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Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Livingston, presents SB16 for concurring in the conference committee report during the last day of the regular legislative session Thursday June 8, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La. The measure passed 67-34.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

After two years of haggling, lawmakers have finally passed a bill to change rules for sentencing juveniles to life without parole.  

Versions of Senate Bill 16 by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, had passed both the House and the Senate early in the session. But because the bill was amended in both chambers it triggered a conference committee, where representatives from both sides negotiate the final details of the bill. 

On Thursday afternoon, the House initially rejected the compromise bill, sending some initial shock waves through the State Capitol. But on a second try, the House came around and approved it, sending it to the governor's desk to become law. The Senate approved it on Wednesday.

The Legislature has been under pressure in recent years to pass a law changing the harsh penalty because the state is in violation of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions. One court ruling found that sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole was considered cruel and unusual punishment and should only be used in rare cases. A subsequent decision targeting Louisiana, found that the prohibition on life sentences for juveniles needed to be applied retroactively to inmates already in jail with the sentence.

The final version of the measure will eliminate the sentence for juveniles convicted of second-degree murder but retain it for first-degree murder. For inmates who are already in jail serving life without parole, the individual prosecutors in the case can give them a hearing to determine if they should continue to be denied parole. 

Otherwise they will be parole eligible after 25 years. 

The legislation is part of the 10-bill criminal justice overhaul package, backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. The full package is intended to reduce the state's prison population and save the state money. SB 16 was the final bill of the package to receive concurrence from both the House and the Senate. 

All 10 bills are now awaiting the governor's signature. 

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen.