About 1,900 people who were imprisoned in Louisiana for nonviolent offenses are being released early today, due to the landmark criminal justice reforms enacted by the Legislature. The sentencing changes are part of a larger bipartisan package of criminal justice legislation that is expected to reduce the state’s prison population by 10 percent over the next decade. The sweeping reforms have attracted some criticism, but supporters of the effort say that maintaining the status quo was both ineffective and unaffordable. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard and Will Sentell report:
State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, who sponsored another measure in the 10-bill package, said the new rules make for an “easy issue to try to score political points by attacking it.” The fact that Texas and South Carolina have already taken similar steps, and seen drops in incarceration and crime, was a key selling point when the bills cleared the Legislature, Leger said. “We are spending about $700 million a year on corrections,” Leger said. “More importantly, being the incarceration capitol of the world and the nation has not made us any safer.”
The Advocate’s editorial board also weighed in:
The intention behind the bipartisan prison reform legislation is to steer less-serious offenders away from prison. The money saved would go to strengthen probation, parole and pre-release education and job training. Ending Louisiana’s incarceration culture has prompted fearmongering among some sheriffs — often financial beneficiaries of the state system of boarding out inmates to local jails — and other officials like Attorney General Jeff Landry. This should not be a venue for scoring political points. Nor should it be about penal payrolls in the parishes. We cannot afford to go on this way.
Gearing up for the legislative session
The anticipated special session to address the state’s $1.5 billion fiscal cliff is consuming much of the energy and attention of lawmakers and the media as 2018 approaches. But, as Jeremy Alford reminds us, there is also a three-month regular legislative scheduled for next year, during which legislators can propose changes to virtually anything except taxes. Writing for the Baton Rouge Business Report, Alford gives us his take on what to expect next year:
So far that seems to include issues related to dedicated funds, testing at public schools, felony sentencing, election turnout, student fees, workers’ compensation fraud, health care coverage for law enforcement and a variety of other topics. … There’s no doubt that 2018 could end up being a very busy policy year. Plus there are bound to be surprises. Will lawmakers file a bill to restructure the upcoming redistricting process? Will there be another big push for a constitutional convention? Both of those subject areas could cause a lot of noise.
Corporate tax cut won’t trickle down
Republicans in Congress are calling for the corporate income tax rate to be reduced from 35 percent to 20 percent, claiming it will lead to job growth, higher wages and overall growth in GDP. Independent tax policy experts who have modeled the changes, however, project the vast majority of the benefits from a corporate tax reduction would be concentrated at the top of the corporate food chain. Jacob Leibenluft, Chye-Ching Huang, and Michael Leachman with the Center on Budget on Policy Priorities explain:
Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, the Joint Committee on Taxation, non-political experts at the U.S. Treasury, and non-partisan experts like TPC [Tax Policy Center] all assess that roughly a quarter or less of corporate taxes fall on workers. As a result, workers would receive a quarter or fewer of the benefits of these corporate tax cuts. And even among the workers who do benefit, the gains are likely to be concentrated among high earners. Overall, more than a third of a corporate rate cut would flow to the top 1 percent of households, and 70 percent to the top fifth, TPC estimates. Likewise, a range of experts have concluded that the Administration’s estimates of large wage gains from a corporate tax cut are highly unrealistic.
Voting rights for parolees
Louisiana constitution states that a person cannot exercise their right to vote “while under an order of imprisonment for conviction of a felony.” The state has interpreted that provision to also apply to felons who are on parole or probation after being released. The New Orleans-based group Voice of the Ex-Offender has teamed up with national civil rights organization, the Advancement Project, on a legal challenge to that interpretation. Marie Simoneau with Nola.com/The Times-Picayune has the story:
Denise Lieberman, the Advancement Project lead attorney for this case, said Louisiana’s constitution contains “explicit provisions” to restore voting rights after release from incarceration. Lieberman said when the law was passed in 1974, the voters did not intend to erase the rights of felons, but suspend them while they are physically incarcerated. “It is clear from the language in the state’s constitution that voting is a fundamental right in Louisiana,” Lieberman said. “We are asking for that language to be restored.” [Secretary of State Tom] Schedler also argues in his opening brief that the state, “has compelling interest in protecting the integrity of the voter registration roll,” and the current law is important in doing so.
ACA sabotage continues
Today is the first day of open enrollment in the ACA’s health insurance marketplaces, a period during which consumers can shop for and enroll in plans that they know will cover the “essential health benefits” or EHBs. The EHBs are a set of 10 basic health services ranging from maternity care to prescription drugs to mental health services. A new federal rule proposed by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services would allow states to make substantial changes to the EHB requirements for health plans sold in their state. Paige Winfield Cunningham for The Washington Post:
A humongous, 365-page rule proposed late last week by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is the agency’s biggest attempt to put a conservative stamp on the Affordable Care Act by rewriting its rules in a way that gives insurers and states as much leeway as possible from the law’s mandates. The proposed rule, which suggests an array of changes to how the individual and small-business marketplaces are run, most notably gives states wide latitude in carrying out the ACA’s “essential health benefits” — 10 categories of care that individual market insurers must cover to ensure consumers can access a full range of benefits.
Number of the Day
$262 million – Amount the state expects to save over the next decade due to the 2017 criminal justice reform package. Seventy percent of the savings will be reinvested into programs and services that help reduce the chances a person will return to prison. (Source: Louisiana Department of Corrections)