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Sentencing reform bills pass committee

By MARY SELL and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved two criminal sentencing reform bills sending them to the full House of Representatives for a vote as soon as Wednesday.

The bills, sponsored by Committee Chairman Jim Hill, R-Moody, are separate from the prison construction package that also advance in committee Tuesday but were included by Gov. Kay Ivey in her call for a special session.

House Bill 1 would make 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.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, thanked Hill for bringing the bill, but said it could do more. He tried to add an amendment to allow the lookback to those convicted of “violent” crimes in which no one was physically hurt.

“This expands eligibility for someone who did not cause bodily injury or was not convicted of a sex offense,” England said.

Rep. Matt Simpson said the amendment would mean kidnapping would be considered a non-violent offense.

“Changing this definition changes so much,” he said.

Hill successfully moved to set aside England’s, saying he wanted to keep the bill as outlined by Gov. Kay Ivey in her special session call.

“We’re down here for a pretty specific purpose,” Hill said.  “We’ve got serious issues that face this state. We’ve got prisons that are overcrowded, we’ve got prisons that are understaffed…We need to take action. I want to take the action that the governor has asked us to take. Do we need to take others? Perhaps. But in this special session, I’d like us to take the action that is consistent with what the governor put in her call.”

House Bill 1 was approved by the committee with a 9-5 vote. Voting in favor were: Hill; England; Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison; Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma; Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham; Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Leeds ; Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla; Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook; and Rep. Ben Robbins, R-Sylacauga.

Those opposed were: Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley; Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy; Rep. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka; and Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne.

Hill’s House Bill 2 aims to reduce recidivism in prisons by increasing 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.

“If you are concerned about public safety, this is the responsible thing to do,” England said.

Ball called it common sense legislation. It passed on a voice vote with no opposition.

Both bills were recommendations from a criminal justice reform task force Ivey formed in 2019 and both were approved in the House earlier this year. They died without a vote in the Senate.

The House will come in at 9 a.m. on Wednesday to debate and possibly pass the bills.

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