Judicial and criminal justice reform laws highlighted at ceremony

Judicial and criminal justice reform laws highlighted at ceremony

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Governor Kay Ivey had a ceremonial bill signing Thursday for multiple new state laws that deal with improving the state’s judicial and jailing system.

Some of the bills that became law this year involve protecting crime victims, regulating the bail bonds industry and cutting down restrictions on former inmates trying to find jobs.

Lisa’s Law

One of the bills is “Lisa’s Law” which enables crime victims and their families to prevent the convicted perpetrator from profiting off the crime through book, movie or other entertainment deals.

The law is named after Lisa Ann Millican, a 13-year-old who was brutally tortured and murdered by Judith Neelley in Dekalb County in 1982.

Cassie Millican, Lisa’s sister-in-law, has been fighting for the law for many years and was at the bill signing along with other members of the Millican family.

She said that Neely had been trying to profit off of Lisa’s murder in multiple ways.

Millican said now that the law is in place, she hopes other victims’ families won’t have to be put through what her family has dealt with for many years.

“It helps us to know that she is going to be remembered in a positive way instead of such a horribly negative way and that means a lot to us, that she has some sort of legacy to pass on to (keep) future victims from being re-victimized,” Millican said.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Moulton, said that it’s important that the state’s laws are protecting the victims of crimes and their families instead of allowing the perpetrator to profit off their crime.

“It’s a very traumatic experience, to say the least, for the victims and their families and for them to go through the whole process of seeing this person be convicted and go to prison and then years later that person is approached to write a book or by one of these crimes shows and makes money off of the victimization of their loved ones,” Robertson said.

The law only applies to “crimes of moral turpitude,” as defined by Alabama law.

The bill would require the creator, producer or writer of any book, TV show or documentary about the crime to notify the Alabama Attorney general of any profits from that work of $5,000 or more. The victim or the victim’s family would then be notified and have five years to file a civil case to recover restitution or money damages, or both, from the convicted individual who committed the crime or the individual’s representative.

Neelley is currently serving a life sentence and was denied parole in May 2018. She will be up for parole again in 2023.

Bail Bond Regulations

The Alabama Bail Bond Regulatory Act creates a board to licenses and regulate the bail bonds industry in Alabama.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, was the sponsor of the bill and said that the bail bonding industry had been completely unregulated up until this point, and even those in the industry knew that had to be changed.

“We’ve never had anything like this before and any time you can create a licensing process for any industry in Alabama, it protects the consumer, the public, and the people involved in the business as well,” England said.

England said he considers this law a step in the right direction in helping fix the state’s crowded prison population problem and criminal justice problems.

“Especially considering that bail bonds plays a vital role in the system and actually creating a board to hold them to some standards is a great thing,” England said.

Chris McNeil, president of Alabama’s Bail Bonds Association, was at the signing and said the law will streamline bail and make it a more efficient for the court system.

“Change is welcome and it’s something that we needed, and just like any industry we wanted to be the best at what we do and this is going to help us be the best,” McNeil said.

Carla Woodall is a circuit court clerk for Houston County and the chair of the legislative committee for the circuit clerks association. She said it’s refreshing to see an association that wants to regulate themselves.

“To ensure that there is justice and integrity and to regulate themselves, it’s easy to support this legislation from a clerk’s perspective,” Woodall said.

Occupational licensing for former convicts

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, sponsored the legislation to remove restrictions in state law that dictate where convicted felons can work.

Senate Bill 163 was also sponsored by England in the House. He said this law will help released convicts be able to reintegrate back into society and hopefully reduce repeat felons.

“Currently we are trying to find ways to reintegrate individuals that are recently released from prison and we are removing as many barriers as we can to get them back to be contributing citizens to our state and country,” England said. “Anything that we can do to remove arbitrary barriers and regulations to make that easier is something we should do.”

The law establishes a process for individuals to petition a circuit court to obtain an occupational license if they have been convicted of a crime and prohibits an occupational licensing board or commission from automatically denying a certificate or license to the convicted individual.

England said that in creating the law, they discovered that some occupations that inmates were getting  trained for while in prison were off-limits to them upon their release. For example, convicted felons can’t get some cosmetology licenses.