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Criminal Justice Reform: The Legislative Kumbayah?

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There is much that divides Louisiana’s lawmakers, but when it comes to criminal justice reform and reinvestment…

“Representative Leger and I finally found something we can agree on,” Denham Springs Republican Valarie Hodges said, with a laugh.

“Love it!” New Orleans Democrat Walt Leger responded.

Tuesday, Senator Danny Martiny  (R-Kenner) shepherded a trio of reform bills through final passage on the Senate floor. Those measures reduce sentences and eliminate mandatory minimums for many nonviolent offenses, and  also expand probation and parole eligibility.

“We’re trying to make sure that the violent people stay in jail, and the people who committed non-violent crimes will come out and become productive citizens,” Martiny said.

Wednesday, the House Criminal Justice Committee heard Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger’s bill spelling out how the state will use the money it saves from not locking up so many offenders for so many years.

“Our commitment to make a significant reinvestment is really a double-down on our policy changes,” Leger explained.

“It’s projected that $264-million will be saved over the course of the next decade. And we are, by passing this bill, guaranteeing that 70% -- that’s about $184-million – will be reinvested in these ways: to create anti-recidivism-based programming, substance abuse treatment, job training mental health.”

It’s all part of an effort to reduce Louisiana’s highest-in-the-nation incarceration rate, while the state’s faces recurring budget problems.

Denise Marcelle (D-Baton Rouge), who represents the district where Alton Sterling was killed, remarked, “You know, whenever we can work together and come up with criminal justice reform while continuing public safety, it’s a win-win for everybody. And it’s a wonderful day to me to just see this process start.”

Several committee members concurred, and committee chair Sherman Mack (R-Albany) announced, “There are no red cards in opposition.”

“I know,” Leger replied, with a grin.

“And Representative (Terry) Landry has made a motion to report the bill favorable. With there being no opposition, the bill is reported favorable as amended.”

The full House has the reinvestment bill next, and then it faces Senate committee and Senate floor debate. The sentencing reforms still have to go through the House process.