The Republican majority leader, who has refused to endorse pay raises for state employees, pushed legislation Tuesday to hike fees on paroled inmates that could cover increases for probation and parole officers.

House Bill 302 increases the supervision fee charged to every inmate upon his release from $63 to $100. House Majority Leader Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, said the increase was needed because low pay – college-educated officers start at $30,056 – made it difficult to hire and retain the people who supervise the newly freed convicts, he said.

HB302 would dedicate the new revenues to recruiting and retaining parole officers without supplanting the department’s regular appropriation.

The House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice advanced the measure on tight 8-to-7 vote that ran along racial and party lines after intense debate.

“There are so many roadblocks. When you get out of prison you can’t get a job, can’t get an I.D. card. You get a $10 check,” testified Checo Yancey, who is on parole and paying the fee.

Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, accused Harris of trying to keep up the pretense that the state doesn’t need additional money to fund government services. While a former state employee himself, James favored increasing the salaries of the civil service officers, he said he could not support funding it with additional fees on newly freed convicts already struggling to get their lives back in order after a prison term.

“This is not the way to do it, to put it on these poor folks who can’t afford to pay their bills sometimes. This is an end around. This is a game, so we can keep this rhetoric about standstill budgets. This is bull crap,” James said.

James offered to try to get the money needed for raises from the $4 million that Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, has in an escrow account and has tried to under his control by filing a lawsuit against Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. James predicted Republicans wouldn’t vote for that method of raising money to fund pay raises.

“This is ridiculous. I find this all insulting,” Harris responded.

House Republicans forwarded Monday a state operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that doesn’t increase spending for any state agency. The proposed budget pulled money from the Louisiana Department of Health to cover a projected shortfall for TOPS, which pays most of the tuition and fees for colleges in Louisiana.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne had sought to increase pay for state employees, arguing that workers are leaving their service jobs for higher wages and the state is having trouble filling those posts. House Republicans refused his request.

“What this has to do with is making sure you have the officers and staff in place to do what you want to do,” Harris said.

Legislators this session also are debating a package of bills – called justice reinvestment – that would revamp the way Louisiana prosecutes and punishes criminals. A number of inmates could be released from prison on parole.

Committee Chairman Sherman Q. Mack pointed out that all those newly paroled inmates are going to need supervision. “If we don’t do something, then why are we bringing the justice reinvestment forward,” the Albany Republican argued.

Voting for the increased fees were Chairman Mack, Reps. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville; Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles; Chris Hazel, R-Pineville; Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs; Frank Howard, R-Many; Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro; and John Stefanski, R-Crowley.

Voting against HB302 were Reps. John Bagneris, D-New Orleans; Barbara Carpenter, D-Baton Rouge; Randal Gaines, D-LaPlace; James; Terry Landry, D-New Iberia; C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge; and Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport

 


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