Christie wants progress on bail changes, but Assembly leader’s in no hurry

Gov. Chris Christie is ordering a rare summertime special session of the New Jersey Legislature on Thursday in an effort to get lawmakers to act on bail reform. But the Assembly appears to be in no hurry to vote on the measure.

Lawmakers need to act to protect children and communities from the most serious criminals who now are allowed to be released if bail is posted, Christie said.

The governor has been pushing for approval of a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to deny bail for defendants who pose a danger to the public and allow those charged with lesser crimes to go free while awaiting trial.

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Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto said Tuesday that Democratic lawmakers will listen to what Christie has to say, but won’t rush to pass the measure.

“It’s an important issue that my caucus has to be well informed [about] and has to be on board with everything,” Prieto said. “We’ll talk about. We’ll vet it. This is a thing about not doing it fast. It’s about getting it right.”

While bail reform is a serious issue, Fairleigh Dickinson political science professor Peter Woolley said the summer session could be playing to Christie’s presidential ambitions.

“It’s not surprising then that a Democratically-controlled Legislature would drag its feet a little bit on the idea of providing a platform for the governor to make a statewide policy pitch in the middle of the summer,” Woolley said.

Lawmakers need to approve the proposed amendment by Monday for it to get on the November ballot.

Since it wouldn’t take effect until January of 2017, Prieto said lawmakers could wait to get it on the ballot next year.

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