Gov. Jeff Landry’s effort to unravel Louisiana’s 2017 criminal justice reforms got off to a quick start on Tuesday as lawmakers advanced measures to expand the death penalty, allow children to be tried as adults and make it harder for people convicted of crimes to prove their innocence. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Finn reports:

Landry’s legislation still sailed through the State Capitol on Tuesday, a day of emotional debate that showcased the strength of Republicans’ tough-on-crime agenda in Louisiana’s increasingly conservative statehouse. … But Innocence Project New Orleans Executive Director Jee Park argued the bill [House Bill 4] could cause “frivolous” claims to be filed only to meet the new, shortened deadline, and would exclude a large percentage of people from arguing their innocence: nearly 25% of people who are exonerated have pleaded guilty to the crime, she said, citing national data.

The bipartisan 2017 criminal justice reforms saved the state money and reduced the number of people serving time for non-violent offenses. But as the Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose explains, lawmakers aren’t letting facts get in the way of a “good” session: 

While conventional conservative wisdom considers more stringent punitive measures a criminal deterrent, there is no firm empirical evidence that confirms this correlation. Yet this absence of support has done little to sway Landry and Republican lawmakers, who are intent on living up to their tough-on-crime campaign promises. 

Brumley supports teacher stipends over permanent raise
Louisiana’s Education Superintendent Cade Brumley wants public school teachers to receive a one-time stipend instead of a permanent pay raise. Brumley made that recommendation earlier this week at a meeting of the Minimum Foundation Program Task Force, which provides funding recommendations to the state’s top education board. The superintendent’s stance mirrors that of Gov. Jeff Landry. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Allison Allsop reports

Brumley’s resolution was approved with only one task force member, Public Affairs Research Council President Steven Procopio, voting in opposition. Procopio stated that temporary stipends do not help with recruitment and retention, and the money could be more wisely used elsewhere, like paying down retirement debt. After Brumley brought his resolution forward, several members of the task force spoke out against it during discussions. 

Could food prices stop increasing?
Food prices rose at a much slower rate in January than in previous months, according to the Consumer Price Index. Many of the factors that led to rising prices over the last few years, such as labor shortages and supply chain disruptions tied to the pandemic, and an avian flu outbreak are abating or disappearing altogether. But as the New York Times’ Jeanna Smialek and Jason Karaian explain, consumers can expect food prices to stop rising, but not necessarily decline. 

And from packaged food providers to restaurant chains, companies across the food business are reporting that they are no longer raising prices as steeply. In some cases that’s because consumers are finally pushing back against price increases after years of spending through them. In others, it’s because the prices that companies pay for inputs like packaging and labor are no longer rising as sharply. Even if food inflation cools, it does not mean that your grocery bill or restaurant check will get smaller: It just means it will stop climbing so quickly. Most companies are planning smaller price increases rather than outright price cuts. 

Most Americans don’t meet own definition of middle class
Americans agree on what a middle-class lifestyle entails, but only about one-third of people meet that definition, according to a recent poll from the Washington Post. About 90% of U.S. adults agree on six criteria, such as having a secure job and the ability to save, that are necessary to be a member of the middle class. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Fowers, Emily Guskin and Scott Clement explain how a lack of financial security plagues middle-income households:

Gallup polling last spring found that retirement was Americans’ top financial worry. Even for those who can save, retirement planning requires complicated judgments about how long someone expects to live and the future of government support through programs such as Social Security and Medicare. “The de facto landscape now for retirement is to save like hell and hope you don’t live too long,” said Ben Harris, vice president and director of economic studies at Brookings. “And that’s a terrible paradigm.”

Number of the Day
24% – Percentage point decrease in non-violent crime in Louisiana since the 2017 Justice Reinvestment Initiative was enacted. (Source: FBI)