Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

Coalition aims to reduce prison population; IMF says income inequality hurts economies; State Board of Education approves funding formula; Senate reaches deal on unemployment benefits; Bill passes to avert flood insurance rate hikes; and Community groups host public assembly to rein in payday lending. March-14

Coalition aims to reduce prison population
A group of unusual bedfellows is working together to reduce Louisiana’s incarceration rate — the world’s highest. The coalition includes “leftist groups, prominent business leaders, a right-wing think tank and the American Civil Liberties Union,” according to The Lens. “The coalition is pushing measures that would give judges leeway to impose lighter sentences for people convicted of nonviolent crimes such as marijuana possession, make more inmates eligible for parole, and move sick, elderly inmates from prisons to nursing homes.”  But the proposals are likely to find opposition from sheriffs, who receive $24.39 per day to house inmates, and district attorneys, who often use lesser felonies like marijuana possession as a way to keep in jail those believed to be a future danger.

IMF says income inequality hurts economies
A new report from the International Monetary Fund echoed previous research showing that income inequality hurts the overall economy. According to the Associated Press, “Its recommendations include: Raising property taxes. Taxing the rich more than others. Raising the eligibility age for government retirement programs.”

Here in Louisiana, which is home to the most unequal place in America, as well as the nation’s third-highest poverty rate and fourth highest child poverty rate, lawmakers are considering bills that would expand health coverage to 400,000 low-income Louisianans, rein in predatory lenders and raise the minimum wage. All three proposals would help lift families out of poverty, allow them to build wealth and give a boost to the economy. In addition, the state could institute common-sense reforms to rein in tax exemptions, and ensure it is taking in enough revenue to fully invest in education, health care, public safety and infrastructure.

State Board of Education approves funding formula
A controversial proposal to fund public schools passed the State Board of Secondary Education Thursday over the objections of critics, who said it left out a desperately needed 2.75 percent minimum increase. Backers of the aid package said that, while the spending plans includes some new money for public schools, it also recognizes that Louisiana’s budget picture makes major funding hikes unlikely. … Critics repeatedly charged that, without a 2.75 percent hike, public schools essentially face a standstill budget amid rising costs for retirement and technology as well as other expenses in preparation for the tougher math, reading and writing standards called Common Core.

Senate reaches deal on unemployment benefits
An estimated 7,000 Louisianans who were looking, but unable to find a job lost unemployment assistance in December after Congress failed to reach a deal on extending emergency benefits to the long-term unemployed. More than 30,000 could be left in the cold by the end of this year. However, there is some hope on the horizon.  Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada announced Thursday they have reached a deal to extend benefits for five months, and apply those benefits retroactively to those who lost them at the end of last year.

Bill passes to avert flood insurance rate hikes
Flood insurance rates will not go up more than 18 percent, thanks to a deal that passed the U.S. Senate Thursday. In addition to limits in rate increases, the bill allows houses to be grandfathered in, meaning that if a house was not in a flood zone when it was purchased, the owner can’t be hit with a rate increase because of newly drawn maps.

Community groups host public assembly to rein in payday lending
Together Louisiana, AARP and other community groups are hosting a public assembly on Tuesday, March 18 in Baton Rouge to support payday lending reform. Current state law allows payday lenders to charge borrowers triple-digit interest rates on loans, which traps thousands of hard-working Louisianans in long-term cycles of debt and drains millions of dollars from the state economy — resulting in a net job loss. During the assembly, members of the public will hear stories from people directly affected by payday lending and learn about how other states have reformed payday lending to make it less predatory. Elected officials will also discuss current efforts to rein in payday lending in Louisiana, including supporting Senate Bill 84 by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, and House Bill 239 by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge. The public action is 6:30 p.m. March 18th at Elm Grove Baptist Church (1069 North 38th St. Baton Rouge). You can click here to RSVP and learn more about the public rally, and click here to visit LBP’s payday lending resource webpage.