Legislative Roundup: April 25, 2019 edition

Montana close to protecting driver’s licenses; Oklahoma package moves forward; and more

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

Alabama: Detention conditions

Horrid conditions in Alabama prisons have been under the spotlight since the Justice Department released a report last month detailing the state carceral system’s “severe, systemic” violations. In an earlier report, in 2014, the DOJ assailed one women’s prison for its history of “sexual abuse and harassment from correctional staff.” The report found that “prisoners are compelled to submit to unlawful sexual advances” to “obtain necessities, such as feminine hygiene products.” The state House passed a bill last week that would require prisons and jails to provide these products to incarcerated women. “What I’m hearing is they were not receiving their products in a timely manner, which was causing women to start making their own products,” said Representative Rolanda Hollis, the bill’s sponsor.

Arizona: Legislative climate

Criminal justice reform bills steadily died during Arizona’s legislative session, as the Political Report chronicled. Steven Hsieh reports in the Phoenix New Times that the last bill standing is exceedingly narrow, and that its champions are the very people who reportedly sank the earlier bills, state Senator Eddie Farnsworth and Maricopa County District Attorney Bill Montgomery. “Advocates cast the bill as a cynical attempt to give off the appearance of reform without actually making a significant reduction in the state’s prison population,” Hseih writes.

Missouri: Death penalty

Missouri is one of only three states that allows someone to be sentenced to death even if a jury does not reach unanimity on sentencing. If the jury deadlocks, state law allows judges to impose the death penalty no matter the majority position. Republican lawmakers Shamed Dogan and Paul Wieland have introduced legislation (House Bill 811 and Senate Bill 288) that would require a jury to unanimously recommend the death penalty. The proposal easily made it out of two House committees in April. It received a hearing in the Senate last week.

Montana: Driver’s licenses

The signature of Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat, is all that is needed for Montana to halt the suspension of driver’s licenses over a failure to pay fines and fees, a practice that can trigger mounting legal and economic hardships. This bill was left for dead in early April when a Senate committee voted to table the legislation, but there was enough support for the full chamber to blast House Bill 217 out of committee and adopt it on April 18, a month after the legislation passed the House. The reform, which is now on the governor’s desk, was championed jointly by the ACLU of Montana and Americans for Prosperity.

Oklahoma: Sentencing reform

A slate of reforms that would decrease incarceration over lower-level charges is working its way through the Legislature. Six bills have all made it through one chamber and multiple committees in the other. The highest-profile proposal is HB 1269, which I detailed in March. It would retroactively reduce drug possession and some theft offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Other bills would waive some fines and fees and lessen some sentences.