INDIANAPOLIS — Facing the end-of-session deadline, Indiana legislators moved forward on a bill to overhaul the state’s criminal sentencing laws but left undone the issue of where local communities will get the money to implement it.
The House voted Thursday to approve a compromise version of the bill, designed to divert thousands of low-level offenders out of state prisons and back into local jails, probation departments, and community treatment programs.
A budget deal also reached Thursday contains $6.4 million to help local communities absorb extra costs of the new sentencing laws that would go into effect July 1, 2014. But falls far short of the $30 million requested by the bill’s supporters.
“We do not intend for this to be an unfunded mandate to the locals,” said Republican Rep. Greg Steuerwald of Avon, who authored House Bill 1006.
Steuerwald said the issue of funding will need to be taken up by a legislative study committee this summer, since today is expected to be the last day of the 2013 session.
As House Bill 1006 made its way though the session, it was stripped of funding. Not until this week, after county officials from around the state flooded their legislators with calls and e-mails, was money for local programs put in the budget bill.
Andrew Berger, head of government relations for the Association of Indiana Counties, said the lack of funding alarmed local officials who’d come to see the bill as little more than cost-shifting by the state to local governments.
“All along, the bill’s supporters said that if the locals aren’t given the resources, this isn’t going to work,” Berger said. “Well, then I guess it’s not going to work.”
House Bill 1006 rewrites the state’s felony criminal code to raise penalties for violent and sex crimes and decrease penalties for low-level property and drug crimes. The goal was to keep the worst criminals in prison and give judges the discretion to send low-level offenders into intensive local probation, work-release, or addiction-treatment programs to keep them from cycling back into crime.