People wrongly convicted of crimes would get additional compensation for the years they spent in prison under a House-passed bill headed to the Senate for debate.
The Senate Finance Committee advanced House Bill 285 on Thursday after hearing from two people who spent more than 20 years in prison before being exonerated.
Under current law, compensation is calculated at $15,000 per year of incarceration up to $150,000.
HB285, sponsored by state Rep. Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria, would change the calculation to $25,000 per year of incarceration and cap out the compensation at $500,000 for physical harm and injury. The payments would be made annually instead of in a lump sum.
Dixon said that should cushion any financial burden on the state treasury.
Under the measure, the wrongfully imprisoned person would also get $80,000 for loss of life opportunities — up from the current $40,000.
Dixon said the legislation would affect a dozen individuals today.
It would allow individuals awarded compensation by the court on or after Sept. 1, 2005, and prior to Sept. 1, 2011, to file a petition for supplemental compensation.
That would allow those who were incarcerated for more than ten years to take advantage of the new higher compensation levels.
Petitions for supplemental compensation would have to be filed by Sept. 1, 2012.
State Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, said the surviving spouses of police, firefighters, National Guardsmen and now proposed state employees killed in the line of duty get $250,000, plus $25,000 for each of their children.
“I wonder if we couldn’t use that as a basis for it,” Alario said.
State Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, said there is a “major distinction” between those who died fighting for their country and individual incarcerated erroneously.
“They were free and exercising that freedom fighting for us. They were free,” Peterson said. The wrongfully convicted were not free, she said.
Peterson also suggested that the state may want to get local governments to contribute too because many of the wrongful imprisonments were caused by “inaction and errors” at the local level.