Crime Is Coming To The Capitol

I think we can all agree that a Louisiana politician talking about prison is infinitely better than a Louisiana politician in prison. And in that spirit, you’re going to be hearing and seeing our elected class at the State Capitol talking in abundance about crime, incarceration and related issues in 2017, possibly more so than in any other year in recent memory.

That’s because criminal justice reform is supposedly coming to Baton Rouge. But that word — reform — is often tossed around a little too freely. Elected officials and bureaucrats use the word to inflate their policy initiatives or they attach it to what are otherwise minor legislative accomplishments. This time, however, a true reform movement may be exactly what’s starting to shape up.

A criminal justice overhaul was something Gov. John Bel Edwards campaigned on last year and his administration has targeted 2017 for making strides. State Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc has even been traveling around the state over the past several months discussing ways to decrease the number of people in prison in Louisiana.

It won’t be a new topic at the Capitol. Lawmakers for years have tried with varying degrees of success to address perceived problems with the way mandatory minimum sentences are handed out and how much discretion judges should receive.

Throughout it all, one obstacle has always surfaced: representatives and senators from conservative districts prefer to cast votes that make them appear to be tough on crime. While a lawmaker might find some logic in lessening sentences for non-violent offenders, they also know it’s a political risk since an opponent can easily send out a mailer making it look like the incumbent let everyone out of jail.

But conservative lawmakers who once looked upon these issues with equal parts sympathy and political trepidation could find cover in 2017 from some unlikely sources — or at least sources that traditionally don’t wade into such dialogues.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, one of the more influential voices at the Capitol, partnered with Greater New Orleans Inc. and the U.S. Chamber last month to hold an “inaugural” criminal justice reform summit. Participants discussed different ways the state could reduce crime while saving money, they had conversations about prioritizing public investments in the justice system and floated possible solutions for creating more employment opportunities for former inmates.

What will be key moving forward is where the different groups locked onto criminal justice reform can agree. Because compromises will ultimately define this movement — or sink it.

The stars last aligned for this policy topic in the early 2000s, when defense attorneys, judges, district attorneys and victims groups worked calmly together to try and ease the pressure of a booming prison population. Alas, within five years or so, lawmakers starting rolling back some of the changes that were enacted. The Legislature continued the practice of creating new crimes and increasing mandatory minimum sentences.

Those involved in the big push to come should give some thought to what happens after the next legislative session ends. How do you ensure that any reforms achieved aren’t chiseled away in the years to follow?

It’s surprising that the Edwards administration and the legislative leadership are willing to go down this road in 2017. The year will already be busy enough, with state revenue falling, another troubled budget to craft and hefty tax proposals on the table.

In addition to this fiscal drama, lawmakers will hear from attorneys who are being stretched too thin because more defendants are choosing to roll the dice and go to trial. They’ll hear from judges who want more discretion and district attorneys who need as many tools as possible at their disposal. Victims groups will want to make sure there’s still a sense of justice in the system and prison operators will surely have a thought or two to share.

But at the end of the day, how do you get over the real political rub — that no elected official will want to be viewed as soft on crime?

Despite how divisive that question could become, there is an undeniable sense of “Kumbaya” in the air this holiday season. In addition to LABI, the Louisiana Family Forum is working on criminal justice issues too. LFF is another influential group at the Capitol that is sometimes at odds with the Edwards administration. Their efforts will add a faith-based argument to the debates to come, which shows just how rounded those talks will be next year.

The fact that this particular policy area is on the radar for so many different political factions is a good thing. But it will all mean nothing if a set of compromises can’t be reached over the next few months. Then again, true reforms are never easy.

LOWDOWN: Julie Emerson On The Meaning Of Place

This episode of The LaPolitics Lowdown continues with a four-part series we produced with Covalent Logic and the Public Affairs Research

SPONSORED: Festival International 2018 Is Here

  Next week is the start of the largest international music and arts festival in the United States: Festival

#HBD TRACKERS!

— Tuesday 04/17: Shelly Dupre — Wednesday 04/18: Rep. Sam Jones, Rep. Jerome “Nature Boy” Zeringue, former Rep. Roy Burrell, Carl Redman

GAMARD’S BELTWAY BEAT: From Raids & Airstrikes To Sanctions & ‘Slimeballs’

Former FBI Director James Comey’s reemergence may accrue the same headline-making exposure he achieved last summer. This time around he’s

POLITICAL CHATTER

— Constitutional Coalition 2020 has a website. ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFO — Former Chesapeake executive Paul Pratt has launched a new

ALFORD’S OPINION COLUMN: Cracking The Congressional Code

Louisiana voters will send six representatives to Congress during the November general elections and, if needed, the December runoffs. Those

RABALAIS’ POLITICAL HISTORY: Steve, JBJ & The Lanes To Leadership

Long before U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was thrust into the developing race for speaker, and prior to subsequently endorsing his

PLACE YOUR BETS! Handicapping HB 1 & Adjournment

Running The Numbers Since this regular session feels like a gamble anyway, and since there has been an avalanche of gaming bills

They Said It: Lucky Dogs & Ric Flair

"Do you make Lucky Dogs out of swine?" —Rep. Greg Cromer, to Rep. Kirk Talbot, who co-owns the company with his family and who was

WEEKLY: GOP Chair Targets Agency Heads

The last bill that House GOP Delegation Chair Lance Harris filed for the regular session seeks to add "new layers of transparency" to the

WEEKLY: Higgins Has Money, And A Posse

Congressman Clay Higgins has more than $211,000 in his campaign kitty after the first quarter of 2018, during which he collected $217,000 in

LOWDOWN: Ted James On Failure, Assumptions & Compassion

This episode of The LaPolitics Lowdown kicks off a four-part series we produced with Covalent Logic and the Public Affairs Research

SPONSORED: Building Homes And Providing Hope

  On Thursday, April 26, the annual Village of Hope Gala will to be held at Le Pavillon in Lafayette and includes a four-course

Election Trend: Voters Hate Tax Referendums  

Many political observers were surprised to see the defeat of several routine tax measures on the March 24 ballots, leaving some to wonder if

Round Two For Cromer-Davis

As preparations begin for the April 28 runoffs, the mayoral race in Slidell is already drawing more attention than the usual municipal

They Said It – March 29

“It worked for Bo Derek. She was a 10.” —Commerce Chair Thomas Carmody, on legislation to deregulate hair braiding "If someone hasn't

Four-Part Lowdown Series Begins Thursday

We’re moving the release of The LaPolitics Lowdown video to Thursdays for the next four weeks, as a standing feature in LaPolitics Weekly.

Rabalais’ Political History: Don’t Be A Sucker, Wear Seersucker

With the passage of the Easter holiday, seersucker suits and skirts and shorts are again making their routine appearances in the marbled

WEEKLY: Convention Coalition Details Released, Rebuild versus TIP

  Two big stories have developed over the past 24 hours that are connected to issues subscribers to LaPolitics Weekly have been

Political Chatter: Medicaid, McAuliffe, Gambit

— Sen. Karen Carter Peterson made it office yesterday. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe will be the keynote speaker at the 2018 True

ALFORD: Something’s Up With The Senate

On April 12, 2016, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a press release with this headline: “Senate Approves the Louisiana Equal Pay Act.” Almost

Death Penalty Advances

As senators waded through bills today to enhance, correct and reverse portions of last year's criminal justice reforms, a proposal to

Gamard’s Beltway Beat: Raids, Trade Wars and Spendthrifts

Let’s start in New York: The FBI raided President Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen’s office and hotel room yesterday, searching in part

 #HBD TRACKERS!

— Tuesday 4/10: April Gonzales Stockley and Jamie Hanks — Wednesday 4/11: District Attorney Keith Stutes, Roy Fletcher, Ed Chervenak, Kim

Stuff You Need to Know…and Other Stuff You Don’t

— Top Capitol Story: The Revenue Estimating Conference is going to meet on Thursday at 7:30 a.m., so don’t stay out too late tomorrow night.