Wednesday, July 8

Wednesday, July 8

Same-sex couples wait for health coverage; the death penalty in Caddo Parish; program aims to reduce unemployment in New Orleans; tuition rising in UL System

Same-sex couples wait for health coverage

State employees, teachers, legislators and other state-affiliated workers are waiting on instruction from the IRS as to whether the state can enroll previously married same-sex spouses in the state’s health insurance program. The Advocate’s Marsha Shuler reports:

IRS guidance is expected soon in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision late last month legalizing same-sex marriages. But until that occurs, nothing can happen. Group Benefits is subject to IRS guidelines for the administration of its Section 125 cafeteria plan. A marriage is considered a “qualifying change in status event” allowing for insurance enrollment outside the normal annual period. But the IRS has not weighed in on whether the recent court ruling should also be considered a “qualifying change” allowing immediate sign-up of those previously married to a same-sex partner. Otherwise they would have to wait for the regular annual enrollment period.

The death penalty in Caddo Parish (cont…)

In his dissent in last week’s Supreme Court decision on the use of specific drugs used in lethal injection, Justice Stephen Breyer cited the “arbitrariness in application” as problematic in death penalty cases, specifically as it relates to geographic location.  In a New York Times story, Campbell Robertson reports that from 2010 to 2014 Caddo Parish sentenced more people to death, on a per-capita basis, than any other jurisdiction.  That’s largely the work of Caddo Parish District Attorney Dale Cox:

Mr. Cox, 67, who is the acting district attorney and who secured more than a third of Louisiana’s death sentences over the last five years, has lately become one of the country’s bluntest spokesmen for the death penalty. He has readily accepted invitations from reporters to explain whether he really meant what he said to The Shreveport Times in March: that capital punishment is primarily and rightly about revenge and that the state needs to “kill more people.” And he has been willing to recount his personal transformation from an opponent of capital punishment, a belief grounded in his Catholic faith, to one of the more prolific seekers of the death penalty in the nation. “Retribution is a valid societal interest,” Mr. Cox said on a recent afternoon, in a manner as calm and considered as the hypothetical he would propose was macabre.

New program aims to reduce unemployment in New Orleans

The Downtown Development District seeks to increase employment rates among the homeless and formerly incarcerated by giving preference in contract awards to companies that prioritize hiring people in these groups. Della Hasselle of The Advocate reports:

Called The New Paths Initiative, the plan will provide incentives for companies to employ people struggling to find their way back into the workforce. Advocates say it will not only “transform” the lives of the people hired but also reduce the societal costs associated with recidivism, unemployment and homelessness. “The statistics are really stark — 52 percent of folks getting out of jail today are going back in three years,” said Kurt Weigle, president and CEO of the Downtown Development District. “It’s time to interrupt the cycle, and the DDD welcomes the opportunity to play its part.”

Tuition rising in UL System

Tuition and fees at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will climb 20 percent in the upcoming academic year. Other schools in the University of Louisiana System will also see an increase of between 1.6 percent (Nicholls State University) to 14.3 percent (McNeese State University) under actions approved last week by the Board of Supervisors.

The increases would raise UL Lafayette’s tuition and fees to the second-highest among the nine ULS schools. Louisiana Tech tuition and fees would be raised to $8,823, 10 percent up from 2014-15 academic year and the highest among the ULS campuses. The increases were permitted under Act 741, the GRAD Act, passed in 2010, which gives state campuses more autonomy and flexibility in charging for tuition in exchange for the institutions meeting goals, and House Bill 152, signed into law July 1, the day before the ULS board meeting. HB 152 authorizes the state college systems to raise fees within certain limits. Many of the schools did not seek more funding under HB 152.


Number of the Day

$85 million: Estimated cost of an all new facility for special needs inmates at Orleans Parish Prison, as opposed to the $7 million it would cost to renovate existing facilities. (Source: The Advocate)