Could Legislative “Fiscal Notes” Be a Key to Criminal Justice Reform?


States could come up with more effective criminal-justice practices if legislatures drafted proper “fiscal notes” to assess proposals on crime and punishment, the American Civil Liberties Union urges in a new report concluding that “the vast majority of states do not accurately perform these fiscal notes in a way that is useful to legislators.”

The group calls for states to calculate both short- and long-term costs and cost savings for criminal justice bills so that legislators “know the true fiscal implications of reform proposals before voting on them.” Based on an analysis of state fiscal notes for significant adult sentencing and corrections bills enacted in the last three years – more than 600 bills from 49 states – the report found that states did not write a fiscal note for 40 percent of the bills. Without an official certification that a bill would save money, legislators may have less incentive to vote for it, the ACLU said. Most states failed to examine the fiscal impact beyond a year or two into the future. Fifteen of the 29 states that wrote fiscal notes finding a significant fiscal impact failed to
estimate the impact beyond two years.

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