Criminal Justice Issues Dominate

May 3, 2017

So much social media and conventional media attention in the capital city has been focused on rumors about the Department of Justice release of the Alton Sterling report, late yesterday afternoon, I went to the person who requested the investigation—Governor John Bel Edwards – and asked him what he had heard about the imminent release of the report.

“I work under the assumption that it’s coming sooner, rather than later, and I don’t have any information as to what the decision’s going to be or when it’s going to be announced,” he said.

Criminal justice issues were at the top of the Governor’s mind yesterday, as earlier in the day he had urged a Senate committee to advance a trio of criminal justice reform bills.

“We’ve got laws on the books that are not based on evidence,” Edwards told the Senate Judiciary C Committee. “We’ve built a criminal justice system around the most extreme situations, instead of grounding our laws on data and research. As a result, our laws are not smart. They are tough – but they’re tough on our taxpayers, too.

“You have three bills before you today that give us a great chance to turn this system around, make it make sense for us.”

The committee worked through those bills, brought by Senate President Alario and Senator Danny Martiny, with calmness and respect, passing them to the Senate floor.

The House Criminal Justice Committee was a different story, with Republican Lance Harris’s bill to increase probation and parole fees, in order to pay those officers more. It got heated, as Democrats expressed concerns about raising fees for those who were already struggling to get their lives back on track. Representative Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) didn’t hold back.

“Some of you who are saying that they need state raises have been fighting against state raises for years!” James said. “That’s why they’re not paid – not because we’re going to put it on the backs of the poor people! This is bullcrap, Lance!”

The vote, with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing,.narrowly sent the bill to the House floor.