Lorena Padron, 18, and Maria Calderon, 19, were all smiles this afternoon as they flanked Governor Nathan Deal in his office. With a stroke of a pen, the governor signed HB 373 into law, giving both of them and thousands of others with a track record of good behavior and academic success in Georgia’s Regional Youth Detention Centers (RYDCs) and Youth Development Centers (YDCs) a chance to substantially reduce their time in custody. Known as the “Good Behavior bill,” the measure passed in the 2011 legislative session that ended last month also gives juvenile court judges more discretion. “I feel very good, I’m very happy,” said Padron, after the signing ceremony at the state capitol. “I feel like I can begin my life again, like I’ll be able to go home and help my family.
When Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold) passed Barton Child Law and Policy Center Policy Director Kirsten Widner in a crowded hallway in the state capitol Thursday evening, he couldn’t resist passing on kudos. “You’ve had a good day,” he said, leaning in with a smile and an outstretched hand. “You’ve had a good day too,” she responded, with a grin and firm shake.
That exchange, in many ways, summed up the reaction many state child advocates and members of the Georgia General Assembly have expressed about the official close of the 2011 legislative session. And it’s not so surprising.
House Bill 373, also known as the “Good Behavior bill,” has unanimously passed the Georgia Senate.
“I don’t anticipate any problems,” sponsor Rep. B.J. Pak (R-Lilburn) said, of the measure approved with a 51 to 0 vote Monday. “I expect the governor to sign it into law. I’m very happy with the bill.”
The measure passed through just in time to meet Thursday’s official end to the 2011 legislative session. Formally endorsed by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and the Council of Juvenile Court Judges, it would allow judges to review the sentences of designated felons who have served part of their terms for consideration for early release.
House Bill 373, also known as the “Good Behavior bill,” which pushes for more discretion among juvenile court judges, has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC). The measure seems to have a track record of advancing just in the nick of time. Last Monday – just two days before the critical Crossover Day deadline – it got pushed through to the Senate. Yesterday Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Amy Howell had about 20 minutes to drive to the State Capitol to testify on it after it was unexpectedly added to the SJC agenda. “I don’t know what happened I had just left the capitol; I was told that it wasn’t on the schedule and then all of a sudden I get this call from [committee chairman Bill] Hamrick’s legal assistant that I needed to turn around and come back,” says DJJ spokeswoman Scheree Moore.
The Georgia House of Representatives has approved a measure dubbed the “good behavior bill,” that pushes for more discretion among juvenile court judges. The 169 to 1 vote came just in time to meet this week’s critical legislative “crossover day” deadline. “I am so pleased with the passage of House Bill 373 and grateful to B.J. Pak, Jay Neal, Wendell Willard, Stacey Abrams, Yasmin Neal and all of the representatives who voted in support of the bill,” said Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Amy Howell. “It is great that our leadership understood the opportunity this bill presents for DJJ, our youth and Georgia. I am looking forward to working with the Senate.”
Now that a bill allowing for more discretion among juvenile court judges has been filed with the Georgia House of Representatives, it may be an uphill battle for the sponsor of another bill pushing for the creation of a juvenile parole board. Nearly two weeks ago Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), a Georgia Legislative Black Caucus member, introduced Senate Bill 105, which would establish a three-person juvenile parole panel within the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). “With limited financial resources and the severe overcrowding in our jails, we must begin looking at alternatives to incarceration,” said Sen. Jones of the measure, now awaiting review by the Senate Judiciary Committee. “This bill is aimed at juvenile offenders who have committed only designated felonies.”
The main challenge ahead for Sen. Jones may be the fact that another measure dubbed the “good behavior bill” pushing for more discretion among juvenile court judges was also filed late last week. House Bill 373, which has been formally endorsed by DJJ and the Council of Juvenile Court Judges, would allow judges to review the sentences of designated felons who have accomplished the terms of his or her sentence for consideration for early release. The measure, sponsored by Rep. B.J Pak (R-Lilburn), has been endorsed by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) and House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-DeKalb)
Both bills were introduced on the heels of Governor Nathan Deal’s recent announcement of plans to assemble a new bi-partisan council to study criminal justice reforms and make recommendations to a joint legislative committee by next January.