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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - Steele plan "would force lawmakers to justify any measure to crack down on crime that would alter the new criminal code"

Recall March 16's ILB post, headed "The concern is that Sen. Head and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council won’t stop adding tweaks to the new HEA 1006 reforms until we’re back to what we had before," quoting a Kokomo Tribune story about the new Indiana sentencing rules, headed "Will reforms be undone?"

Well, today Maureen Hayden of CNHI reports in the Goshen News:

[Republican Sen. Brent Steele] wants to significantly slow the process of creating new crimes and penalties that send more people to prison.

The idea, strongly backed by his counterpart, House Judiciary Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, would force lawmakers to justify any measure to crack down on crime that would alter the new criminal code.

Their proposal would give a little known body, the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee, new power to vet proposed legislation.

The study committee would operate somewhat like the fiscal gatekeepers — House Ways and Means and Senate Appropriations — by forcing scrutiny of a bill’s long-term impact. Without those committees’ blessing, any money-spending measure is doomed.

Steele and Steuerwald can’t mandate the committee will have veto power. But, with a change in legislative rules, it could have much more clout.

The committee’s make-up already lends it authority. It’s a bipartisan group of more than just legislators. Judges, prosecutors, and public defenders are represented, too.

It meets in the summer, long before the legislative session starts. That would force a lawmaker to bring a proposal to the committee months before he or she could file a bill. That legislator would have to justify not only why a new crime or penalty should be created, but also calculate how much it would cost to incarcerate offenders.

Steele and Steuerwald have spent years working to rewrite the criminal code, stripping it of bloated language, archaic laws and out-of-whack penalties that made child molesters face less prison time than someone caught with a few grams of cocaine near a park.

They know a politician’s instincts. At a press conference last week on legislation that finalizes the rewrite of the criminal code, supporters hailed the bill as “tough on crime.”

It is — on violent crime. But it also pushes down penalties for myriad drug and property crimes. No one was hailing that.

“You’re not going to get politicians to stand up and say, ‘We softened it,’ but we did on the non-violent crimes,” Steele said. “We decided we’re not going to hammer some of these people with a sledgehammer when they need to be hit with a tack hammer instead.”

Like Steele, Steuerwald worries about the tendency to go for the sledgehammer. Tougher criminal penalties, he said, are “extremely difficult to vote against, because everybody thinks they’ll appear to be soft on crime.”

ILB: The Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee is a permanent interim committee, created by statute, IC 2-5-33.4-1. Here is its 2013 website.

Another permanent interim study committee, created by IC 33-23-10-1, the Commission on Courts, plays a role during the interim in vetting county requests for new courts. Its charge is set out on p. 4 of its annual report, including: "Review and report on all requests for new courts or changes in jurisdiction of existing courts."

Interestingly, the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, whose work resulted in the original 2013 version of HB 1006, and would thus be the likely group to conduct the vetting Steele is proposing, was created by HEA 1001-2009(SS), but expired Dec. 31, 2012. The job of reviewing the costs and savings of HB 1006-2013 and proposing any needed modifications to the 2014 session was therefore assigned by the LSA to the 2013 interim Criminal Law and Sentencing Study Committee - see p. 2 of the minutes of the first, Aug. 15, 2013, meeting.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 18, 2014 11:11 AM
Posted to Indiana Government