- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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April 2


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The American Press says Louisiana legislators need to address the state’s need for budget and tax reform:

State legislative leaders are considering using some BP oil spill money for roads and bridges instead of using it to replenish three state trust funds drained during former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure. It’s $800 million being paid to the state in yearly payments of $53.3 million for 15 years.



The money is different from the estimated $5.8 billion Louisiana is expected to receive from BP in other civil penalties from violations of environmental laws. That money is required to be set aside for coastal restoration projects and environmental rehabilitation.

Legislators, at Gov. John Bel Edwards request, agreed to spend the first $200 million BP payment to help balance the budget in 2016.

The funds that were going to be replenished are an elderly trust fund, the state’s “rainy day” fund and a health savings account. Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said using the funds for roadwork and other government operations outweighs benefits from the trust funds.

“That $50 million could go a long way to pay for TOPS (scholarships),” LaFleur said. “It could go a long way to pay for every single thing that’s in jeopardy now.”

The state faces a $700 million budget shortfall when a new fiscal year begins July 1. Without new revenues, there will be heavy budget cuts to TOPS, higher education and many health care services.

LaFleur also said the $50 million could pay for the state’s share of federal infrastructure funding for roads, bridges, ports and airports planned by President Trump and Congress. Louisiana has a $14 billion backlog of road, bridge and other transportation work.

Edwards said he would consider reworking the BP money. Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said the money could play a role in tough budget negotiations expected during the current legislative session.

LaFleur said, “We’re going to hold off until we see how the session goes and what direction the House takes…”

Plans for the $50 million seem logical, but they are still just another funding bypass and don’t address the state’s serious need for budget and tax reform. Legislators need to quit stalling on what should be their No. 1 priority.

Online: http://www.americanpress.com

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April 4

NOLA.com/The Times Picayune says Louisiana should get 17-year-olds out of adult jails:

Two years ago, the Legislature voted to move 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice system. That is where they belong - not in adult jails.

Lawmakers gave the state two years to transfer nonviolent offenders who are 17 into the juvenile system. That is supposed to happen July 1.

Now, Sen. Ronnie Johns wants to allow the state two more years to do that, extending the deadline to July 1, 2020. Even then, his Senate Bill 248 would give the Office of Juvenile Justice an out.

The move will only happen if “the office of juvenile justice certifies on or before January 1, 2020, that there is adequate funding and resources available to accommodate the projected increase in caseload,” SB 248 says.

The way the state budget is going, juvenile justice officials may never think they have enough resources.

Sen. Johns’ bill was expected to come up for a committee vote April 3, but he postponed it because of concerns expressed by Gov. John Bel Edwards‘ office and advocates for juveniles.

The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights argues that the Office of Juvenile Justice has room now to accommodate 17-year-olds with its current budget. The juvenile system has reduced the number of young people being held in detention, and reforms being implemented should lower the number even more.

Ninety percent of 17-year-olds are arrested for nonviolent offenses, so few of them need to be detained or incarcerated, the center said in a news release.

There is no reason to wait. In fact, there are compelling arguments for getting 17-year-olds out of the adult system immediately.

Youngsters prosecuted as adults are at high risk of being physically abused and sexually assaulted in adult jails. They also will have a criminal record that follows them and can make it difficult to get an education, go into the military or find a good job - all things that could keep them from becoming repeat offenders.

Some lawmakers were worried in 2016 about state costs increasing when 17-year-olds are shifted to juvenile facilities, where it costs more per inmate per day. But the Legislature shouldn’t keep sending children to adult jails because it is less expensive on the front end.

Over time, Louisiana should save money by raising the age. Juveniles typically are released sooner than adult offenders are, and they are less likely to commit additional crimes.

Other states experienced savings after “raising the age” for adult charges. Connecticut has saved $2 million per year since moving 17-year-olds to juvenile facilities, according to a study cited during the debate here in 2016.

The juvenile system is where most of these young offenders should be.

Seventeen-year-olds are immature and make bad decisions that get them into trouble, according to a study done for lawmakers by LSU’s Institute for Public Health and Justice in New Orleans. They tend to grow out of that type of behavior over time and are good candidates for rehabilitation, researchers said.

That is not true of every 17-year-old, of course. Some of them commit violent crimes, and prosecutors still can transfer offenders as young as 15 to adult court for first- and second-degree murder, aggravated or first-degree rape or aggravated kidnapping.

But those are not the kind of crimes being committed by the vast majority of 17-year-old offenders in Louisiana.

At a rally in 2016, Gov. Edwards argued that it is better for public safety to raise the age. “This means in the future, we will have fewer crime victims and less money spent on incarceration,” he said.

Lawmakers agreed - and set a reasonable deadline for the change. They need to stick to it.

Online: http://www.nola.com

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April 1

The Advocate says Louisiana’s split jury rule for serious crimes needs to be changed:

In a country created through noble dissent, Americans rarely expect or demand that even a small group of citizens will fully agree on anything.

One broadly embraced exception is the requirement that all 12 members of a jury be unanimous in convicting a defendant of a felony. That principle, written into the law of almost every state in the land, grows from an equally durable American tradition, respect for personal liberty. The idea is simple but profound. A nation that honors freedom as a founding value shouldn’t take that freedom away from any citizen unless he can be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. In the overwhelming majority of courtrooms throughout the United States, that standard of certainty relies on the unanimity of 12 jurors reaching the same conclusion. After all, if a dozen Americans, viewing the same evidence, cannot agree on a defendant’s guilt, how can reasonable doubt be eliminated?

That’s why unanimity is required by juries considering felony cases in 48 states. Shamefully, the only exceptions are Oregon and Louisiana.

Louisiana residents often take pride in doing things differently than most everyone else in the country. That eccentricity can be charming, but there’s nothing appealing about the state’s 10-2 rule for felony cases, which requires that only 10 members of a jury agree in order to convict a defendant of a serious crime. Louisiana’s departure from the national norm emerged after the Civil War, when residents feared extending the full protection of law to newly freed slaves. In 1898, Louisiana leaders pledged to restoring “the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race” enshrined the departure from unanimous juries in the state constitution. It was a way of ensuring that the white majority would still prevail in trials that now involved an occasional black juror.

An expedient born of blatant racism remains in Louisiana law to this day, often favored by prosecutors because it obviously makes convictions easier. We don’t believe that all the advocates of the 10-2 rule are racists; many seem to sincerely believe that it’s a valuable tool in sending the guilty to jail.

But regardless of how the 10-2 rule originated, its continuing effects are clear. A yearlong Advocate review of more than 3,000 criminal cases tried before Louisiana juries in the past six years revealed compelling evidence that the rule disproportionately disadvantages black defendants.

That should be reason enough to ditch this dishonorable deviation from judicial norms, but a broader imperative is at stake.

The 10-2 rule ultimately compromises justice for all defendants, depriving them of the same standards of fairness followed almost without exception everywhere else in the United States. It also increases the likelihood that the innocent will go to jail while the real offender is still free, threatening public safety.

Changing the law will require a constitutional amendment. We implore state lawmakers to approve legislation placing such an amendment on the statewide ballot, and we urge voters to approve it.

Online: http://www.theadvocate.com

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