Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014

Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014

Minimum wage battle brewing in Louisiana; Unemployment extension passes first hurdle; National network of conservative groups built on “unrivaled complexity”; Major U.S. Senate vote on flood delay bill set for Wednesday; Affordable Care Act educational sessions available for Capital Area residents; and Longest serving member of state education board faces felony charges. $18 – The hourly rate the minimum wage would be today if it grew at the same pace as U.S. productivity since 1968.  (Source: Economic Policy Institute)

Minimum wage battle brewing in Louisiana
Louisiana is one of five states without a minimum wage law, instead defaulting to the national $7.25 per hour. Thus, a full-time minimum wage earner makes only $15,080 annually – far below the poverty line for a family of four. But several state legislators, including Rep. Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria, want to change that. Dixon, who chairs the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations, is considering pushing for a Louisiana minimum wage that is greater than the national one. Dixon’s proposal for $9 an hour is a modest one; the minimum wage would be $10.74 per hour today had it kept pace with inflation since 1968, and it would be more than $18 per hour today if it grew at the same rate as U.S. productivity since 1968. Still, Dixon’s proposal could mean a raise for hundreds of thousands of Louisiana workers and perhaps dent Louisiana’s widening income inequality. The median, inflation adjusted wage for workers in Louisiana has increased by only 1 percent since 1979.

Unemployment extension passes first hurdle
The U.S. Senate voted 60-37 this morning to extend emergency unemployment benefits, which expired Dec. 31 for an estimated 7,000 Louisianans who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. The vote is the first step to extending the benefits, which were left out of the bipartisan budget deal that was approved before the Christmas holiday. If benefits are not extended – which Congress has traditionally done during times of recession or slow economic recovery – an estimated 30,400 Louisianans could see their benefits run out by the end of 2014.

National network of conservative groups built on “unrivaled complexity”
The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have raised more money than any independent right-wing group through a national network that The Washington Post describes as being “a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors.” The Koch brothers’ fundraising behemoth exists outside of the normal campaign financing system, and it distributes money to state-based organizations through roughly a dozen limited-liability companies and entities that protect funders’ names by dissolving and reappearing under different names. One Koch-funded group – Americas for Prosperity – recently opened an office in Louisiana with the aim of unseating Sen. Mary Landrieu and getting more involved in policy discussions with state lawmakers.

Major U.S. Senate vote on flood delay bill set for Wednesday
Members of the U.S. Senate will vote as early as Wednesday on whether to continue the debate on delaying federal flood insurance rate increases for four years. The proposal – which would stop FEMA from phasing in rate increases until it conducts an affordability study – has bipartisan support. Thousands of Louisiana residents living near the Gulf Coast are concerned the new rates will raise their insurance premiums by as much as 10 times their current rate, rendering their homes both unaffordable and unsellable.

Affordable Care Act educational sessions available for Capital Area residents
Baton Rouge area residents can learn more about buying health coverage under the Affordable Care Act during one of several “Affordable Care Act 101” sessions. Six sessions are scheduled between Jan. 9 and March 20, each of which will include an educational video and presentation. Federally-financed “health insurance navigators” and application counselors will be on site to provide individual assistance to help residents pick a plan that’s right for them.

Longest serving member of state education board faces felony charges
DeSoto Parish District Attorney Richard Johnson is filing felony theft charges against Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Walter Lee after a state audit accused Lee of billing the state for more than $13,000 for travel expenses that he did not personally incur. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of $3,000 – in addition to the money Lee would have to repay. The audit also said Lee improperly received salary increases – from $71,000 to $240,000 – during his tenure on the board and cost the state more than $10,000 after improperly terminating his school system vehicle lease contract 14 months early — so he could subsequently buy the same vehicle for a low rate.

$18 – The hourly rate the minimum wage would be today if it grew at the same pace as U.S. productivity since 1968.  (Source: Economic Policy Institute)