Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Advocate of Baton Rouge on the effect local government administrators’ lack of transparency on taxpayers:
The chairwoman of New Orleans’ Regional Transit Authority took extraordinary measures to conduct a secret search for an executive director of her agency.
Sharonda Williams made sure committee members interviewed candidates in small groups, to ensure against a quorum. She did it “for efficiency,” she said in emails obtained by The New Orleans Advocate’s Jessica Williams.
After the agency picked Greg Cook and gave him the $165,000-a-year job, members discovered he had resigned his previous job in Michigan after questions about his use of a public credit card.
The RTA’s blunder coincides with Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s disastrous hiring of a con artist, Troy Bell, as chief administrative officer. Bell lasted a week before The Advocate’s Andrea Gallo and Steve Hardy found that he had faked a college degree.
Government agencies like to conduct secret searches when they fill top positions because it makes their job easier.
The losers are the taxpayers of Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
The Advocate of Baton Rouge on how the situation surrounding Alton Sterling’s death has impacted the community:
In deciding not to bring charges against two Baton Rouge police officers involved in the death of Alton Sterling, federal officials have added a new chapter to a shooting that captured international attention last summer.
In many ways, the passage of time seems much longer. So much has happened in the life of Louisiana and the nation since then that when Sterling’s name resurfaced in the headlines, it felt, at first, more like history than news.
The basic facts of that history are well known. In the early morning of July 5, Sterling died after police responded to the report of a man who was allegedly threatening someone with a gun outside a Baton Rouge convenience store. Sterling, a convicted felon who was carrying a gun, was shot while police wrestled with him outside the store. Video footage of the shooting went viral, prompting a U.S. Department of Justice investigation to determine if police violated Sterling’s civil rights. That probe, started by the Obama administration and continued under a new president, Donald Trump, closed this week after DOJ investigators concluded that the police officers should not be charged.
There will be speculation about whether the result of the federal inquiry might have been different if it had been concluded under President Barack Obama rather than Trump. But these investigations are typically conducted by career DOJ employees, and there’s a very high bar for moving ahead with a prosecution. As Corey Amundson, acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana, pointed out in announcing the findings, the standard for prosecuting such cases does not involve whether an officer could have acted differently to produce a better result, but whether he intentionally acted to deprive a citizen of his civil rights. Similar cases completed on Obama’s watch have been closed without charges, too.
Even in today’s highly charged political atmosphere, the next phase of the Sterling probe doesn’t have to become a partisan football. With the federal investigation complete, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry must conduct his own investigation to determine if charges are warranted. The case could well be the most high-profile issue that Landry tackles. Such intense scrutiny underscores the need for diligence and impartiality, which will be critical in building public confidence in the result.
All eyes will also be on Baton Rouge’s new mayor, Sharon Weston Broome, who deserves credit for calling for calm and civic unity, a message echoed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The formal announcement of DOJ’s decision unfolded on a day of demonstrations, heightened police presence, and stormy weather. Wednesday’s happenings inevitably evoked the triple tragedies of last summer, when Baton Rouge endured Sterling’s death, widespread protests, the subsequent shooting of six law enforcement officers by a deranged gunman, who fatally wounded three of his victims, and an epic flood that displaced hundreds of thousands of south Louisiana residents.
The season’s sufferings rallied the community in the common cause of comforting the bereaved, helping the broken-hearted, and bridging the racial divide.
That work must continue, and in the wake of DOJ’s findings, it is more important than ever.
The Times-Picayune of New Orleans on Louisiana lawmakers’ effort to align laws with the Supreme Court’s ruling on juvenile life sentences:
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that life without parole for juveniles should only be used in rare cases and said inmates must be given a chance to argue for their release. In 2016, in a decision in a Louisiana case, the court broadened the effect of the ruling by making it retroactive.
Despite that, there has been little relief for inmates in Louisiana prisons.
State law currently allows inmates who were sentenced to life as juveniles to seek parole after 35 years, if they were convicted after 2012. That would provide no one a chance for parole for decades.
In addition, “since the Supreme Court ruled that life without parole sentences for children should be ‘rare’ and ‘uncommon,’ Louisiana has handed out this sentence to 81 percent of eligible children,” according to the Youth Justice Coalition. Life sentences also are given disproportionately to African-American young people in Louisiana.
Now, though, the Legislature may do away with life sentences for juveniles entirely.
The Senate voted 22-13 Thursday to eliminate life without parole for offenders who are younger than 18 at the time of the crime. Inmates would have a chance at parole after 25 years if they met certain conditions showing they have been rehabilitated. The legislation would apply to new cases as well as 300 Louisiana inmates who previously were sentenced to life as youngsters.
Senate Bill 16, sponsored by Republican Sen. Dan Claitor, now moves to the House. The bill is one of 10 being pushed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, as part of comprehensive criminal justice reform.
Lawmakers need to make state law align with the Supreme Court’s rulings.
As the court recognized, young offenders are very different from older criminals. “Scientific evidence tells us what parents already know: children are far more impulsive and less able to weigh consequences than adults, but are also uniquely capable of positive change,” the Youth Justice Coalition says.
The Legislature came close last year to revising state law, but a bill providing for parole was killed on the last day of the session.
Sen. Claitor, who is a former prosecutor, easily got his bill through the Senate last week. In fact, the bill was broadened by an amendment on the Senate floor that took all discretion away from district attorneys to seek life without parole for juveniles.
The amendment from Sen. Danny Martiny, a Kenner Republican, also reduced how long an inmate would have to serve before coming up for parole. Sen. Claitor’s bill originally required people convicted as juveniles to serve 30 years before being eligible for parole, but Sen. Martiny’s amendment shortened it to 25 years.
Those changes are likely to meet resistance in the House. But it is important for lawmakers to remember that getting a chance for parole does not mean an inmate will be approved for release. The parole board would hold a hearing, and the victim’s family and prosecutors could argue against it. Sen. Claitor’s bill also calls for the parole board to get an evaluation of the offender by an expert in adolescent brain development and behavior. Only 14 people would become immediately eligible for parole under the bill.
If the House approves SB 16, Louisiana would become the 20th state to abolish life without parole for juvenile offenders.
Louisiana’s view essentially has been that if you made a mistake when you are young, your life is worthless. That should change.
As the Youth Justice Coalition argues: “While these children must be held accountable for their actions, they must also have the opportunity to redeem themselves.”
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