Mizell looks at budget, prison improvements for 2017

Published 4:55 am Saturday, December 24, 2016


As 2017 is a fiscal year for the Louisiana legislature, our representatives will have one big task ahead after the session convenes in April — fix a gaping budget hole.

State Sen. Beth Mizell said she’s thinking now about what can be done to correct the budget crisis.

Mizell said she’d like to accomplish several things. First, she hopes Louisiana will become more competitive with surrounding states, with the hope of luring businesses.

“What has Mississippi done to make them more attractive than Louisiana when we desperately need the jobs,” she asked.

Mizell said there is talk about restructuring sales tax collections, which could help out the bottom line, although at present not many specifics are public. But in general, Mizell said she believes there are still savings to be had without cutting services.

“I still believe, even though we’re suffering with basic healthcare and education being cut, there are ways we’re not being good stewards of the money we have in our state budget,” she said. “There’s something we’re doing with the money that’s not really working out, with the priorities that taxpayers believe should be prioritized.”

In addition, she said she hopes she can develop state solutions to help communities like Bogalusa develop local talent. Mizell pointed out that there are jobs in the city — but far too many are not held by people who live in Bogalusa.

“Meeting people from the paper mill and the call center, they’re mostly from somewhere else, and that’s a problem,” she said.

She said if Bogalusa youth are not qualified to get mill jobs, then the state has to develop some sort of plan to get them qualified.

“The jobs that we know we have here, we’ve got to know that our local citizens could qualify for those jobs,” she said.

Getting beyond the economy, Mizell said she’s also looking into prison reform. Specifically, she said she would like to develop a statewide re-entry program for people leaving prison that could help ease people who are incarcerated back out into the world. Mizell said as it stands now, Louisiana has a high rate of people in incarceration but no plans overall once the people are released. As a result, too often people who have been in prison return to prison after they find they have no support network and fall back into bad habits.

Mizell said there is an existing re-entry program that’s being used with inmates in Angola and she believes it should be expanded.

“It’s a mentor re-entry program,” she said. “They leave with a job and they leave with the skills to succeed outside of incarceration. It s a real exciting opportunity. I think the recidivism rate on that is about 3 percent or 3-to-5 percent, compared to what we’re seeing elsewhere.”

She said the program could make communities safer, get more people employed and keep families together and out of prison.

“I just think it’s a tremendous win-win for the state, for the individual families and for our communities,” she said.

Mizell explained that she has heard stories from the people who have gone through the program, and those stories touched her.

“When you see the individual stories of the people who have gone through the re-entry program, it is like … oh my gosh, it is so encouraging as to what can happen,” she said.