Bill would make those convicted of felony drug offenses eligible for public assistance

By Steve Wilson
February 11, 2019

One of the key bills for criminal justice reform in this session might have a poison pill lurking near the bottom of its text.

Senate Bill 2791, also known as the Reentry and Employability Act, was passed out of the Senate Judiciary A Committee Tuesday, just ahead of the deadline for general bills to pass out of committee.

The Senate Judiciary A Committee — chaired by state Sen. Briggs Hopson (R-Vicksburg) — inserted substitute text that would give those convicted of felony drug offenses the ability to receive public assistance.

On section 27 of the bill, the text says that the state would opt out of 21 U.S. Code Section 862a(a) for all state residents.

This provision in federal law says that any individual convicted of a felony involving the possession, use or distribution of a controlled substance under state or federal law would be ineligible for:

  • Temporary aid to needy families (TANF) program which is a monthly cash assistance program for families with children less than 18 years old. Adults participating in the program must be in a work program.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, formerly known as the food stamp program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The original bill text lacked any mention of 21 USC Section 862a(a) in its original form, which was sponsored by state Sen. Juan Barnett (D-Heidelberg).

States do have the ability to opt out of 21 USC Section 862a(a), which was part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act passed on August 22, 1996.

SB 2791 would change the way offenders are sanctioned on supervised release for what are known as technical violations that don’t result in an arrest. These violations include failing to show up for an office visit, missing a curfew, lack of employment or testing positive for drug or alcohol. The Department of Corrections would have to impose graduated sanctions before requesting judicial modification or revocation of the offender’s parole.

These sanctions include verbal warnings, increased reporting, increased drug and alcohol testing, mandatory substance abuse treatment and incarceration in a county jail for no more than two days.

The bill would also allow misdemeanor offenders to be released on their own recognizance unless they’re on probation or parole, have other charges pending or the release of the offender would present a danger to the community.

It would also give courts the ability to reduce post-incarceration supervision, which can last up to five years under present law. This would allow probation officers to give more supervision to violent and habitual offenders.


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