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Bill to expedite bail procedure passes out of House committee

Generic prison bars graphic.
Generic prison bars graphic.(Gray News, file)
Published: May. 12, 2021 at 8:34 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (LSU) - Two bills dealing with the release of incarcerated individuals were heard in a House committee Wednesday, with one passing and the other being deferred in the face of opposition.

HB83, by Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, advanced through the Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice. The bill expedites bail procedure by ending a requirement that an arrested individual must be transported to the parish where the warrants were originally registered before being released.

HB603, written by Rep. Wilford Carter, D-Lake Charles, did not pass, as he tried to adjust the amount of time that the Department of Corrections (DOC) takes to complete paperwork dealing with a detainee’s release.

A complication for Carter’s bill is that Louisiana is under a statewide civil investigation by the Department of Justice for its prisoner release practices.

“The United States Constitution requires that a person must be released within, at most, two days of their legal release date,” said Rebecca Ramaswamy, staff attorney of the Promise of Justice Initiative. “HB603 tries to give the DOC 40 days, or 10 days, or even three days. Anything more than two days past their legal release date, the state is violating that person’s rights.”

Ramaswamy told the committee that the bill “is trying to get the legislators blessing to continue to waste millions of dollars a year on unnecessary and unconstitutional over detention.”

Rep. Carter was not present at the meeting.

Another member of the Promise of Justice Initiative, Michael Calhoun, told the committee just how much over-detaining costs the state.

“In 2019, DOC found in one month, 231 people were affected,” Calhoun said. “Those people waited an average of 44 days to be released after a judge ordered them free.” He said the agency concluded that this pattern was costing the state $2.8 million a year in housing costs alone.

Megan Garvey, who spoke in opposition to the bill on behalf of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told the committee that the Corrections Department uses a van to physically transport paperwork rather than using communications technology.

A defense lawyer on the committee, Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond, did not object to Carter’s bill being voluntarily deferred but spoke enviously of HB83 by Fontenot.

“I’m kind of disappointed I couldn’t think of it,” said Muscarello.

That bill proposes that people with warrants taken into custody outside of the jurisdiction where the warrant was issued can make bail in the parish they were detained. Currently, law-enforcement officers are required to transport the individual to the parish that issued the warrant, causing delay and transportation costs.

Sheriff Craig Webre of Lafourche Parish spoke in favor of Fontenot’s bill and said it “legitimizes and recognizes the right to bail, that all persons who are arrested have.”

“It also assists in expediting the process in a way that allows jails and people incarcerated not to have to be transported all across the state of Louisiana when not necessary,” said Webre.

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