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Legislature approves $26M in spending during crime session. Here’s where the money’s going


This story was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator.

It was difficult for lawmakers and fiscal experts to pinpoint an exact cost of the stricter crime prevention measures Republican Gov. Jeff Landry called on the Louisiana Legislature to approve during a special session on criminal justice policy that concluded Thursday.

Just how many more people will be incarcerated and how much longer they will stay in prison as a result of the new laws is a moving target, meaning so is the price tag.

But what we do know is that legislators approved nearly $26 million in spending in an appropriations bill authored by Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, the top budget architect in the Louisiana House. He and other GOP members of the Legislature countered arguments from Democrats that the unforeseen cost of higher incarceration rates won’t be justified.

“I think people want to be safe and people are willing to spend money to be safe,” McFarland said this week. “I’m inclined to think the benefits will outweigh the costs.”

The spending lawmakers backed will include money to send 150 Louisiana National Guard members to assist with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s immigration enforcement at the border with Mexico. Landry has committed the support over a three-month period, which didn’t sit well with some Democrats who consider it a political expense rather than a practical, crime-fighting one.

By far, the largest portion of the appropriations bill — more than $22 million — will go to Louisiana State Police.

The specific line items in the bill are split into two sections:

Executive branch

$3 million: This will cover the cost of Operation Lonestar, the Louisiana National Guard mission to assist its counterparts in Texas with border security for the next three months. Abbott’s efforts to prevent migrants from crossing into his state have clashed with federal immigration enforcement, which a court has confirmed has jurisdiction over local authorities.

This hasn’t dissuaded Landry and other Republican governors from sending National Guard members to Texas. They insist states have a sovereign right to defend their borders.

In a Feb. 20 House Appropriations Committee meeting, McFarland referred to the Louisiana Guard’s mission in Texas as a “military training exercise.” The state money will be used for payroll, training and operational expenses, he said, adding that the military nature of the expense meant details could not be shared.

Louisiana is sending 150 National Guard members to Texas. The first 50 troops have been requested.

$600,000: Lawmakers approved an allocation to the Office for the State Public Defender, a new entity placed under the governor’s authority through legislation approved in the special session. The proposal in question gives Landry the power to pick the state’s chief public defender, a task the Louisiana Public Defender Board has handled.

The board will still have to approve the governor’s choice, who will also need state Senate confirmation. But even the changes in a watered down proposal add muscle to the executive branch’s influence over policy and pay for local public defenders.

The money is intended for distribution to local public defender offices, according to the Public Defender Board. But the final language of the appropriation bill and changes made to the public defender legislation left the exact use of the money in doubt. Some lawmakers questioned whether the new Office of the Public Defender will filter all of that money down to the local level. State law calls for local defenders to receive at least 65% of allocations to the Public Defender Board, but that might not apply to the new offshoot of the governor’s office.

State Police

Landry has committed to spend more than $19 million to set up and staff a Louisiana State Police troop in New Orleans, but the special session spending only covered some of that expense. According to McFarland, the following money could be used statewide, including for what’s being called Troop NOLA.

McFarland said the governor’s budget proposal for the regular session, which starts March 11, includes more money for the New Orleans troop.

$9.2 million: This isn’t new spending but money being moved from one fund to another so the state can cover the remaining balance for a pay raise promised to State Police last year, State Budget Director Ternisa Hutchinson said. The money expected to fund that increase, from taxes on vape products, didn’t meet forecasted expectations.

Additional allocations from the state general fund for a raise the Louisiana State Police Commission approved last May are detailed below.

$3.23 million: This general fund allocation will also go toward fulfilling last year’s raise for State Police, directed to its Traffic Enforcement Program.  

$2.74 million: The money will increase the uniform allowance for dry cleaning and cover additional overtime pay for troopers who are relocated to New Orleans.

$2 million: The expenditure description says the money will be used for an “operational review” of Louisiana State Police. Landry announced before taking office the state had hired an outside law firm to conduct a review into the law enforcement agency’s policy and practices. Public records the Illuminator requested show the legal services will cost the state a maximum of $300,000.

$1.75 million: This will be spent on an evidence room in New Orleans and trooper overtime to supplement “local law enforcement capabilities.”

$1.08 million: This line item covers ballistic plates, which are placed into bulletproof vests, and safety leg restraints.

$812,350: This will be spent on “bomb suits and robotic platforms,” ostensibly to respond to bomb threats.

$617,500: This is another general fund allocation to the State Police Criminal Investigation Program to cover the raise lawmakers approved in 2023.

$522,500: Another portion of the promised raise, directed to the Operational Support Program.

$380,000: Another portion of the promised raise, directed to the State Police Gaming Enforcement Program.