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Could One Last Hurdle Trip Up Criminal Justice Reform?

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L to R: Martiny, Marino, Mack

Though it’s not yet a done deal, criminal justice reform is nearing the legislative finish line.

Tuesday evening, the full House approving the reinvestment piece of the package.

“97 yeas and zero nays and the bill is finally passed,” Speaker Taylor Barras announced.

And while the House Criminal Justice committee had no real problems Wednesday with two of the Senate-approved bills adjusting penalties and cleansing periods for certain crimes, when it came to Senator Danny Martiny’s bill establishing parameters for earlier parole eligibility, committee chair Sherman Mack had issues.

Although Representative Joe Marino explained, “We’ve pared it down to what we all agree upon – pretty much eliminating the violent offenders and sex offenders,” Mack disagreed.

“This really doesn’t affect violent offenses? Well, it does,” the chairman insisted.

At issue was a provision for those inmates sentenced between 1973 and 1979 for second-degree murder.  While the current sentence for the crime is life without parole, in the 70s, the sentence permitted parole eligibility after serving 20 years.

“It’s the law that was in place at the time, so this is an effort to put them back in their original posture,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Corrections Natalie Laborde informed the committee. “It affects about 160 current lifers.”

Mack wasn’t buying it.

“We’re talking about letting a hundred and some odd people who committed a murder out of jail!” he exclaimed.

Marino reminded Mack that’s not entirely accurate.

“It makes them eligible to go before the parole board. It doesn’t mean the parole board is going to agree to release anyone.”

Mack offered an amendment to remove that provision from the bill, but it failed by one vote.

Martiny urged the committee to report the bill favorably.

“A bad legislator can find something in this bill – just like in HB 1 – that you don’t like, to give you a reason to vote against it. I’m asking you, please find it in your hearts a way to move these bills through the process so we can turn this system around.”

It was approved, 10-6 and now goes to the full House.

But Mack, who served on the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force which crafted this package, indicated he will try again to strip that provision on the House floor. If unsuccessful, he will argue against passing the bill.