After sailing through the Louisiana House of Representatives with a 93-1 vote, HB 351 was shot down by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Louisiana Democrat Party chair Karen Carter Peterson, yesterday. The bill was an amendment to the state’s constitution that would prohibit a person convicted of a felony from running for an elected office or obtaining an appointed office. Felons could eventually be granted these opportunities so long as eight years had passed since the completion of their original sentence.
Once upon a time Louisiana had a similar amendment in place, only the waiting period was fifteen years rather than eight. This was ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court because the version that voters approved was apparently different from the one that the legislature approved. So last year, the House attempted to fix the issue with said amendment, but the Senate shot that one down as well.
The recent controversy can be traced back to 2015, when former state representative Derrick Shepherd, a Democrat from Marrero, announced his candidacy to reclaim his seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives subsequent to serving three years in prison for money laundering. It was at this point that the Supreme Court overturned the original amendment.
For a proposal that obviously received bipartisan support and passed so easily though the House, it might come as a surprise that its momentum would halt so quickly. Especially considering the comparable prior amendment that was evidently supported.
HB 519, part of the ten-bill prison reform package, passed the House, as well, with the intent to help newly-released prisoners get back on their feet following their sentence. The bill specifically allows felons to apply for certain licenses required for particular fields of work. This is apparently something that both Republicans and Democrats can get behind, as it may ultimately reduce recidivism.
But getting a job and running for office are two different things. Eight years seems like a reasonable waiting period for positions of such influence, although it seems Karen Carter Peterson and a majority of her compatriots at the Senate and Governmental Affairs committee disagree.