- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Three of the most significant portions of Gov. John Bel Edwards‘ plan to overhaul Louisiana’s criminal justice system edged closer to becoming law Monday after winning passage in the House, which was the toughest hurdle for the legislation.

Lawmakers in the chamber advanced three Senate-backed bills to expand probation and parole opportunities and shrink sentences for some offenders, mainly those jailed for non-violent crimes. The amended bills move back to the Senate for approval before they can go to the governor’s desk.

If the governor’s 10 criminal justice measures all pass before the legislative session ends Thursday, Edwards expects the state’s prison population to be reduced by 10 percent over the next decade, resulting in an estimated $262 million in savings over that time period.

“We have everybody on board,” said Republican Rep. Tanner Magee of Houma, referring to compromises that have been made in recent months with district attorneys, sheriffs, victims and other stakeholders. “It’s time to send a message that this is Louisiana and it’s a new day. We do things differently now. We’re open for business and we’re going to do things better than we did before.”

Republican Sen. Danny Martiny’s measure, which passed 74-31, was met with the most House opposition of the three bills, as it expands parole eligibility for some first-time violent offenders. The proposal also restores parole eligibility for about 160 people convicted of second-degree murder who were sentenced in the 1970s and had been declared eligible for parole back then.

The other bills, which are sponsored by Republican Senate President John Alario, decrease drug sentences and cut the window of time that certain prior convictions count toward classification as a habitual offender.

Edwards said passage of the measures “demonstrates that we can find bipartisanship and collaboration among our elected leaders in Louisiana on tough initiatives that prioritize the best interests of our people.

“I am proud of the Legislature’s work on these historic bills and look forward to signing them into law when they make it to my desk,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “For too long, Louisiana has had the highest incarceration rate in the nation. We will begin to reverse that trend very soon.”

Also Monday, the Senate approved proposals to reinvest 70 percent of any savings from the criminal justice redesign into anti-recidivism programs and to make it easier for ex-offenders to get occupational licenses.

Senators also passed a bill to decrease offenders’ fines and court fees, sending it back to the House for approval before it can reach the governor. Judges and clerks of court have opposed the lessening of the fees, prompting Magee to amend his bill over the weekend so that it applies only to felony offenses, and not misdemeanors and traffic offenses.

A separate measure to suspend child support obligations while an offender is behind bars was advanced 26-11 on its second try. Under Rep. Joe Marino’s bill, child support duties would be suspended only if the offender has been incarcerated for more than 180 days and does not have the means to pay the money.

“If (the offender) doesn’t have that money, it’s senseless to have that money keep on piling up,” Martiny said, arguing that large debts would make it more likely that an offender returns to a life of crime.

The bill passed the House last week after Marino backed a change to allow an offender’s child support obligations to be extended by the same amount of time that the responsibility had been suspended. A person who was in prison for two years, for example, could be forced to owe child support for two years longer than he or she otherwise would have.

Marino’s bill must be approved by the House again before Edwards can sign it into law.


House Bills 116, 249, 489, 519, 680 and Senate Bills 139, 220, 221: www.legis.la.gov

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