The Louisiana House narrowly approved Wednesday increasing a fee on inmates released from prison to cover a pay raise for parole officers.
On a vote of 71 to 21 – one more than was necessary – the House approved the measure and sent it to the Senate for further consideration.
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.
State Police starting salary is $46,000 a year, said Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro.
HB302 would dedicate the new revenues to recruiting and retaining parole officers without supplanting the department’s regular appropriation.
Harris amended his measure to make the new, higher fee applicable to only parolees who are employed. “Nobody goes back to jail for not paying the fee because they don’t have a job,” he said.
When the $63 fee was introduced in 2011 it was estimated that only 20 to 38 percent of parolees would be able to pay the fees, he said.
State Rep. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, said many of parolees work minimum wage jobs and the fee would be onerous.
“What I don’t want to see is us putting a fee on them that may cause them to go back to doing some of the things that they did because they can’t afford to pay it,” Price said.
Harris replied, “The taxpayers footed that bill to feed, clothe and house these prisoners. As they come out, this is part of their contribution to part of that expense.”
But much of the debate centered on how Harris opposed pay raises of other civil servants.
Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa, pointed out that she tried to appropriate about $9 million to give raises to state workers in jobs with the most turnover. She said the state pays $54 million to recruit, train and employ workers to replace those leaving state employment because of the low wages.
“We’re actually wasting money that’s in this budget right now,” White told Harris, who heads the subcommittee that oversees Civil Service.
“I do not want to give the false impression that we can fund those types of things,” Harris replied.
State Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, noted that other state employees haven’t received a raise in nine years. “There are a lot of state agency employees that are just as committed,” Landry said.
“Let’s be clear about this,” said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge. “This is the way for us to get around the rhetoric of a standstill budget to provide a raise for probation and parole, period, point blank, that’s what it is.”
House Republicans approved 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.
The Republican majority leader, who has refused to endorse pay raises for state employees, p…