An Assembly Bill that would have increased penalties for fatal hit-and-run incidents failed to move past the California Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday, effectively ending the bill campaign for the third time in three years.
Assembly Bill 582, authored by Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R–Fresno), would have significantly increased the scope of hit-and-runs to include penalties for not immediately stopping after an incident, as well as increase the maximum prison sentence for fatalities from 4 years to 6 years. Drivers who hit-and-run while drunk would have also faced another additional penalty.
AB 582 had been in the works for years, with Thursday’s vote being only the latest chapter over the push for increased hit-and-run penalties.
In 2018, Clovis resident and high school vice principal Gavin Gladding was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver, who was later identified and ultimately only ever served 14 months for Gladding’s death. The story, as well as the issue of hit-and-run divers getting such short sentences, prompted Assemblyman Patterson to author a bill in 2019 to increase the maximum sentence for such fatal incidents. After the first attempt failed to make it past the Assembly Public Committee vote, it was tried again in 2020. However AB 582 failed last year too, although it was largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic severely limiting the number of bills being considered in 2020.
This led to this year’s attempt. The bill was off to a promising start earlier this year, being passed in the Assembly Public Safety unanimously last month and not garnering significant opposition like it had two years before. Alterations to the bill in that time had changed many minds on potentially more severe jail time for hit-and-run drivers, as seen by the dramatic voting shift between the 2019 and 2021 Public Safety votes.
However, AB 582 was sent to the Appropriation Committee’s suspense file late last month due to the sheer number of passed bills making it to that committee, in part due to the massive backlog of bills from last year. This meant no formal hearing or debate on the bill, only a simple vote on whether or not to move it up to the Assembly floor. The committee ultimately failed to pass it on Thursday without any word given as to why, keeping AB 582 in suspense until June 1st. This effectively killed it for the third time in a row.
AB 582 Doesn’t make it past Appropriations Committee vote
Assemblyman Patterson said in a statement on Thursday that the vote was an “injustice” and that Democrats were to blame due to caring more about the rights of criminals rather than for the rights of victims.
“Gavin, the Gladding family and those who have worked so hard to pass Gavin’s Law, were seeking justice,” said Patterson on Thursday. “What happened today was an injustice heaped upon their heartache. “It has never been more clear that the ruling party in Sacramento cares more about criminals than they do about victims. They demonstrate that every time they are in session these days. This is what the victims of crime can expect unless there is a change in Sacramento.”
Legal experts also speculated why the bill failed on Thursday.
“So many bills were in the suspense file on Thursday, and the Assembly can only hear so many bills for the rest of this session,” noted Los Angeles lawyer Santiago Lopez to the Globe on Friday. “I check to see what happens to bills having to do with changes to felonies and misdemeanors quite often. It’s good to stay ahead of these things. And it was just too busy a session with so many bills going up. A simple read out and vote of AB 582 didn’t do it justice. Members need to hear about the case and hear from victims. That didn’t happen on Thursday, so a lot of that power was lost. There are probably many reasons as to why the bill wasn’t passed again, but that’s a big reason in my book.”
As of Friday, there has been no official word on whether or not the bill would be back for a fourth consecutive time in 2022.