Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Opening Day: What a difference a year makes; Another supporter for raising the minimum wage; Proven anti-poverty program at risk; and Sentencing reform gains ground among conservatives. $2.76 billion - Amount of “discretionary” state general fund dollars in the proposed 2014-15 state budget. All but $558 million is for education and health care services. (Source: House Fiscal Division)

Opening Day: What a difference a year makes
The Legislature kicked off its 2014 session Monday in traditional fashion — with a speech by Gov. Bobby Jindal to a joint session — but it was a far different scene than what played out in 2013. A year ago the governor famously shelved his controversial plan to eliminate the state income tax in a speech that appeared to be hastily assembled. This year it was a much more scripted, and much less ambitious Jindal who laid out his agenda for the next three months: workforce development, tort reform and a package of bills to crack down on human trafficking.

While advocates for the disabled handed out free pies and Common Core opponents rallied on the Capitol steps, several legislators told Nola.com that they were hoping for more specifics from the governor. “Jindal spent much of the 18-minute address highlighting his parents’ story of emigrating from India to Louisiana and the stories of individuals who more recently moved or returned to the state as a result of what he says were his administration’s economic policies. He only briefly mentioned some of his own legislative priorities.”

Democrats, meanwhile, countered the governor by calling for a crackdown on predatory lending practices, expanded health coverage for the poor and more money for education.

Another supporter for raising the minimum wage
From The Lens comes a nuanced and carefully argued guest column by Dooky Chase, a New Orleans lawyer and retired Dillard University administrator, in favor of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. “I am sure that there are some hardline business owners among us who may say that $7.25 per hour is sufficient. I am not one,” Chase writes. “Seventy-five thousand workers in the hospitality industry in New Orleans deserve better. Entrepreneurs should pay a ‘just’ wage. Given the rise in fixed costs in America, the current federal minimum wage does not allow a person receiving that level of pay to ‘break even.’ Shouldn’t workers break even too? A worker earning $7.25 per hour cannot afford to pay both rent and utilities on a decent home; and certainly, cannot afford to purchase a car and a home and upkeep both, or pay tuition at a public college or university.”

What gives Chase’s words added meaning, of course, is that he’s not just any retired lawyer; he is a member of a famed New Orleans restaurant family and thus speaks with some moral authority when he writes about an issue that would have profound effects on the service industry and those who work in it.

Proven anti-poverty program at risk
A federal-state partnership program that provides in-home visits by nurses and other professionals to at-risk mothers is in jeopardy unless Congress authorizes it by the end of the fiscal year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports. The program is the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, and it’s only costing $400 million this year — a pittance by federal standard. But that money is well-spent, as it goes to evidence-based programs that teach pregnant women and young parents how to better care for their children. “These programs have proven an effective strategy for strengthening families and saving money over the long term.  Research shows they can lead to reduced health care costs, reduced need for remedial education, and increased family self-sufficiency,” CBPP reports.  

Sentencing reform gains ground among conservatives
One of the least-noticed, but perhaps most important developments to emerge from last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference is the growing consensus that something needs to be done about the long sentences handed down to non-violent offenders. As the National Journal reports, this development is quite a contrast to the tough-on-crime ethos that helped many politicians win election in years past.  The packed ballroom, if a bit skeptical at first, murmured along in agreement as the panelists framed the issue in decidedly conservative notes: the fiscal responsibility of reduced prison terms, the Christian compassion of redemption, the rolling-back of big government. “The idea that we lock people up, throw them away, and never give them a chance of redemption is not what America is about,” [Texas Gov. Rick] Perry said. “Being able to give someone a second chance is very important.”

The trend will get a test this spring in Louisiana, where the Sentencing Commission surprised observers recently by recommending reduced penalties for marijuana.

$2.76 billion - Amount of “discretionary” state general fund dollars in the proposed 2014-15 state budget. All but $558 million is for education and health care services. (Source: House Fiscal Division)