If there is a growing consensus that Louisiana puts too many people in jail for relatively minor offenses, it’s also clear that the path forward for changing that situation is not as clear as the issue might seem.
For Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, it was a frustrating day when he proposed a bill to reduce, significantly, the penalties for ordinary possession of marijuana. It was blocked by the opposition of the Louisiana Sheriffs Association. The district attorneys were neutral on the measure, but the ACLU of Louisiana said it did not go far enough.
Badon voluntarily pulled down his measure, House Bill 14, so it may resurface, although there are other bills along similar lines.
The Badon bill is not that radical: A first offense could still draw jail time. A second conviction for simple possession would be punishable by up to two years in prison, instead of up to five years. A third conviction would be punishable by up to five years, instead of up to 20 years. Prosecutors would no longer be able to use simple marijuana possession convictions to send offenders away for life as habitual offenders.
The legislator lashed out at the sheriffs for what Badon said was a surprise opposition to the bill in committee. But what this fracas suggests is that reform requires a consensus politically. We have generally backed the efforts of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy to bring together business, congregations and bipartisan political support for changes in the laws on both the penalties side and parole, including the treatment needed to get offenders straight.
Badon might well be justified in saying he was blindsided by the sheriffs, but we suspect that bills on this and related issues depend on a considerable degree of agreement — although not a veto for the sheriffs or others.