Optimism despite hurdles around criminal code overhaul

Mar 25, 2013

Bedford Republican Senator Brent Steele says he remains confident the legislature will pass a bill overhauling the state’s criminal code, despite Governor Mike Pence voicing concerns about the measure’s impact.

Gov. Pence’s main issue with the bill is its reduction of penalties for low-level drug offenders.  Those behind the criminal code reform effort want to focus more on rehabilitation.  But Pence says the state must remain tough on drugs and work to reduce crime, not penalties. 

Anderson Democratic Rep. Terri Austin has similar concerns about the bill.  She’s says she’s particularly worried about shifting more burden onto the court system and hopes the bill will be changed to improve the funding structure of the state’s criminal justice system.

“Is there a way we can reduce the amount of money we send to incarceration and put more resources towards what I call rehabilitation and reentry programs, community corrections and others?” Austin said.

But Republican Senator Brent Steele, the bill’s sponsor, says the legislation has been crafted by prosecutors, judges, public defenders and law enforcement over the last four years.

“We’re not going to change the bill this year.  We can’t because we’ve got a balance right now where the prosecuting attorneys and the public defenders are in agreement with it,” Steele said. “So if we change anything, any aspect of this bill, it’s going to derail it.”

Steele says the legislation doesn’t take effect until July 2014, which lets the legislature pass the bill this year and make necessary changes next session.  The bill will be in a Senate committee Tuesday.