Criminal justice reform in the states: May 3, 2019 edition

Legislative roundup: Nebraska won’t abolish death penalty, Texas lieutenant governor says he will sink marijuana bill

Updates drawn from the Political Report newsletter. Find out more on our legislative roundup page.

Colorado, Nevada, and Massachusetts: Voting rights

Colorado and Nevada’s legislatures are moving to enfranchise people upon their release from incarceration. In Massachusetts, a legislative committee killed a proposal to abolish felony disenfranchisement; the vote was not public. Read more in The Political Report’s article on the landscape of reform on the issue of voter eligibility.

Florida: Voting rights

As a result of Amendment 4’s win in November, approximately 1.4 million people who had completed their sentences became eligible to register in January, and the state has even held some local elections since. But the state legislature is poised to restrict the reform’s implementation this week, and again disenfranchise some of these individuals, in part by connecting voting rights to the payment of all courts fines and fees. Kira Lerner reported on the latest from Florida in The Appeal on Wednesday. “I can’t afford that,” one Florida resident told Lerner of the $57,688 of court costs and fees she may now have to pay pay before she is allowed to vote.

Nebraska: Death penalty

Nebraska lawmakers rejected legislation to abolish the death penalty on a vote of 25 to 17; the bill had advanced past the committee stage last month. The state legislature abolished the death penalty in 2015, but state voters then reinstated it in a 2016 referendum. Senator Ernie Chambers has been the primary sponsor of these repeated efforts.

This leaves New Hampshire and Washington as the two states that may adopt abolition legislation this year.

Oregon: Youth justice

Senate Bill 1008, Oregon’s major legislative package reforming the juvenile system, is still alive. But the Portland Mercury reports that it is under major threat from the Oregon District Attorneys Association. The group, which lobbies in the name of state prosecutors, is taking particular aim at the proposal to lift the mandate that minors charged with higher-level offenses must be tried as adults starting at age 15. SB 1008 would also abolish juvenile life without parole sentences and expand opportunities for early release for people convicted while minors.

Texas: Marijuana

The House adopted legislation this week to reduce penalties for possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana. But Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has since made it clear he intends to bury this bill in the Senate, and he does control the upper chamber’s agenda. The bill is already a watered-down version of an earlier decriminalization proposal.

Nationwide

A number of bills that I have written about recently are still sitting on a governors’ desks. They include a Colorado bill enfranchising people who are on parole, a New Hampshire bill abolishing the death penalty, and a Montana bill to stop the suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment of court fines and fees.