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The clock may be ticking towards a deadline for Adams County officials to make a decision about the future of a new county jail.
During a meeting Saturday morning in Decatur, State Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said sentencing reform legislation that could return low-level offenders back to individual counties for incarceration is working its way through the Indiana General Assembly.
According to Lehman, House Bill 1006 would expand the current four levels of felony classifications to six and would “take non-violent offenders out of the (state) corrections system” and make fifth-degree felons eligible for a host of alternative sentencing options at the local level.
The state representative said the proposed legislation would, for one example, reduce the sentence for possession of a small amount of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The bill also proposes that all criminal defendants sentenced to the Department of Corrections serve a minimum of 75 percent of their sentence. Currently, inmates can be released after serving half their sentence if they meet “good-time” standards in prison.
The bill, Lehman said, has been passed unanimously out of the House Courts and Criminal Code committee and has been referred to the Ways and Means committee.
In the audience Saturday was Adams County Councilman Randy Colclasure, who asked Lehman when the county could expect to have low-level offenders returned to the county.
“How much advance notice are we going to get if we’re going to have to build a new jail?” asked Colclasure.
“Right now I think you’re looking at a two- or three-year window,” Lehman said.
Among the other topics touched upon briefly during a town hall meeting Saturday hosted by Lehman and State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, was a Republican push to ban same-sex marriage in Indiana.
Holdman said there is “a big push” in the Statehouse for lawmakers to address a ban on gay marriage during the current legislative session.
Holdman said the U.S. Supreme Court will rule later this summer on a California proposal that is similar in scope to the constitutional ban on gay marriage sought by Indiana lawmakers.
“That (court ruling) would make our situation moot, and I think we should just wait until the next session to discuss it,” said Holdman.
“I’m with Travis on that one,” said Lehman. “It makes sense to wait. I think we just need to stay focused on what we’re trying to do” in other areas.