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House committee advances bill to repeal Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday to advance a bill to repeal Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act (HFOA).

Alabama’s HFOA was passed in the late 1970s and requires judges to implement longer prison sentences each time an individual commits a felony. Proponents say the bill helps target repeat offenders, while detractors maintain it overcrowds state prisons with sentences that last longer than merited by the crime itself.

The bill to repeal Alabama’s HFOA, HB 107, is sponsored by Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa). The legislation has been the source of extensive discussion by legislators during the 2021 legislative session. It was first examined by the Judiciary Committee in the first week of February and has been looked at by a subcommittee in the weeks since.

A secondary provision of HB 107 is that prisoners convicted under Alabama’s HFOA would be eligible to ask a judge for resentencing.

Wednesday’s discussion of the legislation became heated, especially during an extended back and forth between England and committee member Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne).

“You are prohibiting any kind of consequences based on prior actions,” asserted Simpson early in the discussion.

“That is disingenuous,” England said in response to Simpson’s claims. England maintained the HFOA has “created a number of arbitrary sentences,”  and said it had led to a system where “some people did not deserve the amount of time they ended up being sentenced to.”

“A number of judges have reached out from across the state … and said it is not necessary,” England claimed about Alabama’s HFOA.

“You are saying no matter what [criminal defendants] have done, you cannot consider their history in issuing a sentence,” retorted Simpson about England’s bill.

Repealing Alabama’s HFOA has long been a cause backed by criminal justice reform advocates in Alabama. The House Judiciary Committee advancing the bill was cheered by the left-leaning ACLU of Alabama. Bipartisan advocates for reducing prison populations have also spoken favorably of repealing HFOA.

HB 107 ultimately passed out of committee with nine votes in favor and five votes opposed. Six Republicans voted in favor as did the three Democrats on the committee. Five Republicans voted no. Among the Republicans voting yes was Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jim Hill (R-Moody), who served for decades as a judge at the district and circuit levels in Alabama.

The legislation now heads for consideration by the full chamber.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.