Parts of Edwards’ criminal justice revamp win final passage

The Associated Press

Parts of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to drop Louisiana’s incarceration rate are headed to the governor’s desk, winning final passage Monday in the Senate.

The Senate voted for 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.

If the governor’s 10 criminal justice measures all pass this week, Edwards expects Louisiana’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.

The Senate also passed a bill to decrease offenders’ fines and court fees, sending it back to the House for approval before it can reach the Democratic governor. Judicial clerks have opposed the lessening of the fees, prompting Rep. Tanner 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, hours after the proposal fell five votes short.

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," Republican Sen. Danny Martiny of Kenner 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.

Republican Sen. Page Cortez of Lafayette said the proposal could encourage people to re-offend in order to evade child support.

Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican, countered that a person would have to be "crazy" to want to spend six months in prison just so they could dodge owing more child support.

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

Later Monday, the House planned debate on other pieces of the governor’s criminal justice package, bills that would rework criminal sentencing laws.

House Bills 116, 249, 489, 519, 680: <a href="http://www.legis.la.gov" target="_blank">www.legis.la.gov</a>

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