In a time of fiscal distress, California lawmakers are on the prowl for ways to cut costs, especially to the state's massive prison system.
But they've kicked over a hornet's nest with Tuesday's party-line vote in the Assembly that tinkers significantly with California's popular Three Strikes law.
Just a day after the measure failed, Democrats mustered the necessary support in a re-vote, sending AB 327 to the Senate.
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AB 327, by Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, would require that all three felony offenses be required to be classified as "serious" or "violent" by the state, in order for the defendant to be sentenced to 25 years to life.
There are exceptions, such as a sex crime against a child, or the use of a firearm.
But the end goal is to save the state money by reducing the number of career criminals that get sent to prison.
According to an Assembly analysis, the bill would mean savings "likely in the tens of millions of dollars". By reducing the lifer population, the analysis says, the savings could reach $50 million in twenty years.
The author, Davis, says the current law is too broad and "has led to unfair sentencing as well as prison overcrowding."
But public safety is a hot button issue, and Tuesday's vote is prompting howls from Capitol Republicans who say this is no time to water down the Three Strikes law.
"It's outrageous that Democrats used California's budget problems as an excuse to chip away at a critical measure that has lowered crime rates significantly," Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway said.
The California District Attorneys Association also opposes the change, calling the existing law "a powerful and effective tool...to target habitual felons."
California voters approved the Three Strikes law in 1994, after public outrage surrounding the murder of Kimber Reynolds in Fresno and Polly Klaas in Petaluma. Both killings were committed by paroled criminals.
Make no mistake, the public wants to see the size of state government shrunk. But anything that smacks of compromising public safety is a hard sell.
If the Senate approves AB 327, it'll go on the state ballot in 2014, and voters will have the final word.