As a formerly incarcerated man having served 25 years, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the Louisiana State Capitol for the first time on March 14, 2022. I carried ideas of what to expect from studying the messiness of the law and engaging in Angola’s Special Civic Project on the inside, but couldn’t be sure my instincts were accurate until I sat in stoic disbelief inside my first committee hearing on the Administration of Criminal Justice.
It was disheartening to witness the lack of empathy, inattention, disconnection to the stories of impacted people, disrespect, character and community attacks, condescending tones, and discourtesy exhibited during committee hearings. It reminded me of ugly elections where one candidate uses a smear campaign, dirty name-calling, and reputation-debasing practices to destroy the character of the other. I saw these same election-origin practices employed inside legislative committees to defeat bills drafted to change policies that negatively impact formerly and currently incarcerated people.
In my opinion, the Louisiana legislative session could have been remarkably pivotal in changing people’s lives for the better if opponents and legislators had worked together with VOTE and our allies to pass meaningful laws. We entered the session hoping to pass bills dealing with post-conviction relief for non-unanimous jury verdicts (HB 271, HB 744); parole consideration for juvenile and adult lifers (HB 730, HB 404); medical parole for very sick people (HB 728); fair housing for formerly incarcerated people (FIP) (HB 665, HB 663, substitute adopted in House Committee: HB 1063); eliminating medical co-pay fees in prison (HB 175); giving incarcerated people the right to vote for redistricting purposes, if they are counted in those districts (HB 846); creating jobs by legalizing the cultivation of marijuana and prohibiting discrimination against FIP when regulating the cannabis industry (HB 125, HB 430).
At the start of the session, VOTE and our allies approached every table with the intention to solve obvious problems with current policies in housing, employment, voting, and the in-justice system. However, opponents approached the same table as if it was an election, with incumbents on one side, and challengers on the other. Rather than searching together for a common resolution to policy initiatives, opponents portrayed us and our allies’ bills as soft on crime, fiscally impossible, or having unintended consequences.
HB 707, sponsored by Rep. Royce Duplessis, would have automated the expungement process for low-level records. Specifically, (1) arrests that did not lead to conviction, (2) misdemeanors, 5 years since the end of the sentence, (3) felonies eligible for “first offender pardon,” (4) non-violent felonies, 10 years since the end of the sentence.
The bill ultimately failed to receive enough votes to make it out of the Senate. Right now, it costs roughly $550 on top of an attorney, to get someone’s record expunged. This makes it incredibly difficult and virtually impossible for many low-income people to have their records cleared. We have been in a 4-year battle for this bill and will continue to fight for it. HB 707 failed with a vote of 42 yeas and 57 nays.
You can attend JAC’s next expungement clinic at our VOTE office in New Orleans on July 13th. For more information, click here.
HB 746: JUVENILE SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
HB 746, by Rep. Royce Duplessis, limits the amount of time a juvenile can be placed in solitary confinement. The bipartisan bill passed the House with a vote of 84 yeas and 11 nays, then passed the Senate with a vote of 32 yeas and 0 nays. HB 746 was amended twice while Duplessis worked with stakeholders, including the Office of Juvenile Justice. The bill has been sent to the Governor and is waiting on executive approval.
HB 517 creates a Medical Advisory Committee within the D.O.C that will report quarterly to the Department of Health. Medical and administrative staff will be hired across 8 facilities and provide constitutional medical care for incarcerated individuals. This is a huge win, for far too long those of us on the inside have been treated as less than human and it’s time that’s changed.
Tuesday the bill received a vote of 33 yeas and 0 nays. The Speaker of the House (Rep. Clay Schexnayder) and President of the Senate (Sen. Patrick Page Cortez) have both signed the bill. It will now be up to Governor John Bel Edwards to sign it into law.
HB 707: EXPUNGEMENT
Getting an expungement is no easy feat. It costs a lot of time and money. HB 707, sponsored by Rep. Royce Duplessis, would automate the expungement process for low-level records. Specifically, (1) arrests that did not lead to conviction, (2) misdemeanors, 5 years since the end of the sentence, (3) felonies eligible for “first offender pardon,” (4) non-violent felonies, 10 years since the end of the sentence. The bill was heard in the Senate Committee on Finance Tuesday.
The legislation would require the Louisiana Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information to identify all records with a court’s final determination of a charge for individuals who are eligible for an expungement. Starting August 1, 2024, the bureau would send these records to the Louisiana Supreme Court Case Management Information System. Rep. Duplessis proposed a budget of $3 million dollars for the first year and $7.7 million over the course of five years. Sen. Fesi gave an amendment stating that in the second year a fee would be applied to the individual seeking the expungement. Once they got a job, it would come out of their income taxes to help pay for the expungement. According to Duplessis, the bill would impact 2.5 million records. The amendments were adopted and the bill was moved favorably.