Wednesday shapes up to be an important day for supporters of criminal justice reform in Louisiana as seven bills related to the work of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force are due to be considered.
The reforms which are supported by a broad coalition of conservative and liberal groups aim to reduce the cost of operating the state prison system by providing pathways to parole and successful community reentry for current inmates and to change sentencing provisions in current law to provide for more prison alternatives for those convicted of non-violent crimes.
Some of the reforms drew the opposition of the Louisiana District Attorney's Association in the Senate. Those bills cleared committee after being amended. They face consideration by the full Senate next week.
The House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee had four criminal justice reform bills on its agenda when it convened at 9 a.m.
HB116 by Rep. Stephen Dwight of Lake Charles would expand the role of the Crime Victims Service Bureau to create a system that would allow crime victims to have certain proximity restrictions placed on the person who committed a crime against them as part of the condition for parole. The bill would provide victims with three months advance notice of when an inmate had a parole hearing scheduled during which time crime victims could seek to impose conditions on parole for the inmate.
HB249 by Rep. Tanner Magee of Houma would make changes in the current state law that authorizes or requires (depending upon the offense) courts to impose financial obligations on the person convicted that can include fines, fees, court costs and restitution. HB249 would have the court consider the convicted person's ability to pay those costs and allow the court to monitor the person's ability to pay once he/she is paroled from custody. Supporters of the bill say the intent is to remove financial obligations imposed by the court as a barrier to successful re-entry into society. The bill provides for alternative means of meeting the obligations set by the court, including participating in job training programs and education, as well as performing community service.
HB489 by Rep. Walt Leger III of New Orleans would create the data collection system which would serve as the basis for monitoring savings produced by the Justice Reinvestment initiatives and to ensure that the savings produced are reinvested in further efforts to reduce recidivism and incarceration rates in Louisiana. The bill charges the Department of Public Safety and Corrections and the Louisiana Supreme Court to create the data collection system that will be used to measure the savings, provides a method of reporting and for a means of reallocating the savings between two agencies — DPSC, the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Criminal Justice.
The committee was also scheduled to consider SB16 by Sen. Dan Claitor which provides a pathway to parole for juvenile offenders who were sentenced to life sentences. The Supreme Court of the United States has declared such sentences unconstitutional in a number of decisions. Claitor's bill, which has already passed the Senate, would bring Louisiana law in compliance with the Supreme Court's decisions. The court has ruled that providing the possibility of parole would constitute a satisfactory remedy to the constitutional issues raised by treating juveniles as adults.
HB177 by Rep. Helena Moreno of New Orleans is on the House Committee on Health and Welfare's agenda for Wednesday consideration. The bill would repeal an existing one-year ban on those convicted for felony offenses involving drugs from being eligible to collect food stamps. Supporters of the reform say the ban creates a barrier to effective reentry into the community for offenders.
The House Education Committee will consider HB122 by Lafayette Rep. Vincent Pierre. The bill would prohibit state colleges and universities from asking applicants about their criminal records during the initial application process. The bill would allow public higher education institutions to discuss an applicant's criminal history only after a conditional offer of acceptance has been made to the applicant by the institution. The bill would not prohibit the institution from considering the applicant's criminal history in making a final determination of acceptance.
The Senate convenes is expected to consider SB142 which would abolish the death penalty in Louisiana. The bill is co-authored by Sen. Claitor and Rep. Terry Landry of Lafayette, who is a former head of the Louisiana State Police. If the bill wins approval today it will be sent to the House where it will be assigned to a committee for consideration. If the bill were to become law, the death penalty could not be sought for any crime committed after August 1 of this year.