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Alabama House OKs juvenile justice reform

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a massive reform package of the troubled Alabama juvenile justice system.

HB225 was sponsored by state Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville. Hill chairs the House Judiciary Committee and was the co-chair of the Juvenile Justice Task Force created by Gov. Kay Ivey. Hill is a retired judge in St. Clair County.

Hill said that 70 percent of the children we have in confinement with the Department of Youth Services are in there for minor offenses.

Hill said that the bill would expand early intervention issues and would require the development of a risk and needs determination for each child that enters the juvenile courts. The money saved by decreasing detentions would be reinvested in local community intervention programs.

State Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville, said, “Rep. Hill, I respect you, but I have some concerns about this bill. This is an 80 something page bill. I admit that there is a lot about this I do not understand. Before I want to vote on this bill I want to know what it does.”

“I did not even know about this bill until 2 or 3 weeks ago and I was told that it was not going to pass,” Rich said.

Rich said he would vote aginst the bill’s BIR, and he encouraged others to do the same.

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State Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said, “I arise in opposition to this unless there is amendments made to this bill.”The task force has given us a bad piece of legislation,” Jackson said.”

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“We send them off to some place for correction and they come back a thug,” Jackson said.

Hill replied, “Then you should support this bill.”

Jackson replied, “I am supportive of parts of the bill but It needs some amendments.”

State Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Killen, said, “My juvenile probation officer has just texted me and asked me to vote no on this. Are the association of Juvenile probation officers for this?”

Hill replied, “It is my understanding that the association is for this.” “There were probably 20 different agencies represented on this task force. There were votes taken and obviously not everybody got what they wanted.”

State Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo, said, “A number of other states have adopted these reforms including Georgia.” Fridy asked, “A local district judge has contacted me in opposition to this but are the judges association for this?”

Hill answered, “The association is for this. The current president and the past presidents were on the task force.” Supreme Court Chief Justice Lynn Stewart was on the task force.

Hill said, “The governor has put a $million into the general fund budget to get this started.”

The House adopted the committee substitute version of the 86-page bill and several amendments. The version of the bill that passed the House would be the fourth version of the legislation.

“The Pugh Foundation found that 60 percent of the kids that are in out of home placements are there for relatively minor offenses,” Hill said. “Not only is it more economical to treat them in their own home, their own environment, their own school it is also more effective.”

State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, asked, “Is the intent of the bill to create a true diversion program in the juvenile justice system?”

“Yes, I will take that word,” Hill said. “The state will prepare a risk and needs assessment tool on every child. I envision this to be similar to the sentencing guidelines. A risk and needs assessment is going to be different to the sentencing guidelines but this is analogous. The risk and needs assessment will make a recommendation and the judge will have the option to accept it or not.”

“There are counties that have absolutely no services other than a probation officer and that is not enough,” Hill said. “If a child is two years behind in school that child needs educational services, if that child test positives for drugs that child needs drug treatment services. If that child has mental health issues that child needs mental health services. The needs are unique to each child.”

State Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill. I applaud what you are are trying to do. We need to do something; but I want to warn this body that this is going to cost money.”Hill said that this is not a savings, rather this is a diversion of resources from DYS incarceration to community based services.

Knight said, “There is not enough money in savings to fully implement this bill.

Hill responded, “Are you happy with locking up 60 percent more kids that are necessary?”

State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said, “I got a text from a probation officer named Beverly something and they are having a meeting to discuss problems with this bill. I have not had a chance to read the bill but I promised her that I will.”

Rogers asked Hill to delay the bill so further discussion could take place.

“This is the fourth version of this bill and there have been meetings on this bill for months,” Hill said in response. “No, I am not willing to carry it over another day for more meetings.”

Rogers said, “They said that upstairs (the State Senate) it is not getting out of committee but that is your problem.”

Hill said, “No that is Cam Ward’s problem (State Senator from Alabaster who co-chaired the task force with Hill). My job is to pass this out of this house.”

Rogers said, “I have not looked at the bill myself but I am concerned because they (the juvenile probations officers) are concerned.”

Hill responded, “When you talk to them ask them if they have read the latest version of the bill.”

Hill said, “I have gotten a message from Senator Ward and he said that if we pass this bill today it will be in committee in the Senate on Tuesday. Passing this will decrease juvenile detentions and save $35 million over the next five years to be reinvested in local communities for the purposes of providing services to these children locally.”

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chataom, said, “My judges and JPOs (juvenile probation officers) have contacted me during lunch and they are opposed. They say that this version of the bill is not the one that they worked on.”

Knight said, “I am getting a lot of calls about this because somebody upstairs led them to believe that it was dead upstairs.”

Knight makes a motion to carry the bill over, which would effectively kill the legislation this late in the legislative session. That motion failed on a 36-50 vote.

Hill said that committee amendment number three would charge the state for each day that a detained juvenile is held by the county awaiting DYS (the Department of Youth Services) to pick up the child after seven days. The counties are currently paying this cost. Hill opposed the amendment, but it passed 76-12.

State Rep. Joe Lovvorn, R-Auburn, proposed an amendment with a number of changes in the bill which he said that the juvenile judges wanted to make.

Hill said, “I am not for this amendment,” and introduced a tabling motion to kill Lovvorn’s amendment. The tabling motion passed.

There were several friendly technical amendments that did pass. In total nine amendments were considered on the House floor.

Jackson invoked a house rule requiring that the bill be read at length. That added an additional hour and forty minutes for the robot to read the entire bill.

HB225, as substituted and amended, passed the House of Representatives on a 69-20 vote.

The bill now moves to the State Senate for their consideration.

It is the Alabama Political Reporter’s current understanding that the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the bill in a special called meeting on Tuesday.

If the bill can get out of committee on Tuesday or Wednesday, there will be time for the bill to pass in the Senate. Both budgets have passed both houses so the Legislature, once they concur on both budgets, will have met their constitutional duties.

According to our sources, the Legislature plans to leave and go home using only 25 of their constitutionally allowed legislative days. Thursday was day 20.

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