INDIANAPOLIS – State lawmakers were briefly back in session Tuesday to fix a series of mistakes in this year’s legislation – mistakes that could have let some child molesters out of prison sooner, while also making it harder for police to make shoplifting arrests.
Lawmakers in the state Senate and House voted to approve those changes during a rare ‘technical corrections’ session at the Statehouse.
The session was deemed necessary after lawmakers were alerted to some crucial mistakes in the bill revising Indiana’s criminal code. Most notably, lawmakers accidentally lowered the penalties for child seduction, lowering the average sentence by some eight years. Lawmakers said they forgot to account for a provision in the credit-restricted statute that deals with child molesters.
“When we were making adjustments in the sentences we inadvertently did not account for that other section, and that lowered sentences that we wanted to stay the same,” said state Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, in an interview last week.
“Nobody saw this, including us,” said state Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville. “So the first thing I did was contact everybody else and say this is something we need to deal with and we need to deal with it before it becomes effective July 1.”
“Obviously that’s a concern, because we know that these crimes need punishment,” said Jessica White with the Indiana Coalition against Sexual Assault. “We certainly don’t want the punishment lowered, so I’m glad that they caught that.”
Lawmakers said it wasn’t uncommon for there to be some technical glitches, especially in a piece of legislation as large as the bill revising our state’s criminal code.
“I could see how you’d say, ‘How could you make that mistake?’” said Pierce. “But when you have a 400-page bill (and) you re-write an entire volume of the Indiana code, you’ll have these glitches.”
Another glitch would have inadvertently taken away arrest powers from police, in some shoplifting cases involving thefts of less than $750, in which the officer did specifically not witness the crime.
“We need to be able to call the police and have the police officer come and make a formal arrest and if this change had not occurred we would not be able to do that,” said Grant Monahan with the Indiana Retail Council. “It’s just an honest error by the General Assembly in this massive effort, something that unfortunately got missed.”
Lawmakers made a total of 15 different corrections to this year’s legislation.
Speaker Brian Bosma released the following statement Tuesday about the changes made by lawmakers:
“We do our best to get things right during the legislative session. However, occasionally, technical errors are made, and it is important that we act to resolve them. While most technical corrections can wait until the following legislative session to be resolved, since a majority of the technical fixes addressed the criminal code reform legislation, we felt these changes needed to be addressed before the bill went into effect on July 1.
“Reforming our criminal code was one of the largest legislative undertakings in recent history. There have been thousands of hours invested, strong bipartisan support and countless organizations involved since we began our work five years ago. By passing HEA 1448, we are keeping the original intent of the bill intact which included; reserving our prison space for the worst offenders, increasing certainty in sentencing and making sentences more proportionate to fit the crime.
“Our work to redefine, rebalance and update Indiana’s sentencing guidelines required vast cooperation from both sides of the aisle, and after meeting with the lawmakers that worked on these bills, we all wanted to see these issues resolved before they went into effect. I am pleased that HEA 1448 passed ensuring that the intent of the original legislation, which was to help make Indiana a safer place to live, work and raise a family, remains in place.”