These updates are part of the Political Report newsletter. Find more on our legislative round-up page.
The Indiana House unanimously adopted legislation (House Bill 1150) to provide exonerated individuals $50,000 of restitution for each year they were wrongfully incarcerated. The bill is sponsored by Representative Greg Steuerwald, a Republican, who calls it “a matter of fairness.” However, exonerated people would qualify for this restitution only if they forego all litigation against the state. The Hendricks County Flyer reports that HB 1150 would apply retroactively to already exonerated individuals, but only if their lawsuits are still unresolved and only if they agree to drop them. Kristine Bunch, who was exonerated in 2012 after being incarcerated for 17 years, has founded the nonprofit Justis 4 Justus to assist exonerated people in Indiana. She told the Flyer that although the restitution provisions in HB 1150 are important, asking people to choose between these funds and a lawsuit evades accountability. “Saying you can’t have a civil suit in addition to receiving help … it’s like they’ve gotten away with it,” she said.
New Hampshire, Vermont
Efforts to legalize marijuana move forward in two northeastern states. Although Vermont legalized the possession of marijuana last year, it did not set up a system of legal sales. The House and Senate are now considering competing bills (House Bill 196 and Senate Bill 54) to set up such a system, as Marijuana Moment details. The Senate bill has already advanced in three legislative committees. In New Hampshire, the House voted to legalize possession and sales, and also enable expungement of past convictions, Marijuana Moment reports. The legislation (House Bill 481), which moves to the Senate, did not reach a veto-proof majority, however, and the governor has said he opposes legalization.
Decrim NY, a coalition of state organizations, launched a campaign to decriminalize sex work on Feb. 25. Melissa Gira Grant reported on this new effort in The Appeal. The coalition’s aim is “repealing laws criminalizing sex work, restoring the rights of people who have been prosecuted for prostitution-related offenses, and ensuring all people in the sex trades can meet their basic needs … without discrimination,” Grant writes. She explains that although some cast criminalization as important for fighting trafficking, Decrim NY members warn about the harmful consequences of conflating trafficking and sex work; they point out that the enforcement of these codes disproportionately and punitively impacts women of color, as well as trans and gender nonconforming people, and also exposes them to ICE.
The coalition has partnered with lawmakers who plan to introduce decriminalization legislation. Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar, two state senators who were just elected in 2018 by ousting incumbents in the Democratic primary, wrote an op-ed in the New York Daily News about their intent to push for such reform. “Criminalization exposes people to exploitation,” they wrote. “We aim to repeal statutes that criminalize consensual sexual exchange between adults and create a system that erases prostitution records for sex workers and sex trafficking survivors so they can move on with their lives.” One bill already introduced by Senator Brad Hoylman (Senate Bill 2253) would repeal the penal code criminalizing loitering for prostitution.
Under federal law, noncitizens who receive a sentence that includes at least one year of detention face deportation. What this means in Utah is that people can be deported over a misdemeanor-level offense: State law provides for a maximum of 365 days in jail for Class A misdemeanors. On Feb. 25, the state House unanimously approved legislation (House Bill 244) that would reduce the maximum detention associated with such misdemeanors by one day (from 365 to 364). This would prevent misdemeanor convictions from triggering such dire immigration consequences. The bill, whose chief sponsor is Republican Representative Eric Hutchings, now moves to the state Senate. Other states, such as California in 2014, have taken this step or, like Connecticut, are considering doing so now.