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April 10, 2013

Funding sought for code changes

INDIANAPOLIS — As legislation that overhauls Indiana’s criminal code moves forward, supporters of the bill are working on finding funding for local communities to implement it.

The current version of House Bill 1006, designed to keep low-level offenders out of state prisons, contains no funding mechanism to pay for the extra costs that local jails, probation departments, and community treatment programs are expected to be hit with, if the bill becomes law.

The Senate Appropriations Committee stripped the bill of a “probation improvement fund” that would have directed more state dollars to counties.

But the committee chairman, Republican Sen. Luke Kenley of Noblesville, also assigned a small task force of legislators the job of quickly figuring out how much the bill will cost local communities and how best to pay for it.

“We’ve got to figure out what we need and how much it’s going to cost soon,” said state Sen. Karen Tallian, a Democrat from Portage tapped by Kenley for the task. Tallian’s group is scheduled to meet Thursday to come up with a funding plan.

House Bill 1006 rewrites much of the state’s felony criminal code to raise the penalties for violent and sex crimes and lessen penalties for low-level drug and theft crimes. The bill’s authors say it will reserve state prisons for the worst offenders while sending more low-level offenders into local jails,  community-based corrections, and probation rolls.

The goal is to get those low-level offenders – many of whom are drug abusers – into programs that offer treatment and intensive supervision that reduce the odds they’ll commit another crime.

House Bill 1006, if passed and signed into law, won’t go into effect until 2014 at the earliest. But any state funding needed to implement the legislation has to get into this session’s budget bill before the legislature’s end-of-April deadline.

One major challenge that has plagued the bill: No one really knows how much the sweeping changes proposed in House Bill 1006 will cost local communities.

A fiscal impact statement by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency estimates about 1,100 offenders a year would end up in local corrections programs rather than state prison. The Association of Indiana Counties believes the extra costs to local probation departments, jails, and community corrections programs, could run anywhere from $13 million to $42 million a year.

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said funding for community-based corrections and treatment programs is critical. “I think everybody understands you’ve got to have more resources at the local level for this to work,” Landis said.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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