- Associated Press - Thursday, April 1, 2021

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A divided Alabama House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday advanced a bill to repeal Alabama’s habitual offender law that mandates lengthy sentences for repeat offenders.

Committee members voted 9-5 to approve the bill by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, that would do away with the sentencing mandates for new cases and allow some prisoners to have their sentences reviewed. The bill now moves to the full Alabama House of Representatives but faces an uncertain future with just 13 meeting days remaining in the legislative session.

England said the mandatory sentences in habitual offender laws have resulted in arbitrarily long sentences. He said his legislation would put the decision back into the hands of judges and prosecutors.

“We all acknowledge that some people did not deserve the amount of time they ended up being sentenced to because the judge had no discretion, had no choice,” England said.

The approval came after some passionate exchanges.

Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, said he believed the bill goes too far and argued that it would undermine the ability to punish criminals more for repeat offenses, something England disputed.

“What you are saying is no matter what anybody has in their history, no matter what they’ve done in their past this range of punishment is what applies,” Simpson told England.

Committee Chairman Jim Hill, a former judge, responded that all class A felonies in Alabama carry a punishment of between 10 years and life in prison.

Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, objected to Simpson’s tone, saying he had made his feelings clear on the bill and was being disrespectful to both the bill’s sponsor and committee chairman.

“We are supposed to have a level of decorum in this body,” Coleman said.

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