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23.3.17

Expanded parole for cost sake endangers lives

In the rush to make Louisiana’s correctional policy more efficient, policy-makers cannot forget the larger goal of preventing crime. How the state’s latest reform recommendations address parole of those with lengthy prison sentences illustrates the tension between these two desires.

The Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force’s conclusions, formulated after over a year of study, largely have met with stakeholder approval. The only real controversy has come over a set of recommendations that would make lifers eligible for parole after serving 30 years in prison and reaching age 50, unless they were convicted of first-degree murder, and also recommending those serving long but less-than-life sentences gain parole eligibility after 20 years in prison and reaching age 45.

Proponents of these changes – Louisiana joins Mississippi as the only states denying such eligibility to those convicted of second-degree murder – argue that older prisoners exhibit far lower recidivism rates than the younger prison population. They also note that eligibility does not automatically means release; in fact, only a small portion of inmates granted parole come through the discretionary process where the subject must demonstrate contrition, good character, and ability to live outside the walls that may include having a support system in place.

22.3.17

Strengthen, don't weaken, laws against felons voting

Contrary to the sentiments of a state judge, if anything Louisiana needs to make more stringent its jurisprudence addressing the ability of felons to vote.

Last week, 19th District Court Judge Tim Kelley reluctantly upheld a state law that prohibits felons from registering to vote so long as, according to Art. I Sec. 10 of the Constitution, they remain “under an order of imprisonment for conviction of a felony.” The subsequent law clarified this to include people under probation and on parole, as technically they may return to prison if they violate any conditions attached to these.

Kelley reaffirmed, yet expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs challenging the law who called it unfair. But, in fact, the law serves a vital purpose as both a deterrent to crime and a means to improve the quality of decision-making in a democracy.

21.3.17

Edwards follows pattern with state debt downgrade

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Louisiana has endured adverse credit rating changes since Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards assumed office, completing a downgrade trifecta last week.

Over a year after Moody’s Investors Service started the trend – just over a month after Edwards took office and had led the Legislature into special session to deal with fiscal issues – followed by Fitch Ratings months later, S&P Ratings completed the sweep of lowering the state’s credit rating. Additionally, Moody’s reaffirmed its negative outlook, meaning it anticipated more likely a downgrade to come in the future than the rating maintaining, which at present makes Louisiana one of the lowest rated states in the nation. Ratings assess the overall fiscal health of an entity, where the healthier a government’s finances, the lower interest rate lenders demand.

Moody’s commentary explicates well Louisiana’s underperformance. Last year, it noted reasons for the downgrade as “rapidly deteriorating revenue collections due in part to the continuing low oil price environment, a looming fiscal 2017 gap that could be as large as 20% of general fund revenues, and the effects of years of structural imbalance on the state's reserves and liquidity.” The negative outlook then came from “the state's continued budgetary risks and the likelihood that movement toward structural balance is likely to take time … also … revenue forecasting risks, Medicaid cost containment implementation risks, and uncertainty over attainability of budget balancing initiatives.”

20.3.17

Confirmed: broken LA recall rules need repair

If we needed any more confirmation about the necessity of changing Louisiana’s recall law, it came with the surrender of a high-profile campaign against Jefferson Parish Pres. Mike Yenni.

In 2016, not long after his election, news reached the public consciousness that Yenni had engaged in inappropriate exchanges with a male minor willing to go on the record that prompted Yenni to deliver a vague apology. Subsequently, both parish and Catholic schools banned his appearance on their properties. The Parish Council also asked formally for his resignation.

This led to a spirited attempt at a recall petition against Yenni, requiring signatures of a third of qualified electors in the parish within six months of registering the attempt. However, last week organizers admitted failure with the deadline fast approaching, apparently well short of the roughly 90,000 signers needed.

16.3.17

Bracelet bill currently not likely cost effective for LA

While possibly electronic monitoring of transitional work program participants could reduce backsliding and even tragedy, its form envisioned in a pending Louisiana Legislature bill likely would have little or no payoff.

State Rep. Stephen Dwight has authored HB 50 for the upcoming session, which would require electronic monitoring of offenders taking advantage of the opportunity to work outside institutions from six months to four years away from sentence completion. The legislation aims to prevent such inmates from walking off the job and causing the use of resources to track them down or, worse, having them commit subsequent crimes.

Although nationally still relatively small in implementation – only an estimated two percent of all convicts participate in some kind of electronic monitoring – use of the technology has grown rapidly over the past decade. Attention to it has increased as jurisdictions look to reduce corrections cost, an exercise Louisiana has undertaken with a task force report on the subject due today.

15.3.17

When pressed, LA higher education can restructure

Maybe Louisiana’s Board of Regents should act more like one of the panels over which it has authority to show that the state’s higher education establishment has gotten the message.

Just days after the Regents released a mandated report that treated its legislative intent as little more than a joke, one of its subordinate management boards did something showing at least some seriousness on that account. The Louisiana Community and Technical College System announced plans that it would consolidate campuses by Jul. 1, realigning eight that would save about $10 million annually.

Monty Sullivan, the system president responsible to the board, recommended the move in facing the reality of higher education funding in the state. Over the past decade spending on community colleges actually has risen slightly, from around $311 million to $325 million, although these now serve about 13 percent more students in terms of credit hours. However, the mix of state funding and self-generated revenues has reversed so now most funding comes from tuition and fees.

14.3.17

Poor judgment sinking Robbie Gatti candidacy

Instead of state legislator, Republican candidate for House District 8 Robbie Gatti has a more realistic chance of becoming a textbook author – writing about how to sabotage your own political campaign.

Little has gone right for the brother of state Sen. Ryan Gatti since qualifying closed for the special election for the seat vacated when Rep. Mike Johnson left for Congress. The first of it he should have seen coming.

Some years ago, Gatti came dressed up at a Halloween party as mixed-race golfer Tiger Woods, who had become tabloid fodder over largely self-induced marriage problems, with Nike-logo cap and in blackface. Worse for him, at least one photo memorializes the event that also attended by members of his church. Later, only months ago the Gattis worked against Johnson’s election in opposition to most of the church’s members, stirring up such emotions that Robbie Gatti, who held a ministerial position in it, was asked to leave.

13.3.17

With changes, LA stripping age limit law may work

The race is on between whether a federal court will toss out a Louisiana law limiting exotic dancing for those under 21 years or age or the state can fix apparent defects in the law prior to that.

Last week, Eastern Louisiana District Court Judge Carl Barbier extended injunctive relief to plaintiffs against Act 395 of 2016. The law prohibits people aged 18-20 years from working as strippers in places that serve alcohol. This continues an order granted last year against the measure that seeks to reduce the incidence of human trafficking, arguing that younger adults face heightened risk at being sucked in to prostitution through nude dancing.

Such municipal ordinances – New Orleans has one with more specific language – and state laws historically have had a tough row to hoe because of concerns over the chilling effect that such a prohibition has on First Amendment rights. For decades, constitutional law has recognized nude expression as a protected form of speech, creating demanding standards to regulate it in any way.