Thursday, August 15, 2013

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – As of August 16, many of the laws passed during the 2013 legislative session took effect.
            Bills without an emergency clause or without a specified effective date go into effect 90 days after the final, official day of the session.  This year that date was May 17. The 90 day period is in Amendment 7 to the Arkansas Constitution, which gives people 90 days after a session to file referendum petitions to nullify laws passed by the General Assembly. Arkansas voters approved Amendment 7 in 1920.
            Appropriation bills, which authorize spending by state agencies, take effect on July 1, the first day of the state fiscal year.  Bills with an emergency clause take effect when they are signed by the governor.
The legislature usually approves a few bills each regular session that specify a certain date on which they will take effect. For example, a new law that changed curriculum standards in public schools would likely have an effective date a couple of years in the future, to allow school administrators time to prepare.
             One of this year’s new laws is Act 1029, to require the state Parole Board to issue an arrest warrant for any parolee who is charged with committing a violent or sexual offense. The act mandates that the Board conduct a revocation hearing, to determine whether the parolee will be sent back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence behind bars.
            The act has implications for the entire criminal justice system.  Parole officers, who work for the Department of Community Punishment, must provide information on violent and sexual offenses to the Parole Board so it can schedule revocation hearings.
 In order for parole officers to keep the Board informed they must get arrest information from local law enforcement and sheriffs, who operate county jails.
            The legislature has focused attention on parole policies, not only in approving new legislation but in holding a series of hearings over the summer to spotlight the danger to the public when potentially violent parolees are not monitored closely. As a result of the heightened attention from the public and from legislators, the Parole Board has scheduled more frequent hearings and is sending more parolees back to prison than in previous years.
            According to news reports, the Parole Board recently revoked the parole of 110 parolees and sent them back to prison, in less than a month of hearings.  In all of last year the Board revoked the parole of 365 parolees.
            Parolees can waive their appearance before the Parole and be sent back to prison without a hearing. The chairman of the Parole Board said that in less than a month 362 parolees waived their appearances, compared to a total of 296 who did so all of last year.
            What this means is that tighter enforcement of parole laws will have a long-term effect on state prisons, which are operated by the state Correction Department and which are consistently filled to capacity. When state prisons are full, offenders who have been convicted cannot be immediately processed into a state prison unit and must remain in county jails until space is available.
            Last week there were 943 state inmates being held in county jails because of a lack of space in state prison units.  The state Correction Department reimburses counties $28 per day for each inmate.

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