INDIANAPOLIS – A move to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system cleared final passage in the House on Thursday.
A Senate vote is expected today.
House Bill 1006 would not be effective until July 2014, and lawmakers still have to add a local funding component to the bill next year.
Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said the legislation is the “scaffolding on which we build a new and better criminal justice system” that will reduce crime and salvage lives by making people productive citizens.
The bill touches virtually every aspect of the criminal justice system – including drug sentences, prison credit time and local community corrections programs – and has taken several years to craft.
The goals of the massive measure are to make punishment more proportional to the crime, force the most serious offenders to serve longer sentences and divert drug addicts and low-level offenders from state prisons to local treatment and supervision programs to reduce recidivism.
The bill increases the number of felony levels from the current four to six and spells out new credit-time rules for early release. All felons would have to serve 75 percent of their sentences, as opposed to the current 50 percent. A few severe crimes would require 85 percent.
At the same time, the bill is designed to give local judges more discretion over when to suspend prison sentences for some crimes, which means some offenders would skip prison and stay in local community corrections programs.
Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville, conceded the legislature still needs to come up with funding for local units to handle that influx. He said that issue will be a major part of an ongoing study this summer.
The House vote was 86-10 with all area representatives in support.
Public schools would be limited on why they could deny transfer students under a bill that received final approval Thursday.
Transfers among public schools have become increasingly popular since the state took over all operating funds of K-12 schools. But some allege that schools are “cherry-picking” only the high-performing students and rejecting less-desirable applicants.
House Bill 1381, sponsored by Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, would still allow local school boards to decide if they want to accept transfer students.
But if they do, the district must set a number of open slots that are available for transfers and choose children by a lottery if more than that number apply.
Schools would not be allowed to deny transfer to a student based on attendance, test scores, disabilities or overall academic record.
There are some limitations on kids who have been suspended or expelled.
“We need to be fair to all schools,” said Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury. “Urban schools should be allowed to keep their better students. If a school wants to pull them out then they should have to take everyone, not just the ones who perform the best.”
But those opposed argued public schools will stop accepting transfers at all for fear new students might bring their school ranking down.
The House passed the bill 77-19 Wednesday, and the Senate followed with a 36-14 vote Thursday.
The bill now heads to the governor.
Deer bill dies
An effort to legalize five high-fenced hunting preserves is dead for the session.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he wants the courts to rule on a pending lawsuit over the preserves. That lawsuit goes back about eight years, and a judge has never decided the case. The parties, instead, have waited to see what the legislature does.
The General Assembly has turned back a move to legalize canned hunts – killing deer with large racks in a confined space – several times in recent years.
The contentious provision was in Senate Bill 487, which has been halted.