By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. One of two possible two criminal justice reform bills passed the Alabama House Wednesday night after Republicans’ willingness to make minor changes to a sentencing law dwindled.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told reporters after the House adjourned that Republican support was not there for House Bill 1.
“It was not that the members did not want to address it,” McCutcheon said. “I think you will see this come back up when we go back into regular session but here we are in the special session and the time limit that we have, I feel like members felt that the second bill, House Bill 2, was worth more energy and time than house bill one was.”
House Bill 1 would have made retroactive a 2013 law to allow nonviolent offenders to be eligible for re-sentencing pursuant to the state’s current presumptive sentencing standards. Hill said about 700 current inmates could be impacted by the lookback, though that doesn’t guarantee an earlier release date.
The same bill passed the House during this year’s regular session but died without a vote in the Senate.
Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, sponsored both bills and said he would refile HB1 for the 2022 regular session that begins in January.
“Giving an opportunity for an individual to be sentences in a manner that is consistent to how we sentence now instead of how we were sentencing in 2012, to me it is an element of fairness,” Hill said.
The bill that was approved, House Bill 2, increases the number of inmates who could be released prior to the end of their sentence and placed under supervision of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. It was approved with a vote of 77 to 23.
Amendments were added to it from Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, that would require those released to undergo mandatory electronic monitoring at no cost to the person being released. Jones explained that the monitoring would be funded through the $800,000 appropriation to the Pardons and Parole board for fiscal year 2022.
Another amendment from Jones also passed unanimously provides a non-drivers license ID to those released.
“This seems like a minor thing, but it is a big deal that helps them get jobs and keeps jobs,” Jones said.
Jones said the goal of both amendments is to help reduce recidivism in the state.
The reform bills are part of the special session focused on the construction of new mega-prisons in the state. Democrats and advocacy groups have argued that the sentencing reform bills don’t do enough update state laws and building new prisons won’t solve the state’s problems with crowded and violent prisons.
House Bill 2 now goes to the Senate Judiciary committee which is scheduled to meet at 1:30 this afternoon..