Web Sites, Documents and Articles >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

Rell Vetoes Crack Change

Opposes Balancing Cocaine Sentencing

June 3, 2005
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, Capitol Bureau Chief

Rejecting pleas by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others, Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a bill Thursday that would have reduced the criminal penalties for possession of crack cocaine and equalized them with those for powder cocaine.

Rell had hinted to reporters recently that she opposed the bill, but she had never said publicly that she would veto it.

"Crack cocaine is one of the most dangerous, addictive drugs on the streets today, and is the source and cause of too much violence in our cities," Rell said. "Now is not the time to ease our law enforcement efforts."

Jackson and some state lawmakers said Connecticut's law needs to be changed because African Americans are generally jailed for longer periods for possession of crack with intent to sell than are white citizens who are arrested for possession of powder cocaine.

"If this bill sends a message, governor, it is that Connecticut won't stand for a criminal justice policy that promotes any racial disparities," Jackson wrote in his letter to Rell. "And we know, all too painfully, that even though crack use is relatively equal across white and black communities, around the nation it is almost entirely African Americans who are imprisoned on charges related to crack. There are only 13 states which continue to uphold this disparity, and Connecticut is one of them. There is no scientific reason or acceptable law enforcement logic to justify this disparity."

In her veto message Thursday, Rell acknowledged the disparities in the law and called upon the General Assembly to make changes before the session adjourns at midnight Wednesday. Rell promised to sign a bill offered by Senate Republican leader Louis DeLuca and Sen. John Kissel that "would achieve parity in mandatory minimum sentencing for powder cocaine and crack cocaine violations" while still imposing tough penalties on each.

"I have also listened to the many painful stories of racial disparities, and I intend to act to address them," Rell said. "I want Connecticut in the forefront of this fight."

The Republican proposal, co-authored by Rep. Robert Farr in the House of Representatives, would set 14 grams - or one-half ounce - as the trigger for the crime of possession with intent to sell for both crack and powder cocaine. Amendments advancing the 14-gram limit failed previously in each chamber.

The bill that Rell vetoed would have set 28 grams - or one ounce - as the possession threshold for either crack or powder cocaine. Currently, a person can be charged with intent to sell if he or she possess 28 grams of powder cocaine or 0.5 of a gram of crack - about the weight of half a raisin. The crimes carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum of 20 years.

Neither the House nor the Senate had passed the crack bill by veto-proof margins. The measure passed by 92 - 52 in the House and 21- 15 in the Senate.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams said he had not decided whether to attempt a veto override or whether to schedule a vote on the Republican amendment.

"If we do that [amendment], we're going to need to put a lot more money into corrections," Williams said, adding that more cocaine sellers would be put in prison.

Rep. Ernest Newton II, a Bridgeport Democrat who has admitted publicly that he is a former cocaine addict, said he was saddened that Rell did not meet with the full, 18-member Black and Latino Caucus.

"I think she missed an opportunity that would have done a lot for our communities throughout the state," Newton said Thursday night at the Capitol. "This was just as important to us as campaign finance reform is to her because whereas she doesn't live it, we do. We met with her staff. It's a big difference than meeting with the governor. ... Nobody's that busy. I think it's a smack in the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus's face that we're lawmakers, and we can't even meet with our own governor. I think we could have convinced her about the disparities between crack and powder."

But Rell's spokesman, Dennis Schain, said the governor's legal counsel had met with the full caucus at the governor's request, and Rell had personally spoken to other key caucus members.

"She recommended steps to address the issue," Schain said, adding that Rell had studied the matter carefully. "It was not just a veto."

Upon hearing that Newton was interested in fairness and equalizing penalties, DeLuca said, "If equalization is his issue, he should have voted for our amendment. ... It's not a racial issue. It's to protect law-abiding citizens, especially children, in the inner cities."

DeLuca burst into a smile when talking about a potential Senate debate on a veto override, saying that Democrats could not defend the idea of overriding the governor without sounding as though they are going soft on drugs and crime.

"From a political standpoint, come and get me. I would love it," DeLuca said. "I would print the political brochure for the campaign right now. How do you justify that?"

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?