Mississippi lawmakers are advancing a criminal justice reform bill that would ease penalties for some convicted of crimes. As MPB's Desare Frazier reports, the measure survived yesterday's legislative deadline, but there's more work to be done.
Mississippi Democratic Senator Juan Barnett of Heidelberg is advocating passage of House Bill 1352. The Criminal Justice Reform Act creates intervention courts for those facing issues such as mental illness and drug addiction. Barnett says the bill makes it easier for non-violent offenders to have an offense removed from their record.
"This helps a lot of individuals not having to go through all of these legal fees and lawyers and all of these things. They can make a simple petition back to the court where they were convicted at, pay a $150 fine, and if everything is o.k. then these individuals can have their records expunged. That's monumental," said Barnett.
In certain cases the bill would not require driver's license suspensions. But yesterday, a lawyer with the state attorney general's office told the judiciary committee federal law requires drug offenders have their licenses suspended and commercial license drivers with DUI's can't have their records expunged. The lawyer said Mississippi would be out of compliance and lose millions in federal funding. Republican Senator David Parker of Olive Branch voted against the bill. He's concerned about repeat offenders.
"Overtime you might be forgiving a few of the initial offenses, and then in turn that person who has repeat offenses might not be guilty of a felony further down the line because we have non-adjudicated or forgiven those that have happened over time," said Parker.
Senator Barnett says he's willing to have language removed to prevent any conflicts with federal law. The bill passed out of the committee on deadline day and now goes to the Senate floor for a vote.