TRENTON, N.J. – Assemblymen Christopher DePhillips and Brian Bergen slammed Democrats Thursday for including official misconduct and public corruption in a bill meant to reform the criminal justice system by ending mandatory minimum sentences for many nonviolent crimes in New Jersey.
“This bill is taking away the safeguard to prevent all of us in this room, and our Senate colleagues, from abusing our positions. I don’t know in heaven’s name why you would do that. It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Bergen (R-Morris) said. “A great bill that was designed to help people who can’t help themselves and people who get stuck in bad positions from ruining their lives, has been tainted by us. By the people in this chamber. For the benefit of you and your peers. I’m utterly disgusted that we would do this.”
WATCH: Bergen blasts weaker penalties for public corruption
The legislation (A5641/S3658) was initially proposed to reform the state’s huge gap in its rate of incarceration between Black and white prisoners. However, amendments ending mandatory minimum sentences for official misconduct were inserted at the behest of Democratic Sen. Nicholas Sacco. Those changes followed the indictment of the son of his girlfriend, who is facing charges for official misconduct in connection with an alleged no-show job at the North Bergen Department of Parks and Recreation.
Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips noted the bill was identical to the same one Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed on April 19. On the floor of the Assembly, the lawmaker pushed to remove the language that would eliminate mandatory prison time for state or local public officials or employees convicted of crimes such as bribery.
“This bill attempts to bypass Governor Murphy’s veto by again including public corruption crimes in a bill which is intended to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug and property crimes,” DePhillips (R-Bergen) said. “Who in this chamber really believes we should include official misconduct and public corruption crimes in a bill designed to reduce mandatory minimum sentences?”
WATCH: DePhillips moves to remove official misconduct from landmark criminal justice measure
Democrats tabled DePhillips’ motion to amend the bill by a party-line vote of 47 to 27.
Murphy acted swiftly to veto the new bill for the same reasons – eliminating mandatory prison time for elected officials who abuse their office for their own benefit.