Louisiana’s Legislative Session 2021: Progress Made in Criminal Justice Reform

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Public safety and support of victims are Right on Crime’s top priorities in advocating for reforms to the criminal justice system. The 2021 legislative session saw the Pelican State continue to move in the right direction with common-sense, practical criminal justice reforms. In this limited fiscal session, Right on Crime tracked over 70 criminal justice related bills and was encouraged with the positive direction the Legislature has chosen in tackling the tough criminal justice issues facing Louisiana. Numerous bills were passed that will improve policies around victims’ rights, pre-trial reform, fees and fines, and strengthening reentry.

It is fitting that the first bill to cross the finish line this session was HR17 by Rep. Stephanie Hilferty proclaiming National Crime Victims’ Week in Louisiana. Additionally, Right on Crime was appointed as a member of the Survivor Informed Task Force in SCR45 by Sen. Patrick McMath. These policies support the conservative principle that victims must be prioritized by the justice system.

Another priority in criminal justice reform is the protection of the rights guaranteed to all citizens in the U.S. Constitution and the Louisiana Constitution. Our criminal justice system is based on a presumption of innocence, which is oftentimes forgotten by many.  To support this tenet, HB46 by Rep. Edward James passed to reduce the timeframe for a prosecutor to file criminal charges from 45 days to 30 days for misdemeanors. Unfortunately, the felony timeframe portion of the bill was removed by an amendment at the behest of the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association. Further, HB106 by Rep. Barbara Carpenter was passed to mandate that defendants be advised of the collateral consequences of a felony conviction at the time of guilty or nolo contendere pleas.

In the area of fines and fees, court costs and fees were eliminated in juvenile proceedings in HB216 and HB248 lowered probation and parole supervision fees to $1.00 for individuals on inactive supervision.

Individuals who have taken personal responsibility and paid their debt to society still face a lifetime of collateral consequences tied to their past actions. The legislature passed SR100  by Sen. Franklin Foil directing the Law Institute to study and recommend reforms addressing collateral consequences found in Louisiana law that function as an unnecessary barriers to professional and occupational licensing for justice-involved individuals. HB232 by Rep. Joseph Marino removes the restriction that an expungement may occur only once during a five-year period for misdemeanor offenses. Thus removing barriers to employment and housing. Lastly, the legislature passed HB678 by Rep. Royce Duplessis to create the Louisiana Work Opportunity Tax Credit, modeled after the Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

These reforms highlight just a few of this session’s successes in moving Louisiana in the right direction. However, more work remains. Preparations for the 2022 Legislative Session have already begun to address issues such as a clean slate, split-jury retroactivity, and solitary confinement reforms.