Monday, October 6, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cataloging the education suits; California voters consider “common sense” criminal justice reforms; Three years on Rikers; Transportation panel looks for short-term fixes; ICYMI: Computer hackers targeting state databases

Cataloging the education suits
The future of Louisiana’s public education system is largely in the hands of state courts, where a half-dozen suits are pending that have major implications for the way schools will operate and students will learn in the coming years. As Melinda Deslatte of The Associated Press reports, nearly all of the lawsuits are related to controversial policy decisions by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The highest-profile disagreement centers on Louisiana’s use of the Common Core education standards. Three lawsuits are tied to that issue alone. Jindal once supported the math and English benchmarks adopted by more than 40 states. But he’s since changed his position, saying President Barack Obama’s administration has manipulated use of Common Core to try to control local education policy and curriculum. Lawmakers, Jindal’s hand-picked education superintendent and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education won’t strip the standards from classrooms, however. So, the fight has shifted to federal and state courts.

The Jindal administration already has lost several major education-related lawsuits, including one that stopped the governor from using the public school financing formula to pay for the controversial private school vouchers.


California voters consider “common sense” criminal justice reforms
Louisianans take note: Voters in California are about to send fewer people to jail. Twenty years after passing the controversial three strikes law—which sometimes sent people to jail for decades for minor drug and non-violent crimes—voters in The Golden State will vote on a referendum next month that would classify thefts, forgery and most drug possession offenses as misdemeanors punishable by brief jail stays instead of long-term lock-down in a state penitentiary. The measure is receiving broad bipartisan support,The New York Times reports:

To its advocates—not only liberals and moderates, but also an evangelical conservative businessman who has donated more than $1 million to the campaign, calling it “a moral and ethical issue”—the measure injects a dose of common sense into a justice system gone off the tracks.


Three years on Rikers
Anyone who doubts the need for fundamental criminal justice reform should take a few minutes to read about what happened to Kalief Browder, a Bronx teen who spent three years awaiting trial on Rikers Island – most of it in solitary confinement – after being arrested in 2010 and charged with a crime he didn’t commit. Browder’s real offense was getting caught up in a dysfunctional court system.

One reason is budgetary. There are not nearly enough judges and court staff to handle the workload; in 2010, Browder’s case was one of five thousand six hundred and ninety-five felonies that the Bronx District Attorney’s office prosecuted. The problem is compounded by defense attorneys who drag out cases to improve their odds of winning, judges who permit endless adjournments, prosecutors who are perpetually unprepared. Although the Sixth Amendment guarantees “the right to a speedy and public trial,” in the Bronx the concept of speedy justice barely exists.

It’s a story that should hit home in Louisiana, where less than 2 percent of the state’s $3.5 billion annual tab for criminal justice goes to ensure that the accused are afforded a public defense.


Transportation panel looks for short-term fixes
Facing a 2015 election year and a governor who is opposed to raising revenues, a special state panel searching for ways to improve Louisiana’s crumbling infrastructure appears to befocusing its efforts on short-term fixes rather than sweeping enhancements. Some 62 percent of state roads are in poor condition, and the cost to repair only structurally deficient bridges totals $2.7 billion—more than twice the state’s current budget shortfall—according to former state Transportation Secretary Kam Movassaghi. But rather than tackle these infrastructure needs, members of the Transportation Funding Task Force are scrambling to find at least $70 million for road and bridge upkeep—less than 3 percent of what’s actually needed. Meanwhile, the poor conditions of Louisiana’s roads and bridges are becoming dangerous and costly for drivers. Louisiana ranks 44th in its rate of highway fatalities, according to Movassaghi, and Louisiana has the nation’s highest annual auto insurance rates at $1,277.


ICYMI: Computer hackers targeting state databases
States are facing a growing number of complex cyberattacks against their computer systems, threatening the exposure of personal information of millions of citizens, according toa new report from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and the consulting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP. The cyberattacks could also cost taxpayers millions of dollars to fix, and damage the public’s trust in the government. State computers hold loads of personal information, including citizens’ dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, birth certificates, Social Security numbers and bank and credit card information. The report says all states must improve their funding for cybersecurity and become more proactive in monitoring for security threats.


Number of the Day
— The average annual auto insurance rate in Louisiana, highest in the nation. (Source:The Advocate)