As the legislative session winds down, it has become very clear that this is not just an emergency session for COVID-related bills. The final week of this session looks like any other, with bills covering a wide range of topics.
ACTION ALERT: HB 643, HB 529 all need to get a hearing in Senate Judiciary C this week! Call and email Chairman Franklin Foil asking him to put the bills on the agenda TODAY! 225-342-6777 / [email protected]
Here are some of the bills we’ve been following this session, covering Prison Conditions, Supervision and Discrimination, and Medical Marijuana:
Council on the Children of Incarcerated Parents (CIP): HB729 (Rep. Marcelle). Under the leadership of Daughters Beyond Incarceration (DBI), this entirely new council, to be in the Office of the Governor, would have 17 members (including a representative each from DBI and VOTE, three people who were children when their parents were incarcerated, and one FIP parent). Unlike most councils and commissions about our people, the CIP smartly only has two members of DOC, one representative from the Sheriffs association and one District Attorney.
Medical Services in Jails and Prisons Study: HCR 91 (Rep. Mandie Landry). This resolution will ask VOTE, LSU Health Sciences Center, Loyola Law, and the FIT Clinic to study medical services for the incarcerated, including the impact of COVID-19, and report to the legislature in 2021. This resolution passed the House (80-19), and needs to be heard in the Senate Committee this week.
End Solitary Confinement for pregnant women: HB 344 (Rep. Mandie Landry). This bill originally ended solitary confinement for pregnant women and people with mental illness, but amendments limited its scope to just pregnant women. Still, this bill marks the first time Solitary has been barred in any way, and hopefully future efforts will expand the ban on this inhumane practice.
Veteran’s Mentorship Program: SB 407 (Sen. Kenny Cox). This bill is a “clean up” to our prior expansion of the program, allowing the DOC to actually fulfill the intent of the law and ensure powerful vet mentors are able to help their fellow vets.. It passed through the Senate and House committee with no opposition, and onto the House Floor today for final passage.
Community Supervision and Post-Conviction Discrimination
Parole conditions cap at 5 years: HB 643 (Rep. Jones). This bill would help a few thousand people who have proven to successfully overcome the many obstacles to assimilation after prison, and place them on unsupervised parole. It has made it through the House will be heard this week in Senate Judiciary C.
Proving your incarceration term: HB 529 (Rep. Duplessis). This bill allows people to get documentation regarding their sentence (past or present) from their local Probation and Parole Office. People have previously gone to great lengths trying to prove they have finished the term, to prove identity theft, or qualify for a program.
Voter registration for people on probation: A bill to streamline voter registration (HB 454), which was worked out with the Secretary of State, DOC, and Rep. Sam Jenkins will need to wait on next week’s Special Session.
Studying the barriers to reintegration: HCR 14 The Louisiana Dept. of Health and Dept. of Education will study some of the barriers to reintegration. This is part of a broader movement to really understand why “success” is so difficult, and develop new strategies that work. – Passed the House and heads to the Senate floor this week.
Medical Marijuana: HB 819 Allows any doctor in good standing to recommend marijuana when “in the sincere judgment of the physician, therapeutic cannabis may be helpful to the patient’s condition or symptoms.” This should finally allow Louisiana to fully benefit from medical marijuana the way that most other states in America can. The House passed it 77 – 15, and it is up for the full Senate today. Another medical marijuana bill (HB 455) passed the House 80 – 10, and is on the Senate floor. The bill would allow therapeutic marijuana for people in hospice or palliative care. The progress of these bills indicate a major shift on this subject.
Parole eligibility for all juveniles at 25 years: HB 173. The next step after ending mandatory juvenile life w/o parole was creating a parole eligibility at 25 years. This bill would extend that eligibility to every child serving a lengthy adult sentence. It passed the House 68 – 22, and is now in Senate Judiciary B.
Fines and fees–the saga continues: HCR 2 and HCR 3 serve to continue pushing off the JRI Reform that grants people “Ability to Pay” hearings and provides debt relief and incentives for people who can put these bills in front of their rent, phone, food, and transportation. The fact that it will take at least five years to understand the convoluted system of assessing and collecting fines and fees (and lack of accounting) should tell us all we need to know about this historical attempt to fund America’s most expansive criminal legal system on the backs of one of America’s poorest citizens. These will both pass.
Study of homicide data over the past 5 years: HCR 56. The Legislature added Voice of the Experienced to the research team, to provide insight on numbers and statistics that have real world people and situations. This passed the House, and is on to the Senate floor this week.
Retro 80s Throwback Edition – Reminiscent of America’s sordid “Tough on Crime” era, several bills are moving forward without any regard for the modern trend to reduce barbaric sentences that leave us with a prison full of senior citizens facing a global flu pandemic. These bills show that legislators often fail to look at the current maximum sentences, nor do they seem to believe the Louisiana judiciary (the most punitive in the nation) will dole out harsh enough sentences.
- HB 197 (Rep. Zerengue) creates a vague yet strict punishment for merely trespassing on “critical infrastructure” property.
- HB 434 (Rep. Hilferty) is a seemingly redundant expansion of Felony Murder, where (most commonly) if someone tries to prevent a robbery, and accidentally kills someone other than the robber (including the robbery victim), it will be the person committing the robbery who is charged with 2nd degree murder or manslaughter.
- HB 450 (Rep. Hilferty) amends burglary (typically, breaking into an empty car) so that anyone with a firearm, or stealing a firearm, will have three years mandatory minimum. The reality is that, under current law, someone in this scenario will likely also be charged with a number of firearms offenses. This bill passed the House 69 -22.
- SB 32 (Sen. Connick) Removes parole eligibility for people convicted of 2nd degree rape, which carries a maximum sentence of forty years, and a minimum of five. So rather than allow someone to be eligible for our convoluted parole release (less than 5% of people are released through the parole board), this bill continues the slippery slope backwards to extreme sentencing.
For more information on these bills and where things stand as the final week of the legislative session comes to a close, visit our Legislative Corner.