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Lawmakers approve fixes to criminal sentencing

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State lawmakers approved a series of fixes to criminal sentencing legislation they determined could not wait until they returned for work during their 2015 session.

The General Assembly met Tuesday for its first "technical corrections day" — a special one-day meeting with limits placed on it so lawmakers do not have to do a full-blown "special session." And legislative leaders who called the one-day meeting said they would like it to remain a rare occurrence.

Drafting errors in the extensive criminal sentencing legislation softened penalties for child sex offenders and hindered the ability to arrest suspected shoplifters. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said that they were problems that could not wait to be fixed.

"With respect to the sentencing issue, the protection of Hoosiers, especially young Hoosiers, is of utmost importance to this body," Bosma said. "So it was appropriate to come back and ensure those who are charged with crimes have the full effect of the law after July 1."

One error would have allowed some child sex offenders off with a reduced sentence because of confusion in how the law would be interpreted. Another error would have required police to obtain a warrant before arresting suspected shoplifters.

Both were fixed with unanimous approval from the assembled lawmakers.

They also signed off on a correction to tax credits that were designed for natural gas-powered vehicles. Legislation approved earlier this year accidentally placed caps on credits for other alternative fuels.

Tuesday's meeting was the first since lawmakers approved a change in 1995 allowing them to call a one-day meeting without going into the potentially lengthier "special session." Lawmakers called for a "technical corrections day" last year, but used it to override a pair of vetoes from Gov. Mike Pence.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he understood Tuesday's fixes could be interpreted as making substantial changes, but said there need to be limits on how far lawmakers go.

"One person's technical (change) is another person's substantive. And we're in a gray area when we do this," he said. "We thought it was important to come back and we unanimously agreed on that as leaders. But we've gotta be careful we don't trip over to a line where people say, 'Well let's just come back here and do another bill or fix some bills we really weren't happy with the outcomes.' We can't do that."

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