Prison population focus of legislation

BATON ROUGE — House lawmakers approved three of the 10 criminal justice reform measures on Monday, but not without amending them and sending them back to the Senate.

Lawmakers were scrambling to get the measures approved before 6 p.m., where bills would require 70 House votes for approval. Each bill was considered before the deadline and got more than enough votes to pass the two-thirds threshold.

Lawmakers voted 74-31 for Senate Bill 139 by Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie. It returns to the Senate with House amendments.

Voting for the legislation were Reps. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, James Armes, D-Leesville, Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, Stephen Dwight, R-Moss Bluff, A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles, John Guinn, R-Jennings, Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek, and Frank Howard, R-Many.

Rep. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, was the only Southwest Louisiana lawmaker to oppose the measure.

Martiny’s bill was easily the most controversial of the three because it lowers the probation periods for non-violent offenders. Another aspect of the bill would allow those convicted of second-degree murder between 1973 to 1979 to be eligible for parole after serving 40 years, pending a unanimous vote of the parole board. 

Also, those convicted of a first-offense violent crime would have to serve 65 percent of the sentence instead of 75 percent.

Martiny’s bill would also provide for a medical treatment furlough program for offenders who are ineligible for medical parole, not awaiting execution and determined to be a limited mobility or terminally ill offender. Limited mobility is defined as any offender who cannot “perform activities of daily living without help or is confined to a bed or chair,” the legislation reads.

Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, said Martiny’s measure was amended to bring all parties on board, including the district attorneys. The intent, he said, is to reduce the state’s incarceration rate.

“This is bold,” he said of the measure. “We’re sending the message that … this is a new day.”

Lawmakers also approved two measures by Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.

S.B. 220 was approved with an 89-15 vote. All Southwest Louisiana lawmakers voted for the measure. It returns to the Senate with House amendments.

The bill changes penalties for a variety of different crimes, including simple burglary, theft and drug possession.

The bill was amended on the House floor to include penalties for a substance containing a detectable amount of heroin or fentanyl. The amendment also would allow for those determined to be addicted to heroin and fentanyl to complete a drug treatment program.

It also directs the creation of the Louisiana Felony Class System Task Force to come up with a recommended felony class system to the Legislature before next year’s regular session.

Lawmakers voted 83-17 for S.B. 221, sending it back to the Senate for concurrence. All Southwest Louisiana lawmakers approved the measure except for Armes, who was reported as absent.

The measure would reduce the cleansing period for non-violent or non-sexual crimes from 10 years to five.

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