Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

More Americans could qualify for overtime next year; Advocate: Don’t water down college standards; Governor signs marijuana laws; and Shreveport is America’s death penalty capital


More Americans could qualify for overtime next year

The annual income threshold for when most workers qualify for overtime pay for working more than 40 hours in a week has been stuck for years at $23,660. But a new rule from the federal Department of Labor could boost that limit to $50,440 by 2016, which would translate into more pay for an estimated 5 million workers. Politico has details:


The new threshold wouldn’t be indexed to overall price or wage increases, as many progressives had hoped. Instead, it would be linked permanently to the 40th percentile of income. That would set it at the level when the overtime rule was first created under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt…The regulation would be the most sweeping policy undertaken by the president to assist the middle class, and the most ambitious intervention in the wage economy in at least a decade… The overtime threshold has been updated only once since 1975 and now covers a mere 8 percent of salaried workers, according to a recent analysis by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. Raising the threshold to $50,440 would bring it roughly in line with the 1975 threshold, after inflation. Back then, that covered 62 percent of salaried workers. But because of subsequent changes in the economy’s structure, the Obama administration’s proposed rule would cover a smaller percentage — about 40 percent.


Nola.com’s Bruce Alpert reports that White House economists estimate the new rule will boost pay for 70,000 Louisiana workers, about 3.5 percent of the workforce.


Advocate: Don’t water down college standards

The Baton Rouge Advocate is not pleased by the Board of Regents’ recent move to lower admission standards at state universities – which marks a step backwards for a state where four-year colleges have tightened standards in recent years.


“The goal is to get more graduates,” said Regents Chairman Roy Martin, of Alexandria. Wrong. The goal of this policy is to get more paying bodies on campuses, whether the paying bodies have the qualifications, much less the likelihood, of getting a degree or not. Currently, a student who scores on the ACT admissions test below an 18 in English or a 19 in math can’t enroll at the state’s public universities without a waiver because he or she would have to take a remedial course at a two-year college. All of us want to believe in the kid who shows up at the college door needing just one algebra course and that sheer determination and a reawakened commitment to learning carries that young man or woman to graduation four years hence. This is a nice mythology, but it is belied by the Board of Regents’ own data and experience across the nation — including Louisiana’s y’all-come admissions policies of years ago.


A policy that sets up students for “debt and no degree” is troubling. But the Board’s move to boost enrollment and funding is understandable given the fact that Louisiana has cut per student state support by $4,941 since 2008, more than any other state in the nation.


Governor signs marijuana laws
Two bills–one to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, another to set up a process to dispense medical marijuana to patients suffering from certain chronic diseases like cancer and glaucoma–were signed into law by Gov. Jindal on Monday. The Associated Press reports that it may take up to two years for medical marijuana to be available to patients, given the “extensive regulatory process.” Medical marijuana has technically been legal in Louisiana since the early 1990s, but there was no legal method to dispense it. The LSU and Southern ag centers have right of first refusal when it comes to growing the plant. If they refuse, a public bid will be put out. The state will then license 10 distributors. According to Greg Hilburn with the Monroe News-Star, LSU is interested.


Advocates have said a medical marijuana crop could generate new revenue for the cash-strapped universities.”That’s certainly one of the reasons we would become involved,” [LSU Vice President for Agriculture Bill] Richardson said. Richardson said Alexander will likely discuss it with the LSU Board of Supervisors within 60 to 90 days. James Moore of Monroe, a member of the board, said he hopes Alexander does confer with the supervisors. “I’d want to hear his comments and would probably defer to his recommendations…It may sound a little odd for the flagship to consider growing marijuana, no question, but nothing surprises me these days.”


Shreveport is America’s death penalty capital
The New Yorker has a disturbing investigation on how the the death penalty is applied in Caddo Parish, focused on the stories of Rodricus Crawford–a black man sentenced to death for smothering his infant son based on a flawed autopsy, even though multiple medical experts say pneumonia was the cause of death–and Dale Cox, the district attorney who pursues the death penalty with a Biblical zeal (while quoting Jesus Christ) and told a local reporter on the record, “I think we need to kill more people…We’re not considered a society anymore—we’re a jungle.” As the nation continues to discuss the issue of race and the criminal justice system, the statistics from Caddo are shocking:


Juries in Caddo Parish, which has a population of two hundred and fifty thousand, now sentence more people to death per capita than juries in any other county in America. Seventy-seven per cent of those sentenced to death in the past forty years have been black, and nearly half were convicted of killing white victims. A white person has never been sentenced to death for killing a black person.


Number of the Day
$4,941 – Cut in state support for higher education per students since 2008, the worst in the nation (Source: CBPP)