flag on the Fourth of July.
The bills evolved from last year’s , which looked at fines, fees, penalties and pretrial release policies.
The group included professionals who come at this from different vastly different perspectives: prosecutors, judges, public defenders, law enforcement, corrections and others.
These are folks who might often disagree about how to handle crime, but they did agree on recommendations for how to make the justice system work better for everybody.
Fairness is the goal of a system called “justice” and symbolized by a blindfolded Lady Justice. All who come into the system deserve uniform treatment.
Reform 1: Let folks drive to work
But the system can unfairly burden the poor.
Ironically, the uneven treatment could make the public less safe in the long run by destabilizing families that are already clinging to a thin edge.
Consider the consequences of having a driver’s license suspended for something like failing to pay a fine, which could happen because a person moved and did not receive notice.
For an Arizonan on the financial edge, not being able to drive could mean losing the only means of getting to work at a night job after the buses stop running. It cost a working-poor family their only paycheck.
Senate Bill 1160 , rather than a full suspension, so someone could still go to work or take dependent children to school.
It passed unanimously in the Senate before Farnsworth stopped it in the House Judiciary Committee he chairs.
Reforms 2 and 3: Offer flexibility
SB 1158 would allow judgesmore . A defendant unable to pay any fine could perform community service for restitution in lieu of payment. This, too, reflects the realities faced by working poor Arizonans who already face choices between paying the rent or buying food at the end of the month.
That’s a lot of Arizonans.
As the court’s task force pointed out: "Arizona has the fourth highest poverty rate in the United States ... more than 1.2 million Arizonans struggle economically every day. Most of Arizona’s poor are not the panhandlers on the highway off-ramps, but the ‘working poor’."
This bill passed the Senate 22 to 8 before Farnsworth stopped it.
SB 1163 deals with bond release proceedings and is part of a larger effort by the court to make the process fairer. This measure for high-risk individuals from the current 24 hours to seven days after the initial appearance.
It passed the Senate unanimously and – well, you guessed it.
Why is Farnsworth so opposed?
Farnsworth has worked on issues like these for years and has worked with the courts on important legislation. His opposition – without explanation – is troublesome, especially because these bills are part of larger reform efforts that are important for the courts and our state.
Nothing is ever completely dead at the Legislature until the session officially ends.
Those who care about justice and our judicial system need to find a way to get these bills to the governor’s desk.
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