Supporters of the bills say they are meant to stop a rise in car thefts after the pandemic, which state officials say has stopped. (Photo by Getty) )
The Assembly Appropriations Committee passed a set of bills to cut down on car thefts in New Jersey, even though some supporters said the harsher penalties were unnecessary and would make racial differences worse.
The package of bills that passed on Thursday would make it a crime to steal a car or get a car that has been stolen. It would also let prosecutors ask for longer sentences for repeat offenders and make it easier to hold certain repeat offenders before their trial.
“Those bills are good. I think they meet the needs of the people who vote for us. Something had to be done to change the system to stop car thefts, and we thought these bills would help,” said Assemblywoman Lisa Swain (D-Bergen), who chairs the committee and is a sponsor of two of the bills.
The group of bills is the latest attempt by lawmakers to address residents’ worries about crime after the pandemic, especially car thefts, which state officials say have gone up sharply in the first few months of 2022.
In an opinion piece published on NJ.com earlier this month, Attorney General Matt Platkin said that car thefts have been below their five-year average in recent months. He also said that unnamed elected officials are lying about car thefts being on the rise to get votes.
But car thefts still get the attention of lawmakers. One of the bills that passed Thursday would add new charges for stealing a car and getting a stolen car. It would also let prosecutors ask for longer sentences for people who have already been convicted of at least two car thefts.
Critics said the measure wasn’t needed and would make New Jersey’s criminal justice system even more unfair without doing much to cut crime.
Emily Schwartz, senior counsel for the criminal justice reform programme at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said, “We don’t need legislation that is a knee-jerk reaction to these declining trends.”
Schwartz pointed out that many of the criminal justice bills that were passed on Thursday were missing a racial impact statement, which is required by state law, and a fiscal note, which would help the committee figure out how much the bills would cost the economy.
Swain said, “I feel sorry for anyone who gets involved in the criminal world.” “Of course, we don’t want people, especially young people, to get involved in crime. On the other hand, it’s not okay for someone to wake up to get ready for work or drop their kids off at school and not find their car in their driveway.
The package includes a bill that would make it a crime, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, to have vehicle master keys, key fobs, or software that can act like a key fob for an illegal purpose.
Others would make it a separate crime to lead or be a part of a network that sells stolen cars, and judges would be able to put teens who steal cars under house arrest.
Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris) questioned whether the second part of the bill would work to stop people from breaking the law again.
Webber said that the confinement might not have much of an effect on a juvenile because it would let students continue school, work, and after-school activities, among other things, and give judges the freedom to approve other activities not listed in the bill.
Most of the bills in the package are ready to be voted on by both chambers, which could happen as soon as Thursday. There are no similar bills in the Senate for the home detention bill and the one that would make it easier for judges to order pretrial detention for repeat offenders.