Saying 'Git' to Gitmo
A freshman senator from Caldwell Parish wants the state of Louisiana to ask the federal government not to send Guantánamo Bay detainees here because they would "present a high risk and a clear and present danger" to Bayou State residents. Sen. Neil Riser, a Republican from Columbia, spells out his appeal in Senate Concurrent Resolution 4, which will be debated during the legislative session that begins next week.
The Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility in Cuba came to prominence in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks and is the only known facility solely responsible for holding individuals who pose a high-security risk to the United States. It currently houses some 245 detainees from more than 30 countries, many of whom are alleged terrorists. President Barack Obama has said he'll close the controversial prison within a year. Riser argues that Gitmo is a "secure location, away from the United States population" and that the U.S. Senate passed a resolution — not an actual law — in 2007 stating that detainees should not be released into American society. But he admits that the Bureau of Prisons could transfer detainees to any number of federal detention facilities in Louisiana or elsewhere. Doing so, he says, "would present a significant threat to ... those people located near any federal detention facility." Riser wants to send his resolution to Congress, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Bureau of Prisons. — Jeremy Alford
Parole System Changing?
State lawmakers will soon consider a slew of proposals that could alter the way many state prisoners are placed on probation or parole. Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, a Baton Rouge Democrat, is pushing House Bill 104 to provide special parole consideration for inmates who have served 10 years in prison and have reached the age of 60. The proposal would not apply to individuals convicted of sex offenses or violent crimes. Meanwhile, Sen. Butch Gautreaux, a Morgan City Democrat, has introduced Senate Bill 62 to change the number of votes needed on state parole boards to release most convicts. Currently, a three-member parole board requires a unanimous vote for parole, but Gautreaux's bill would require only two votes. For boards with more than three members, the legislation calls for only a majority vote. House Bill 17 by Rep. J. Kevin Pearson, a Slidell Republican, would allow crimefighting organizations to nominate members to the boards of pardons and paroles. — Alford
Women, Government and Budget
As the state grapples with a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, many state agencies are bracing for cuts, including the Louisiana Center for Women and Government. Located at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, the center promotes public service by women through educational workshops, training seminars and outreach programs. The center is also known for its Hall of Fame ceremony, which most recently hosted James Carville and Mary Matalin, and its Statewide Leadership Institute for Women.
Executive director Laura M. Badeaux says the center is requesting a simple restoration of its $300,000 operating plan that lawmakers approved in 2008. The situation is so dire on the state level, however, and nerves are so frayed, that Badeaux says even the center's relatively small budget could fall victim to cuts. "What we're assuming is everything in the state may be cut if it's not academic," Badeaux says. "So we're fighting hard and proceeding with programs that are important to Louisiana." Badeaux says those programs include the Louisiana Girls Leadership Academy, scheduled for June, and the September debut of the National Women's Leadership Summit, which will be co-chaired by U.S Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican from Maine. — Alford
Another Lease Sale Low
The state's oil and gas lease sale hit a five-year low earlier this month, bringing in only $773,000 to Louisiana's coffers. It was the lowest April sale on record since 2004 — and it pales in comparison to the $2.5 million monthly average from 2005 to 2008. For those keeping tabs, it's just more bad news. Practically every lease sale this year has underperformed as the national economy continues to nosedive and energy producers sit on existing mineral leases. April also was the third straight month that the state failed to move any of its offshore leases; previously, three tracts were leased in January for only $171,000.
On a better note, the total money generated from leases this fiscal year is $194 million, the largest YTD sum in recent memory. As for April, the nine leases that were awarded cover 760 acres in Cameron, Jefferson and Vermilion parishes and along the Red River. Overall, 55 nominated tracts brought in no bids. In addition, the fact that five of the nine leases awarded this month were in south Louisiana shows last autumn's gold rush in north Louisiana's Haynesville Shale area has tapered off. — Alford