California State Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., on April 3, 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Seeking to establish a balance between criminal justice reform and the safety of Californians, a new group of lawmakers comprising the Assembly Public Safety Committee met Jan. 9 for its first hearing of the new Legislative session—ultimately passing a number of bills on to their respective committees.
Six of the eight members were replaced by Assembly Speaker Assemblyman Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) going into the new year, including the chair position now filled by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento).
The new public safety chair said he is prioritizing collaboration and focused on achieving positive results.
“This is a front-and-center issue, and I take this assignment very seriously,” Mr. McCarty told The Epoch Times after the hearing.
The California Assembly Public Safety Committee's first meeting of the year in Sacramento, Calif., on Jan. 9, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)
He acknowledged the challenge of solving complex issues like retail theft crime and substance abuse disorders and highlighted his intention to lead as a mediator.
“There are a lot of proposals, a lot of ideas,” Mr. McCarty said. “It’s my job to kind of be the referee, bring us together, and find a middle ground, common sense package going forward.”
The newly elected speaker also rotated committee assignments, thus pulling Assemblymembers Mia Bonta (D-Oakland), Isaac Bryan (D-Culver City), Liz Ortega (D-San Leandro), Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), and Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Hollywood) from the safety committee.
In their place, he appointed Assemblymembers Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), Stephanie Nguyen (D-Elk Grove), Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-San Bernardino), Phillip Ting (D-San Francisco), and Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City).
Assemblymembers Juan Alanis (R-Modesto)—vice chair of the committee—and Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) retained their positions.
While no specific reasons were provided by the speaker for what amounts to the biggest change of faces on the committee in at least a decade, he said public safety is of utmost importance.
“Californians have a right to be safe in their homes and on their streets,” Mr. Rivas said in a statement announcing his appointments in December. “I’m confident Assemblymember McCarty will bring commitment and conscientiousness to this role.”
The prior committee faced intense scrutiny from constituents after making several controversial decisions guided by its former chair.
Public outrage was swift last year after the panel initially killed Senate Bill 14 related to child sex trafficking. Following intervention from Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mr. Rivas, the bill received an emergency hearing where several members switched their votes to yes and allowed the measure to pass.
And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle decried during floor testimony last year what they said was a difficult path for bills related to public safety.
Some critics said the prior chair and some former members openly opposing any measures that increased sentencing or strengthened penalties for criminal activity obstructed legislators’ efforts to address crime.
The prior chair, Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), joined the committee in 2013 and held the chair seat from 2017 until Mr. Rivas removed him late last year.
The new chair said he’s committed to working with the group to safeguard criminal justice reforms. He said he approves allowing those convicted of certain crimes to receive second chances and diversion instead of jail time, but he stressed that serial offenders must be held accountable.
California's Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif., on the night of Jan. 9, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)
“We’ve done a lot of good work here … We don’t want to roll back all those efforts,” Mr. McCarty said. “But I don’t think we’ve kept up focusing on accountability at the front end, especially for people that are repeat, repeat offenders.”
With new bills currently being introduced to start the new session, the committee’s first hearing dealt with measures not wrapped up last year—including bills related to firearms and police oversight, among other issues.
The group will meet again at a date in February yet to be determined.