Senate votes to end juvenile life sentences

Senate votes to end juvenile life sentences

Children’s advocacy groups celebrated Wednesday as the Senate advanced a bill that would end sentences of life without parole for juveniles.

Number of the Day

70,000-  Number of former offenders on parole or probation in Louisiana who would gain voting rights if HB 229 by Rep. Patricia Smith is passed. (Source: The Associated Press)

Children’s advocacy groups celebrated Wednesday as the Senate advanced a bill that would end sentences of life without parole for juveniles. The bill also would give retroactive parole consideration current juvenile lifers. The bill would bring the state into compliance with two recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, but is expected to face a tough road in the House. Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue with the story:

Louisiana doesn’t have much of a choice but to find some way to offer people given life sentences as juveniles an opportunity for parole. The U.S. Supreme Court has told Louisiana that juveniles cannot be sent to prison without an opportunity for release except in extreme cases. In two different cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that Louisiana’s practice of sentencing juveniles to life without parole is cruel, and should only be used in rare circumstances. [Sen. Dan] Claitor said he expected the Louisiana House would not go along with the more lenient version of the bill the Senate approved. The district attorneys have been pushing for a mechanism that would still allow them to send the “worst of the worst” juvenile offenders to prison for life without parole.


A “prophylactic” measure

House Bill 135, which would penalize Louisiana cities for non-compliance with federal immigration law, was the subject of two hours of debate in the House Criminal Justice committee on Wednesday, where ultimately the bill squeaked by with an 8-7 vote. In a packed hearing room, Rep. Valarie Hodges and Attorney General Jeff Landry said the bill was about the rule of law. Many of the opponents suspect its motives are purely political. The bill targets New Orleans, where city officials say ordinances already comply with all federal immigration law. The Advocate’s Rebekah Allen was there:

Landry conceded that New Orleans had updated its policy in the past year to improve compliance with immigration officials. He said this illustrates his point that New Orleans was at least at one point considered a sanctuary city, despite blanket denials by the Landrieu administration. But he said he has not yet made a determination about whether the city is still in violation. And if New Orleans is so adamant it is not a sanctuary city, he said, then its officials should drop their objection. “It now stands as a prophylactic measure,” Landry said. “It does what laws are intended to do, to deter conduct rather than incite the conduct.” [New Orleans official Zach] Butterworth said Hodges’ bill is an overreach that surpasses what the federal government requires. He said if the bill passed, New Orleans policies, as they currently stand, would both be in violation of state law and in compliance with federal law.


A low grade for Louisiana infrastructure

An expert team of civil engineers spent 18 months evaluating Louisiana’s transportation infrastructure, and the results should come as no surprise to state residents. They found the state’s  infrastructure is poorly maintained, inadequatly funded, and not prepared to meet demands of a growing economy. More specifically, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ report cited the state’s heavy reliance on deficient bridges:  

Unlike other states, Louisianans rely on bridges to connect between numerous bayous, canals, and waterways. In fact, Louisiana is home to 5 of the 8 longest highway bridges in the world. 13.5% of bridges in Louisiana are structurally deficient, which means they have been rated as being in poor condition due to structural flaws that affect the load carrying capacities or the waterways that frequently overtop the bridges during floods. Louisiana ranks 2nd in the nation in number of structurally deficient bridges based on square footage of bridge deck.

Louisiana received a barely passing grade of D-plus.


Separation of powers

The federal mandate that all Americans buy health insurance, while unpopular, is a key piece of keeping the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplaces viable. It discourages “free riders” and encourages healthy consumers to enter the insurance risk pool. Still, the legislators on the House Insurance Committee advanced legislation on Wednesday that seeks to exempt Louisianans from the federal tax penalty for not having insurance. Despite concerns that the bill is unconstitutional, would have zero policy impact, and could create confusion among Louisiana consumers, the bill’s author, Rep. Paul Hollis, insisted that the state must go on the record as opposing the federal law. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard was there:

Rep. Greg Cromer, R-Slidell, said that nothing the Legislature does on this issue will have an impact on what the federal government does. He runs a health insurance company. Passing a bill simply because it feels good, “I don’t think that is very good governance,” said Linda Hawkins, of Abita Springs, of League of Women Voters. The League opposed the measure arguing that not requiring healthy people buy insurance would drive up premiums by 15 percent for everyone else. “We do a lot of foolish things up here from time to time,” Cromer replied. Consumers already are required to acquire insurance when buying a car and purchasing a home, argued Jeanie Donovan, of the Louisiana Budget Project. “It’s about social responsibility and not being a free rider,” Donovan said. “When they get sick, they buy insurance, which drives up costs for the rest of us.”


Number of the Day

70,000–  Number of former offenders on parole or probation in Louisiana who would gain voting rights if HB 229 by Rep. Patricia Smith is passed. (Source: The Associated Press)