When House Republican Caucus chair Lance Harris squared off with New Orleans Senator Karen Carter Peterson – who is the chair of the state Democratic Party, it was partisan pugilism of the verbal variety.
Harris’ bill to increase parole fees by 50% was the issue.
“We have criminal justice reform coming through, and when it does pass, it’s going to put even a bigger burden on the Department of Corrections to make sure that they’re adequately staffed,” Harris said, as he insisted the fee increase is designed to pay for recruitment and retention of probation and parole officers.
Proponents of the fee hike have said raising it from $67 to $100 per month will give current officers pay raises. Peterson wanted to know how many officers and how much of a raise.
“I have not done that math,” Harris said.
“So we don’t know if how much is being raised is adequate to fund the pay raises that are being proposed? Shouldn’t we know the numbers?” Peterson asked.
“The fee increase amounts to $3.30 a day,” Harris replied. “It’s something we can do now to address this problem.”
“What have you done with respect to the budget?” Peterson inquired, referring the the House's insistence on appropriating just 97.5% of the available revenue in the next fiscal year. “If they’re so important, why not include an amendment in the General Fund Budget?”
“Because we didn’t have the room in the General Fund budget,” Harris responded.
“Could $5-million have been allocated in an amendment to the budget to take care of this, and not put it on the backs of people that can’t pay anyway?” Peterson pushed. (There had been earlier testimony that half of those presently on parole are unemployed, making it difficult to pay the current fees.) “The budget could have come from the House with a pay raise. It did not.
“Until we get our fiscal house in order, we’re going to keep having these problems,” Peterson admonished.
“Certainly, you’re entitled to your opinion,” Harris replied.
“That’s true,” Peterson interjected.
“And we have two different opinions and two different philosophies,” Harris continued, raising his voice. “And I can tell you, our budget is based on us trying to get the fiscal house in order.”
He then turned to the rest of the committee members, and said, “You can do this today to help these individuals out. They are the thin line between chaos and peace.”
“It’s a nice headline,” Peterson said. “A nice headline.”
Harrish turned back to her, and somewhat heatedly replied,“I didn’t do this for headlines, ma’am.”
The House-approved fee bill won approval from that committee, though, and is currently pending a hearing in the Senate Revenue committee.