There is room for additional reforms in Louisiana, but is there political will?
The 2018 Regular Legislative Session, as required by the Louisiana Constitution, will be a general session meaning no fiscal or tax measures can be considered. The non-fiscal session is 60 days across an 85 day calendar, kicking off on March 12th with sine die on June 4th. 1,140 bills were pre-filed by the February 28th deadline. Of those 1,140, approximately 116 are criminal justice related with several bills purposely written to un-do some of the reforms passed in 2017. There is still a window of time for legislators to enter new pieces of legislation, with a maximum of five bills per legislator, before the April 2nd deadline.
Prior to pre-filing legislation, the reform critics made it known that they intended to roll-back some of the key legislation passed last year. These new bills range from reverting minimum sentences for certain drug possession from five years back to 20 years, to extending from three years to five years the length of probation time for certain non-felony convictions, as well as removing the use of administrative sanctions for low tier violations and requiring incarceration. Additionally, other proposed legislation is designed to establish new felonies that are already covered by other laws on the books. For example, there are already laws against government benefits fraud, abuse of infirmed people through electronic means, theft of livestock and timber, fines and forfeiture of firearms for failure to notify law enforcement officers of a concealed carry weapon by a permit holder, and battery of a utility worker. We don’t need duplicate laws on the books.
Some good reform measures have also been submitted. These include bail reform, a theft diversion program, expansion of eligibility for reentry court programs, putting a cap on fees related to expungements, geriatric parole, and requiring unanimous jury votes in all felony cases (presently only Louisiana and Oregon allow non-unanimous jury votes on felony cases other than capital punishment cases).
The concern that criminal justice reform stakeholders and supporters have is that the negative atmosphere could encourage reform critics to double down on efforts to roll back the Justice Reinvestment laws enacted in 2017. Of equal concern is whether legislators have the appetite to pass the good reform measures that are being proposed.
A recent Pew Brief on Louisiana’s 2017 Criminal Justice Reforms states that these reforms were “the most comprehensive criminal justice reform in state history.” This bipartisan-led package of 10 bills enabled Louisiana to shed its long-held status of highest imprisonment rate by the end of 2018. If the proposed roll-back legislation of 2018 is passed in its present form, then the work of 2017 was an exercise in futility. As the conservative voice for criminal justice reform, Right on Crime will continue to work with all stakeholders and law makers to ensure we maintain what has been accomplished and we advocate for further criminal justice reform measures in Louisiana. We simply cannot afford to go back to what wasn’t working for Louisiana.