- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas juveniles would no longer face sentences of life without parole under a bill advanced by a House panel on Tuesday.

The House Judiciary Committee endorsed the heavily amended bill in a voice vote after the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association withdrew its opposition. The bill by Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, would eliminate the sentence for future offenders who are under the age of 18 when they committed a crime.

State prosecutors opposed the original bill, which would have retroactively impacted about 120 people serving life sentences without parole, saying it was disrespectful to victims’ families and juries. That version didn’t advance in February.

Leding removed the retroactive language and increased the minimum number of years it would take for a convicted murderer to be eligible for parole from 28 to 30. The bill also requires victims’ families to be notified of parole hearings.

Lori Kumpuris with the prosecutors’ association told the committee that they worked with Leding on amendments and the group no longer opposes it. No other member of the public testified.

Arkansas lawmakers in 2013 eliminated mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles, in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said such mandatory sentences were unconstitutional. That law similarly wasn’t retroactive.

Leding said after the meeting that the change would put Arkansas in line with other states, such as Texas and Alaska.

“Right now the U.S. is the only country in the world that sentences children to die in prison,” Leding said. “The U.S. Supreme Court has paved the way to end life sentences for juveniles and conservative states are leading the way in that movement.”

The bill now heads to the full House and could be heard as early as Wednesday.

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Follow Allen Reed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Allen_Reed


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