Criminal Justice Reform Act Clears Judiciary A In Senate

By Steve Wilson
March 5, 2019

Criminal justice reform and another bill that would bring clarification to constitutional questions raised regarding actions by cities and counties passed Tuesday out of the Senate Judiciary A Committee.

Tuesday was the deadline for general bills passed by the other chamber to be reported on by committees.

House Bill 1352— also known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act — passed out of the committee with considerable discussion about possible impacts to the state highway funding and other issues.

Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Melinda McGrath and her legal team told the committee that two components of the reform package could put the state in jeopardy of being in non-compliance with federal law. One of those involves the suspension of driver’s licenses for controlled substance violations that were non-moving ones. Another was the expunging of controlled substance violations after a few years in order to allow ex-offenders to obtain commercial driver’s licenses.

McGrath said doing so would put the state at risk for losing millions in federal funding.

Federal law requires at least a six month suspension for any controlled substance violation and changing these requirements could cost the state $36.5 million a year in highway funds for regular driver’s licenses. The part in the bill about CDLs could result in a $14 million funding decrease the first year and $28 million each succeeding year.

State Sen. David Parker (R-Olive Branch) had problems with the legislation over whether it would create loopholes for habitual offenders. He gave the example of an eight-time DUI offender as someone who could use some of the bill’s language as a way to escape prison time. Parker was the lone no vote against the bill.

The Criminal Justice Reform Act is sponsored by state Rep. Jason White (R-West) and would clear obstacles for the formerly incarcerated to find work, prevents driver’s license suspensions for not only non-moving controlled substance violations, but also unpaid legal fees and fines.

The bill would also update drug court laws to allow for additional types of what are known as problem solving courts.

HB 1352 is now headed to the full Senate for a vote. If the bill is amended in the Senate before passage, the differences will have to be settled between the House and Senate in a conference committee.

One bill that didn’t receive a lot of controversy was HB 1268, which would clarify state law regarding constitutional challenges to local ordinances. The bill passed the committee without a single vote against.

With local circuit courts acting as both the appellate body for appeals on specific decisions (such as bid disputes) and the court of original jurisdiction, there’s been a lot of confusion among judges regarding the law that governs challenges of local decisions, which are required within 10 days.

For years, city and county attorneys have used this 10-day requirement on decisions to get new constitutional challenges — which are new lawsuits and not appeals — thrown out of circuit courts.

This law would add language that would prevent application of the 10-day requirement to constitutional challenges, which are new lawsuits and not challenges to decisions.

March 13 is the next deadline for floor action on general bills that originated in the other chamber.


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