Our Views: Clean up theft laws

Hands up, and back away from the stolen crawfish!

Perhaps Elliott Ness of the Bayou might be a new reality show if “Duck Dynasty” fades away, but humor aside there is in fact a state law against stealing crawfish. There are also laws against stealing alligators, who pinch just a bit harder if one is not careful.

Altogether, there are more than two dozen theft statutes involving specific items. The Louisiana Sentencing Commission wants the Legislature to roll 11 of them into the overall theft statute.

After all, it’s still illegal to steal a crawfish, or an alligator, or a raccoon. That’s still theft.

What has happened in the Louisiana statues has to do with politics. If there’s an outbreak of rustlers down the bayou, a legislator courts the local interests by putting in a specific theft statute. Often, though, the penalties were higher than those in the ordinary theft statutes. A $20 bag of crawfish is worth $20, but if somebody is making a living poaching on ponds, the crawfish farmers have a right to be upset if the ordinary theft statute allows only a slap on the wrist to the offender.

A rough parallel is the tax code. As tax breaks or specific penalties for abuse are written into the law, the code becomes increasingly complex. At some point, that’s a impediment to law enforcement instead of a help.

The Sentencing Commission has done valuable work on the problems with drug offenders and sentencing for those offenses. That is the principal cause of the burgeoning population of Louisianians behind bars, at vast expense to the taxpayer. The crawfish law and the like aren’t a big part of the problem, but the idea of greater uniformity in the theft statute, and bringing Louisiana practices into line with neighboring states, seems more than reasonable.

A criminal code that is clearer and less cluttered is a worthy goal. We hope the Legislature will take a good look at the commission’s recommendations this spring and act on them.