Monday, April 14, 2014

Guess What the #1 Fiscal Impact Request for Proposed Legislation was at the 2014 General Assembly? That’s Right, Sex Offenders Again! #1 for 7 out of 10 years.

Today (April 14, 2013) was the first of four meetings for the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission (VCSC). 

Back on March 11, 2014 I posted the 2014 meeting dates AND the last 9 years of Virginia General Assembly Proposed Legislation Fiscal Impact Statements including the #1, #2 and #3 bill requests from Virginia’s Delegates and Senators. 

The Presentations  from today’s meeting have not yet been loaded on the VCSC website (it usually take a week or more) you’ll be able to read everything that was covered.  

The first VCSC meeting of the year includes a review of all bills from the General Assembly session that had to do with sentencing changes and any requests of studies or research by the VCSC, then suggestions for additional work and studies for the year. They also announce any new members which included H.F. Haymore, Jr., Clerk, Linda L. Bryant and Rosemary Trible, plus Senator Marsh has retaken the Senate seat after the shift of power in the Virginia Senate from January. 

Below I have compiled all of today’s numbers along side the last 9 years of numbers.

There was a lengthy discussion about the PROTECT report  that disagreed with the December 2013 VCSC recommendation to reduce the sentencing guidelines for possession of child pornography. Out of the five 2013 VCSC recommendations there was an increase in the on-line solicitation of a minor (Recommendation #1) and PROTECT had no issue with the VCSC raising a sentence but when it came to lowering a sentence they rushed to find a Delegate (Bell-HB504) and a Senator (McDougle-SB433) to patron companion legislation to stop the decrease from occurring and they passed adding a two year delay for the VCSC to hold an in-depth study on the issue. 

At one point in the meeting it seemed as though the inevitability that Camille Cooper would still disagree with the new data and fight a decrease in sentencing guidelines all over again didn’t seem to be worth the lengthy time and cost to the Commission that a dedicated 2 year study would require. So I stood up and pointed out that if they don't do it then when they recommend future decreases more bills will just be filed or maybe they will just stop recommending decreases in sexual crimes  all together because they won't be accepted by Camille Cooper of PROTECT and a battle will be waged at future sessions. That this is the VCSC’s role, to study and adjust the guidelines whether it's up (increase) or down (decrease) and it would be a real tragedy if they caved because for the first time in 18 or 19 years someone fought a recommendation of theirs and kind of won. Facts and data should be more important than political pressure. They decided to investigate what the cost of the study would actually be to the Commission and to re-discuss doing the study at the next meeting on June 9th.

An outline of how the Commission was thinking of approaching the 2 year study is in the Power Point presentation from today, as I mentioned above it was not yet available on the VCSC website when this post was ready. For those of you who are interested keep checking their site.

Recently the Justice Policy Institute released a very interesting report on Virginia titled Billion Dollar Divide: Virginia's Sentencing, Corrections and Criminal Justice Challenge that I posted here. I had wondered if this report would be mentioned at today’s meeting, it wasn’t. 

Finally I have been attending the VCSC meetings since November 2009 (missing 2 or 3 of those 18 meetings) and during that time not one member of the press/media has ever attended, until today. I’ll be keeping an eye out for an article or two in the future. 

Mary Devoy
Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission Fiscal Impact Summaries for Proposed Legislation By Year

The Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission (VCSC) is not a Legislative branch like the Virginia State Crime Commission (VSCC). 

The VCSC is a Judicial branch, they mainly conduct studies and gather data on sentencing guidelines in Virginia. They hold 4 public meetings per year, the meetings begin at 10am and usually end by 12-noon. 

Members of the VCSC are .

A little known fact for most citizens is if the VCSC decides to change a sentence guideline for any crime a bill does not need to be submitted at the yearly General Assembly session in Richmond. The proposed change is just listed in the annual VCSC December report and unless a Delegate or Senator sponsors a bill in-time for the January session to NOT to allow the VCSC change to take effect that upcoming July it automatically becomes law with no discussion, debate or media attention.

Per Virginia law § 30-19.1:4:
v      As of July 1, 2000 the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission must prepare a fiscal impact statement for any bill that would result in a net increase in the population of offenders housed in state adult correctional facilities (prisons). 
v      As of July 1, 2002, the impact statement must:
§         Include an analysis of the impact on local and regional jails as well as state and local community corrections programs; and
§         Detail any necessary adjustments to the sentencing guidelines 
v      The Commission must estimate the increase in annual operating costs for prison facilities that would result if the proposal is enacted
§         A six-year projection is required
§         The highest single-year increase in operating costs is identified
§         This amount must be printed on the face of the bill