Opposition surfaces for governor’s juvenile justice bills

District attorneys are expected to oppose a move to include 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system, one of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ centerpiece proposals for this legislative session.

Louisiana is one of only nine states that try all 17-year-olds as adults, and Edwards said he would look to change that in his opening statement to the legislature this year. SB 324 by Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, would change that, including 17-year-olds in the system.

Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, said he will oppose the measure as it stands today. The juvenile justice system already struggles to keep up with its current caseload, he said, and it simply wouldn’t have the funding or resources to take on the cases of an additional age group.

He said the juvenile justice reform promised under previous governors has not been delivered, and in fact the department’s funding has been slashed in recent years. Representatives from the LDAA will testify against the bill if it remains unchanged in committee, Adams said.

“We believe this is dangerous and inappropriate for the situation Louisiana is in,” he added.

If funding and resources were available, however, Adams said he and the LDAA would be more likely to support a measure to move 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice system. He said with funding triggers that allowed the move to be made once a certain level of funding is provided, the change “would be more appropriate.”

Shauna Sanford, Edwards’ press secretary, said the administration plans to go forward with the bill and it is working with district attorneys to address their concerns.

“We’re open to making changes,” Sanford said.

A report studying the issue, commissioned by a House resolution last year and released in February by the LSU Institute for Public Health and Justice, recommended making the change, saying that “findings suggest that this change would benefit public safety, promote youth rehabilitation and create long-term savings.” Union chief floats policy ideasAt a public forum sponsored last month by Leaders With Vision in Baton Rouge, Louis Reine, president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, offered two ideas that he thought lawmakers should take up this year in regard to budget management and tax revenue.

He said lawmakers may want to consider separating the state budget from the federal budget, or the portion of spending that Louisiana gets directly from the federal government. And then address them individually.

“Then you’re talking about apples and apples and oranges and oranges,” Reine said. “If we’re going to talk about state revenue, this will give you a clearer picture.”

If a second special session is called, Reine told those gathered at the forum that he’d like to see a 25-cent tax passed on all alcoholic drinks served in businesses for the purposes of public consumption.

A second special session would be needed to raise taxes, which is not allowed during regular sessions in even-numbered years. The budget being drafted in the ongoing regular session is short about $750 million of being fully funded.

“Four drinks at dinner would cost you one dollar,” he said. “The DWI on the way home costs about $10,000.”

After the forum, he added, “The majority of people who walk in a bar just ask for a Bud Light. They don’t ask how much it is.”Thresholds changed for LABI PACsAs first reported in this space as a possibility in May of last year, the four independent political action committees of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry have voted to increase the threshold for automatic endorsements of legislators.

Previously lawmakers had to vote along with LABI, cumulatively, 75 percent of the time on select legislation.

That bar has now been raised to 80 percent for an automatic endorsement.

Last year nine senators and 30 House members received automatic endorsements. If the new rule would have been in place in 2015, only five senators and 19 House members would have gotten the big nod.

“This year has been a pivotal year for Louisiana businesses,” NORTHPAC Chair Terry Baugh said. “It is more important than ever before that our legislators support pro-growth policies that will create more jobs for Louisianans and generate more revenues for the state.”

LABI’s PACs last increased the threshold for legislative endorsements in 2000, hiking the 70 percent line up to 75 percent.

“The LABI endorsement sends a strong signal to voters whether or not their lawmakers are voting for policies at the Capitol to support job growth and economic expansion back home,” said Brian Landry, executive director of LABI Political Action. “Given the increasing value of this endorsement and the growing role it has had in recent elections, our members felt it was time to raise the bar.”House Education Committee restocked with membersOver the past few weeks there have been at least seven changes to the House Education Committee’s membership and there could be more alterations to come.

Those removed from the committee received their appointments early on in the term, during a rush to fill seats, and made requests to be reassigned. In many respects their replacements represent solid votes in favor of the education reforms of recent years ushered in by former Gov. Bobby Jindal and the business community.

Some of those reforms, including vouchers and charter schools, have been targeted by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration for overhauls.

The committee being stacked with votes to block Edwards’ push is partly the spoils of having an independent speaker. Committee members, however, say some of the governor’s package may slip out to allow for floor hearings.

Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, and Rep. Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville, were added a couple weeks ago. Removed from the Education Committee over the past few weeks were Reps. Dodie Horton,R-Haughton; Barry Ivey,R-Central; Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs; and Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.They Said It“They don’t call them oyster beds for nothing.” —Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, explaining oyster reproduction on the House floor “It will not happen in this room.”—A pregnant Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, on the House floor, discussing her labor plans

About Jeremy Alford 160 Articles
Jeremy Alford is an independent journalist and the co-author of LONG SHOT, which recounts Louisiana's 2015 race for governor. His bylines appear regularly in The New York Times and he has served as an on-camera analyst for CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

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