Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Senate considers compromise payday loan bill
The full Senate is scheduled to vote this afternoon on a compromise bill to stop payday lenders from trapping thousands of Louisiana residents in long-term cycles of debt. The original version of Senate Bill 84 would have capped payday loan annual interest rates at 36 percent (three times Louisiana’s usury law). But the bill was amended in a Senate committee and now limits customers to no more than 10 payday loans in a 12-month period. The compromise is a modest way to help prevent the payday lending debt trap by creating a limit to how deep the payday lending debt hole can get in a single year. Advocates for SB 84 cite studies proving that payday loan debt often leads to delinquency on other bills, loss of one’s bank account and bankruptcy. The industry also has a net-negative impact on Louisiana’s economy, harming small businesses that recycle their profits through their local communities.

House Appropriations Committee approves state budget plan
After making numerous changes to House Bill 1 – the proposed $25 billion annual budget for the upcoming fiscal year – the House Appropriations Committee approved the bill to the flooron Monday without objection, reports Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press. The governor’s executive budget came to the Legislature with a number of problems. In addition to the inclusion of one-time money, there were shortfalls in funding for K-12 students and the TOPS college scholarship program, and fewer tax amnesty dollars are available than originally thought due to a miscalculation. That left a $110 million  gap.

The committee addressed those shortfalls and amended HB 1 to remove $100 million in “one-time” money, replacing that money with cuts to state contracts, reductions in state employee vacancies and additional cuts to states agencies totaling $130 million. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration said it will rely on consultants to find efficiencies and assured legislators that none of the cuts would negatively impact services. Two economic development funds were also emptied to keep the budget in balance.

Legislators retained funding for employee pay raises and the new WISE fund for higher education, shifted dollars around to give local health districts additional funding and identified $4 million to finance primary care clinics that serve 53,000 New Orleans-area residents and are slated to run out of money in August. State police will also see higher salaries.

The full House will debate the bill on May 8. The legislature must pass a budget and adjourn by June 2.

Study raises troubling questions about death row convictions
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that around one of every 25 death row inmates in the United States could be innocent, reports the Associated Press. The study is the first of its kind to use statistical methods to look at the question. As advances in DNA and other technology have led to a number of high-profile exonerations in recent years, the likelihood that innocent people remain on death row-or even have been executed-has grown stronger. In Louisiana, which leads the nation in per capita incarceration, there are currently 84 people-82 men and 2 women-on death row, according to Department of Corrections data.

Fight over East Baton Rouge schools shows central power of state government
John Maginnis — writing in the Times-Picayune about the fight over public schools in East Baton Rouge parish and the possible creation of a new city of St. George — notes that folks may “scratch their heads” over where the debate is taking place: in the Legislature, not city hall. “Because so many local institutions and so many local paychecks are controlled by state government, residents consider the true center of power to be the art deco tower that former Gov. Huey Long built in the 1930s instead of the boxy governmental building that former mayor Woody Dumas built in the 1970s,” Maginnis writes. The whole episode displays one of the many oddities of government in Louisiana. Compared to most other states, decision making is centralized in the state capitol, with towns and municipalities often having to come hat in hand to make even minor local changes.

Number of the Day
– Percentage of death row inmates who are likely innocent (Source: The Associated Press)