Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday, August 17, 2015

A jury of one’s peers?; About those pension costs; Katrina and black unemployment; and Long-term health care needs reform

 

A jury of one’s peers?

The Caddo Parish justice system has been in the news lately, for all the wrong reasons. As The New Yorker recently reported, Caddo sentences more people to death than any other political jurisdiction in America, with shocking racial disparities. On Sunday, a study featured in the New York Times looked at the racial composition of juries in the parish. The results aren’t pretty:

 

In Louisiana’s Caddo Parish, where Shreveport is the parish seat, a study to be released Monday has found that prosecutors used peremptory challenges three times as often to strike black potential jurors as others during the last decade…Reprieve Australia, a group that opposes the death penalty and conducted the Caddo Parish study, said the likelihood of an acquittal rose with the number of blacks on the jury. No defendants were acquitted when two or fewer of the dozen jurors were black. When there were at least three black jurors, the acquittal rate was 12 percent. With five or more, the rate rose to 19 percent. Defendants in all three groups were overwhelmingly black. Excluding black jurors at a disproportionate rate does more than hurt defendants’ prospects and undermine public confidence, said Ursula Noye, a researcher who compiled the data for the report. “Next to voting,” she said, “participating in a jury is perhaps the most important civil right.”…Caddo Parish is 48 percent black, and 83 percent of the defendants in the new study were black. But the typical 12-member criminal jury had fewer than four blacks on it, the report said.

 

About those pension costs

The conventional political wisdom says the costs of Louisiana’s pensions are out of control. But the real story is a bit more nuanced. The Advocate’s Marsha Shuler (no link available) reports:

 

Despite a staggering debt, the state’s two largest pension plans–for state employees and teachers–are sustainable and are in a “relatively good financial position,” the Legislature’s retirement financial guru reports. And the state government retirement systems are still cheaper than the cost of enrolling teachers and state workers in the federal Social Security program…”The problem with the retirement systems is not the plan design, but rather, it is the fact that…debts have accumulated in the past that now must be paid,” legislative actuary Paul Richmond said…LASERS Executive Director Cindy Rougeou said Richmond’s report reaffirms that the benefit structure is not the problem. “It’s the financing of the UAL,” Rougeou said. In the case of LASERS, the debt payment was $630 million out of $700 million in contributions.

 

The actuary’s numbers show that the systems’ method for funding current benefits is sustainable. Slashing benefits for future employees–as some have suggested in recent years–wouldn’t do much to reduce the unfunded accrued liability (UAL), even if it would satisfy certain political agendas that disfavor worker pensions.

 

Katrina and black unemployment

Accolades may be forthcoming for the rebuilding New Orleans has achieved in the decade since Hurricane Katrina, but not all is well. Ron McClain, writing for nola.com, addresses one problem that has actually gotten worse:

 

…in the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina we have witnessed a tremendous amount of change in our city.What has not changed, however, is the dismal state of employment among black men in New Orleans. The employment rate in the city among black men has plummeted since 1980, when it was 63 percent, to less than 50 percent today. A 2013 report from Petrice Sams-Abiodun of Loyola’s Lindy Boggs National Center for Community Literacy indicated that only 48 percent of working-age black men in New Orleans have employment. This sobering statistic flies in the face of the ongoing recovery effort of the past decade.

 

As we consider possibilities for the next 10 years of post-Katrina recovery, it is essential that we respond to the plight of unemployed black men in this city. Certainly the poverty status of our children is directly tied to employment status of fathers. To his credit, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has taken steps to respond. In a 2014 document titled “African-American Male Unemployment Report,” the mayor referenced the Boggs center findings that 52 percent of black men are not working…This must and can change… but it is going to take a lot of hard work from all the key stakeholders from government and business leaders, educators and social service providers, families and faith leaders, friends and neighbors. Only when we have everyone on board, moving in the same direction can we hope to succeed and create a pathway to prosperity for all residents.

 

Long-term health care needs reform

A great potential exists to improve the quality of health care for seniors and people with disabilities and save state tax dollars, writes Advocate columnist Jeff Sadow. All that’s left is for the next governor to embrace the idea:

 

For years, the Department of Health and Hospitals has moved regular Medicaid clients away from the inefficient fee-for-service model of care, leaving only those receiving community-based and institutional services still part of the old model. The transit has saved hundreds of millions of dollars, although the Louisiana Legislative Auditor has recommended more stringent tracking methods to accurately measure savings. The complexity and high costs of serving many of these remaining clients means savings in this area of service also could be great.

 

This is particularly true in that the change likely will reduce numbers in high-cost nursing homes. Louisiana has, among the states, one of the highest proportions of the long-term disabled in nursing homes despite having one of the lowest institutional occupancy rates. The plan envisions reducing this proportion by providing incentives to pursue less expensive community-based solutions, leading nursing homes — which already receive more than $15 million a year in state payments for empty beds and have seen reimbursement rates rise about 40 percent in the 2012-16 term — to fight to be excluded from the plan.

 

Sadow fails to mention the main obstacle to reform: the powerful nursing home industry, which fears losing profits if patients get care in their own homes and communities.

 

 

Number of the Day

 

3.5 percent —Share of payroll that the state has to contribute to fund the cost of retirement benefits for current employees, below the Social Security tax of 6.2 percent (Source: The Advocate)