- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Signature pieces of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ planned criminal justice overhaul moved toward his desk Tuesday with votes in the legislature. The Senate approved measures to shrink sentences and expand probation and parole opportunities, mainly for non-violent offenders. And the House voted to allow drug felons to receive food stamps and welfare benefits when they leave prison.

Seven of the 10 criminal justice bills Edwards backed now await his signature, a set of rare victories for the Democratic governor in a legislative session that saw much of his agenda rejected.

If everything passes, Edwards expects a significant decline in prison population over the next decade, with 70 percent of any savings reinvested in programs that keep inmates from reoffending.

The most contentious proposal, which expands parole eligibility to some violent offenders, passed with no votes to spare. It was seconds away from failing before Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, a Jennings Republican who was wrapped in conversation with a colleague, cast the deciding vote of approval.

Still awaiting final passage from lawmakers before Thursday’s end of session:

- A bill by Houma Rep. Tanner Magee that would decrease fines, court fees and restitution if such payments would cause a “substantial financial hardship” for former offenders, whose monthly payments could not exceed the wages earned in a single eight-hour work day. A final version of the bill awaiting House debate includes a Senate amendment to apply this limit only to felonies, and not misdemeanors or traffic offenses.

- A proposal by Gretna Rep. Joe Marino that would suspend the accrual of child support obligations if an offender is incarcerated for at least 180 days and can’t pay. The measure awaits final passage in the House.

- A bill by Baton Rouge Sen. Dan Claitor that would grant parole eligibility to inmates sentenced to life without parole for murders they committed as teenagers. The measure was sent to a conference committee to resolve disagreements. The House’s version would allow district attorneys to keep pursuing no-parole sentences for juvenile offenders deemed by a judge to be among “the worst of the worst” first-degree murderers. The Senate’s version lacks this exception.

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Senate Bills 16, 139, 220, 221 and House Bills 249, 680, 681: www.legis.la.gov

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