Senate committee passes four-strikes bill

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 342 views 

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Monday that would require offenders sentenced three times previously to the Department of Correction to serve at least 80% of their sentences on the next commitment.

Senate Bill 177 by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, passed by a voice vote and now goes to the full Senate.

King argued that the biggest issue driving Arkansas’ crime rate is repeat offenders who should be held accountable for their actions. He blamed crime in part on a 2011 bill, the Public Safety Improvement Act signed by Gov. Mike Beebe, which focused on community supervision and reserving prison space for violent and career criminals. After a multiple offender on parole, Darrell Dennis, murdered 18-year-old Forrest Adams, Arkansas tightened its policies, and the state’s prison growth rate became among the highest in the nation.

King said law enforcement officers are tiring of re-arresting the same people. He said the bill was not meant to apply to people arrested for petty crimes as has happened with similar “three strikes and you’re out” legislation.

According to King, the bill if enacted into law would have a fiscal impact of $19 million in 2018, $38 million in 2019, and $121 million by 2026. But he said the costs would be countered with the savings in economic costs related to crime. He also vowed to create a revenue stream to pay for the bill before the session’s end, leading Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, to ask how legislators were supposed to vote for the bill without seeing it.

Solomon Graves, Department of Correction spokesperson, said the department is opposed to the bill because it would add 6,000 inmates to the prison population by 2026. That population, which is now 17,581, is projected to rise to 22,781 without the bill. He said the cost of the bill would be higher than the $19 million stated by King and that it takes three years to build a prison.

In other business, the committee advanced by a voice vote House Bill 1678 by Rep. Rick Beck, R-Center Ridge, would allow relatives to file a petition for visitation rights if they believe the Department of Human Services is unreasonably interfering with their contact with an endangered or impaired adult, or if a guardian is doing so with a ward.

The vote followed testimony by Kerri Kasem, daughter of deceased radio personality Casey Kasem, whose widow prevented his children from seeing him when he suffered from dementia even after a court granted Kerri temporary conservatorship. The widow moved him on a meandering route from California to Washington until Kerri finally transported him to a hospital shortly before he died.

The committee also voted against Senate Bill 580 by Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, which would change the word “husband” to “spouse” on birth certificates for babies born by artificial insemination and surrogacy.

Elliott and co-sponsor Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, said the bill was needed for the state to comply with the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same sex marriage nationwide.

They said birth certificates for children born to opposite gender married couples through artificial insemination and surrogacy list the mother’s husband, not the sperm donor, and this would provide consistency.