BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's state senators reluctantly agreed Wednesday to give people convicted of murder as teenagers a shot at parole after serving 35 years of their life sentence.
The bill , approved in a 25-8 vote , comes in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down automatic no-parole life sentences for crimes committed by someone under the age of 18. In January, the court extended that 2012 ruling to include those convicted long ago.
Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, said he sponsored the proposal to bring Louisiana in compliance with the court decision — and at least give the state some say in the parameters for when parole should be considered for people convicted of first- or second-degree murder.
"I can promise you if we don't do something, the courts are going to do something," he said. "We are under a mandate to try to fix this."
Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan, said he disagrees with the court ruling, but would prefer that state lawmakers decide the parole hearing terms. Without Martiny's bill, Perry said those sentenced to life without parole as juveniles could seek immediate parole hearings.
"The whole concept of the bill, I will tell y'all, I'm not in favor of it. But the alternative is worse," he said.
Family members of homicide victims and victims' rights organizations have criticized the measure. Martiny stressed that the prisoners wouldn't be guaranteed parole but would be eligible for a parole hearing at which, he said, victims and their families could urge against granting parole.
"Given the history of our parole system, they're not opening the gates real wide," Martiny said.
Under the proposed bill, inmates would have to satisfy a number of provisions to qualify for a parole hearing, including not committing disciplinary offenses in the 12 months before the parole eligibility date and finishing education and skills training programs.
Bill supporters said about 300 Louisiana prisoners were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles and would fall under the parameters of the proposal.
The bill heads next to the House for consideration, where a similar proposal advanced out of committee Wednesday.