Louisiana lawmakers agreed to restrict parole, gut good-time credits and expand the death penalty during a special session on crime that wrapped up Thursday and will unravel many of the important criminal justice reforms passed in 2017. The session was scheduled to last another week, but lawmakers quickly rushed through bills that will dramatically reshape Louisiana’s criminal justice system, while limiting public debate. The Times Picayune Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Finn reports

The proposals faced withering criticism throughout the legislative process from Democrats, who argued that more punitive laws will do little to reduce crime — one of Landry’s stated goals for the session. They tried repeatedly to water Landry’s bills down with a variety of amendments; most of those efforts failed. “These new laws do nothing to prevent crime before it happens,” said Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans and chair of the House Democratic Caucus. “In fact, the bills passed will explode Louisiana’s prison population, increase recidivism and place an enormous burden on Louisiana taxpayers for generations to come.”

Mark A. Levin and Scott Peyton, in a guest column for The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, note that the bid to restrict parole and good-time credits is not backed by evidence or facts. 

One thing that both HB9 and HB10 have in common is that, by dimming the light at the end of the tunnel, they would undermine the incentive for those behind bars to exhibit exemplary behavior and pursue self-improvement. This is not just damaging to prisoners, but also to facility staff and ultimately to the public and communities where they are eventually released.

Medicaid loss threatens safety net system
States across the country are kicking people off their Medicaid rolls, a process sparked by the end of pandemic-era coverage protections. Louisiana has removed more than 197,000 people from its Medicaid program. The loss of health coverage is having devastating consequences for families. But the New York Times’ Noah Weiland and Desiree Rios explain how the loss of Medicaid poses a serious financial threat to the broader U.S. safety net. 

The loss of reimbursements for millions of patients has contributed to an already difficult financial picture for facilities that treat the poor: Unless Congress reaches a funding agreement, nearly $6 billion for federally financed health clinics, which serve over 30 million people, most of them low-income, could lapse in early March. Those health centers have each seen revenue losses of at least $500,000 because of the Medicaid unwinding, according to Amy Simmons Farber, a spokeswoman for the health center association.

It also means many families are forced to forgo care or go into debt:

“I didn’t know what to do,” Ms. [Jessica] Tucker, who earns $10 per hour in a part-time job as a customer service associate, said, recounting the ordeal from her home in Gun Barrel City. She recently received a bill of almost $8,000 for an emergency room visit Raylan had after losing Medicaid, she said. His diagnosis: strep throat.

Immigrant workers spur economic growth 
The United States economy has performed better than any other in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Washington Post’s Rachel Siegel, Lauren Kaori Gurley and Meryl Kornfield explain how immigrant workers have played a significant role in this extraordinary economic growth: 

That momentum picked up aggressively over the past year. About 50 percent of the labor market’s extraordinary recent growth came from foreign-born workers between January 2023 and January 2024, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis of federal data. And even before that, by the middle of 2022, the foreign-born labor force had grown so fast that it closed the labor force gap created by the pandemic, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Stopping ballot initiatives with ballot initiatives 
Citizen ballot initiatives can drive policy change when public opinion is not reflected in political reality. In Arkansas, voters approved an increase to their state minimum wage, while Ohio voters passed constitutional protections for abortion access. Missouri voters recently agreed to legalize marijuana. But only 26 states allow citizens to put issues directly on the ballot. And as Route Fifty’s Daniel C. Vock reports, several states are trying to restrict this access. 

This coming November, Arizona and North Dakota voters will get a chance to make it harder for future ballot measures to pass. The measure proposed by Arizona lawmakers would require organizers for both initiatives and constitutional amendments to gather a minimum number of signatures in every legislative district. North Dakota’s effort would impose a single-subject requirement on initiatives, raise the number of signatures needed for constitutional amendments, and require proposed amendments to pass in both a primary and general election.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake explains what’s happening in Missouri, where lawmakers want citizen referendums to win approval in five of eight congressional districts:

This would be a much bigger hurdle for those on the left, because Missouri has five very Republican congressional districts. … But the Associated Press reports that Republicans aim to get it on the August primary ballot — in other words, to put the new requirements into effect before voters would potentially vote on abortion rights in November.

Louisianans barred from putting issues directly on the ballot, as constitutional amendments require two-thirds majority votes in the state House and Senate before going to voters. Lawmakers have routinely shot down efforts to create a citizen referendum process, most recently last spring. 

Number of the Day
29% – Percentage of Louisiana renters that pay a majority of their household income on housing costs. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)