13 October 2011

Legislative Priorities In Denver and Topeka

In Denver, we recently (by voter initiative) repealed the city ordinance that banned possession of small quantities of marijuana and made the use of city law enforcement resources to deal with marijuana possession under Colorado's statutes the lowest priority and leaving state authorities to enforce its laws if it wanted to deal with this crime.

In Topeka, Kansas, the city council also decided to repeal a city ordinance and deprioritize the use of local resources to deal with another crime that reflected their priorities, which are somewhat different than those of Denver voters:

The Shawnee County District Attorney first decided abruptly that he would stop prosecuting all misdemeanor cases arising in Shawnee County, including domestic violence misdemeanors, because he didn't feel that he had enough money in his budget to afford to make those prosecutions after his office had its budget cut 10% by the county commissioners.

TOPEKA, Kan. — . . . By a vote of 7 to 3, the City Council repealed the local law that makes domestic violence a crime.

The move, the councilors were told, would force District Attorney Chad Taylor to prosecute the cases [at state expense] because they would remain a crime under state law, a conclusion with which he grudgingly agreed. . . .

Eighteen people have been arrested on domestic violence charges since September and released without charges because no agency is accepting new cases. . . . Almost half of the misdemeanors that were prosecuted last year — 423 cases — are domestic battery cases, and most of the rest are shoplifting, drugs and assault.

From the New York Times via the Family Law Profs Blog.

Once again, budgets are driving criminal justice policy, which is not in and of itself such a horrible thing, but it is hard to fathom why, of all offenses, this is the one the Topeka chose to decriminalize to balance its budget. Why not, for example, also decriminalize misdemeanor shoplifting and drug cases, which have also been pushed into its lap?

This case also recalls similar intrastate federalism fights over criminal justice related expenditures in California.


James Lopeman said...

The NY Times article indicated that 50% of all misdemeanour's are the DV cases in question.

Robin said...

When voters prohibit politicians from raising taxes, the politicians punish the voters with bad government.

That's why my city is threatening to fire fire and police to close a budget gap but the code enforcement clown who writes me a ticket for not getting the trash can off the sidewalk fast enough has no fear of losing his job.