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Tough on Crime, Short on Cash
It has been almost a year since Rep. Danny Martiny, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, last called on lawmakers to review Louisiana's criminal statutes with an eye toward viable options to long prison sentences. ("Law and Disorder," May 23, 2006, http://www.bestofneworleans.com/dispatch/2006-05-23/news_feat3.php.) The political climate over the past decade has given way to harsh penalties and mandatory minimums for convicts, which in turn has created a booming prison population, overworked courts and strained budgets. Little in the way of reform, however, was expected to come out of the current session, especially with elections looming in the fall. Even Martiny, who is term-limited and unable to run in the House again, admits as much. "It's probably not the best thing for me to do, to be soft on criminals, for my (upcoming) Senate campaign, but it's the right thing to do," he says. House Bill 736 by Rep. Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat, offered a litmus test last week as to where lawmakers might stand on penal reforms this session. The bill, which would provide parole consideration for certain prisoners serving out heroin convictions, barely squeaked out of the House by a 56-40 vote. It faces stiff opposition in the Senate. During the House debate, Martiny, a Metairie Republican, urged his colleagues to have compassion -- and political will. "We'll just keep locking them up. Don't give them a reason to be good. Just keep spending the money," Martiny told lawmakers. "I've said this before: The three easiest votes for a legislator are against taxes, against gambling and for putting someone in jail for the rest of his life." -- Alford

 

It's Your Dime
While lawmakers ponder ways to spend the $827 million in surplus money from last fiscal year -- as well as some $1.2 billion in unforeseen revenue in the current fiscal year -- a majority of Louisiana residents says it wants the dough put in long-term initiatives rather than one-time pork. The surplus is largely from hurricane-recovery spending and high oil prices. Legislators have all kinds of ideas for spending it, but 58 percent of those surveyed by LSU's Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs put repairing roads atop the list, followed by providing health care for the uninsured and giving teachers a pay raise. Tax cuts got the least amount of support, though a majority of respondents did incorporate a permanent tax cut or a one-time tax rebate into their wish list. "The survey shows Louisiana public opinion at a crossroads," says Kirby Goidel, director of the survey. "There are signs of encouragement and opportunity mixed with signs of pessimism and malaise." The poll also found that public attention is shifting away from rebuilding, but has not yet coalesced on another issue to take its place. As for longstanding concerns about corruption, 37 percent of respondents think the state is more corrupt than last year and 45 percent think the state is just as corrupt. -- Alford

Closing the Racial Divide
One week after a national Kaiser Foundation study found "a huge and significant racial divide" in post-Katrina New Orleans, local scholars and mental health professionals are getting together to close the gap. Tulane University historian Lance Hill, a key architect of the political defeats of white supremacist David Duke in the 1990s, and two faculty members from historically black Southern University at New Orleans, will co-host the first "Racial Healing and Reconciliation Learning Circle Meeting" from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday (May 16) at Trinity Christian Community Center, 3908 Joliet St. Hill, who directs the sponsoring Tulane Southern Institute for Education and Research, says the program will introduce new strategies for "identifying and healing ethnic group conflict trauma and building interracial trust in the wake of a natural disaster." The initiative includes asking participants to recall personal stories of their most memorable Katrina experience involving race. Juliana Padgett, a SUNO professor of social work, says she and instructor Harry Russell last month conducted a pilot program on professor Hill's initiative, employing a biracial undergraduate class of older students. "This is a class of conflict transformation," Padgett says. Hill's approach (one of several considered by Padgett's class) is adapted from ethnic conflict resolution strategies pioneered by internationally known psychologist Ervin Staub. Now at the University of Massachusetts, Staub predicted increased racial tensions in New Orleans during an under-publicized visit here just weeks after Katrina flooded the city. For more information, call (504) 247-1636. -- Johnson

Broadband Bobby
As if being Louisiana's most prolific online fundraiser weren't enough, gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal, a Republican from Kenner, has transformed his campaign's Web site into what may be one of the finest examples of politics and multi-media in the nation, rivaling even some presidential sites. Actually, www.BobbyJindal.com does show striking similarity to www.HillaryClinton.com, but that's probably the only parallel the young GOP congressman would admit. In addition to the standard fundraising, volunteer, news and grassroots tools, his site offers regular videos -- complete with funky cuts and score -- from the campaign trail as well as a personal blog by the candidate. Additionally, the Jindal site offers links to all of the official Bobby pages for Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr.com. Strategically, Jindal's not shy about a marketing technique that most other politicos in the state continue to ignore. "We want to reach out to new voters, communicate with existing supporters and, most importantly, get people involved," Jindal says. "That is what this Web site does." -- Alford

Stopping Cyber Crimes
Local FBI cyber crimes expert Kristie Green and Rizwan Ahmed, the state's chief technology officer, are among the speakers scheduled to offer security advice to local businesses at the IT Conference and Expo (May 22-23) at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside. "The top risks to your cyber security are actually very obvious: your employees are selling you out unwittingly by disclosing passwords or answering counterfeit emails; employee laptops are lost; portable storage devices are lost, allowing a hacker access to corporate secrets by by-passing firewalls; or your IT staff takes too long to install a missing security patch," says conference organizer Chandra Gogineni. For fees, ranging from $50 to $100 daily, the two-day event promises products, services and alliances designed to help save businesses from the potential loss of millions of dollars from identity theft and other computer-related crimes. The Expo is free and open to the public. For conference information, call (504) 467-1900 or visit www.comtecinfo.com/expo2007. -- Johnson

Honoring the Fallen
U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Metairie will deliver a keynote address honoring 12 Louisiana law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty since Hurricane Katrina, beginning at 11 a.m. Friday (May 18) at Lake Lawn Metairie Cemetery (5100 Pontchartrain Blvd.). Jefferson Parish Chief Deputy Newell Normand will give closing remarks at the Louisiana Law Enforcement Memorial, says organizer Melanie Cannatella. "We skipped last year, due to Katrina," says Cannatella, whose late husband, NOPD Sgt. Ron Cannatella, campaigned for the monument, dedicated May 17, 2002. "This year, we have more participation from throughout the state," she adds. Ten law enforcement agencies are sending honor guards. Scheduled events include a bagpipe version of "Amazing Grace," a 21-gun salute, and a riderless horse. Friday's ceremony will leave the names of 377 Louisiana officers on the monument, including NOPD officer Christopher John Doyle, 25, who died of ulcerative colitis on Nov. 18, 2005, less than three months after conducting search and rescue operations during Katrina. -- Johnson

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