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Second special session takes shape

Posted on May 15, 2018

As expected, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday that the Legislature will meet May 22-June 4 in a special session devoted to raising or renewing enough revenue to patch a $648 million budget shortfall. It’s the second time this year, and sixth since 2016, that lawmakers will meet in special session to deal with revenue shortfalls. It follows a series of clumsy attempts by the House and Senate to craft a 2018-19 spending plan using available revenue. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:

“There are not new options to consider. They don’t get better with age. It’s not like a good wine,” the governor said. But he added that he expects the nearing budget cuts to change the outcome: “I think there’s a greater sense of urgency now, but I also think there’s a greater sense of clarity.”

The Senate is scheduled to debate its version of the budget today, which includes deeps cuts to higher education, cuts funding for TOPS scholarships and would eliminate the state’s food stamp program. Lawmakers have insisted on moving forward with the budget process, despite how harmful their proposals would be if they became law.

Edwards wants the Legislature to stall the operating budget for next year until the special session. But lawmakers have been working to pass a budget containing the deep cuts required in the regular session, saying they feel they have a constitutional obligation to do so. They said they could fill in additional money in the special session.

The governor’s official call for the special session lists the 32 topics the Legislature will be able to consider.

 

Louisiana voters to decide fate of unanimous juries
In a historic vote on Monday, the House of Representatives voted 82-15 to give Louisiana voters the chance to overturn a Jim Crow-era law that allows for non-unanimous juries in felony trials. Louisiana and Oregon are the only two states that currently allow for felony convictions without a unanimous jury. John Simerman from The Advocate reports that the bill marked a rare convergence of groups from opposite ends of the political spectrum, which also played out in the Legislature. The bill’s primary author is Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat, but it was handled on the House floor by Rep. Sherman Mack, a Republican from Livingston Parish who typically clashes with Democrats on criminal justice issues:

Mack, who is better known for pushing back against portions of the criminal-justice reform package that passed last year, admits he was an unlikely candidate to present the bill on the House floor. “About six weeks ago I was a ‘No,’ ” he said in an interview after the vote. He said Morrell asked him to think about it and pray on it. He did, and he also researched the racist history behind the law, he said. Mack noted a political risk in his change of heart: His political aspirations include becoming district attorney of Livingston Parish or state attorney general, he said.

The bill also was helped by a series of groundbreaking reports by The Advocate that resulted from a year-long investigation into the law, its origins and modern-day applications.

 

Negligent landlords beware
In a significant win for renters’ rights, the Louisiana House passed Senate Bill 466 on Friday which raises the risk for negligent landlords who unlawfully keep the security deposits of tenants. Elana Cohen of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center discusses the details of SB 466:

SB 466, carried by Sen. Ed Price of Gonzales, increases the penalty to bring it into line with national standards. When the new law goes into effect on August 1, 2018, renters who win their case can recover three times as much as typically awarded under current law. For a Louisiana renter who spends roughly $800 on a security deposit, the amount recovered from a negligent landlord would increase from $1,000 to $2,400.

The change in law follows years of evaluation that began with a 2014 Senate resolution. During this time, experts discovered that Louisiana Security Deposit Law had not been updated in over 30 years. Davida Finger, a professor at Loyola University College of Law:

“Loyola Law Clinic routinely represents low-income renters whose landlords have stolen their security deposits. Even after winning a lawsuit, the most renters usually receive back under the old law is the stolen deposit. For bad actors, that was no disincentive. Low-income people cannot easily access attorneys or the courts. Without deposit funds, there is a struggle to secure new housing. The new law is a step in the right direction for Louisiana renters and for our communities”

 

Housing vouchers and child poverty
A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls on Congress to prioritize funding for new housing vouchers that would benefit low-income families with children, homeless veterans and people with disabilities. CBPP is calling on Congress to allocate $23.1 billion in funding for housing vouchers to prevent cuts and ensure that more vulnerable children can grow up in safe neighborhoods. Douglas Rice, Senior Policy Analyst at CBPP, writes:

A strong body of research shows that growing up in safe, low-poverty neighborhoods with quality schools improves children’s academic achievement and long-term chances of success, and therefore may reduce inter-generational poverty. A rigorous study led by Stanford economist Raj Chetty, for example, found that children in poor families that used housing vouchers to move to low-poverty neighborhoods were much more likely to attend college, less likely to become single parents as young adults, and earn more than peers in families that did not.

 

Number of the day
56 – Percentage of Louisiana children living in low-income households that spend more than 30 percent of household income on housing costs. (Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center)

 

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