Monday, April 11, 2016

Monday, April 11, 2016

TOPS at center of budget debate; Peterson: Stand up for equal pay; Why work for welfare doesn’t work and; The public defender crisis (cont …)

TOPS at center of budget debate

With next year’s budget gap reduced from an initial $2 billion to $750 million with the influx of new revenue from tax increases approved during the recent special session, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration will present an updated set of budget recommendations to the House budget committee tomorrow. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that the news will be “sobering” and says the governor is still hoping the Legislature will agree to another round of revenue raising.


Edwards said he’ll seek a second special session to try to raise additional revenue after the regular session ends. But no date has been set, and it’s unclear whether the governor will get support for additional tax hikes to stave off cuts. He said he’ll set the date “as soon as I’m convinced that the conditions have been set for success.” That means, for now, lawmakers will have to craft a budget for next year using other ways to close the gap, primarily expected to involve cuts.


While cuts are likely to affect nearly every area of state government, Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American-Press notes that the popular TOPS program may provide the governor some real leverage.


If anything can motivate legislators to raise more money, nothing compares with TOPS. Taxpayers at every income level consider it one of their most cherished government programs. Efforts to tamper with it in any way have failed many times in the past. Fortunately, Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, and Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, both chairmen of their respective education committees, are sponsoring similar legislation that is realistic and appears to have support. Both of their bills would cut everyone’s scholarship across the board when there isn’t sufficient funding. Morrish’s bill is headed to the full Senate. Landry’s measure hasn’t been heard in her committee. Both lawmakers prefer their plan to taking TOPS away from students with lower ACT scores. Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, has another acceptable bill. His would force the Legislature to vote to raise TOPS funding after the 2016-17 school year. Unlike the current system, TOPS wouldn’t increase automatically when tuition goes up.


Peterson: Stand up for equal pay

Women in Louisiana are paid, on average, 66 cents for every dollar a man makes for doing the same job. That’s the largest pay gap in the nation, and one of the main reasons supporters say it’s time to put some teeth in the law. State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, writing for Times-Picayune in advance of Tuesday’s Equal Pay Day, notes that the Legislature has killed equal pay bills for the past seven years.


There is no excuse not to pay women equally for the same work done by men, and absolutely no legitimate gray area where people of good conscience can agree to disagree. Paying women less than men for doing the same work, passing the buck and pretending invisible “market forces” will correct the gap has never worked. Making excuses about lawsuits that haven’t happened yet insults every woman in this state. Last year, during the regular session, nine Republicans on the House labor committee voted on party lines to kill two bills that sought to address the pay gap. In fact, Republicans in the state Legislature have killed or opposed bills attempting to address unequal pay for our mothers and our daughters in every session for the past seven years.


The Advocate’s Mark Ballard looks at the details of Sen. J.P. Morrell’s equal pay bill – scheduled for debate on the Senate floor tomorrow – and says it attempts to strike a careful balance between giving victims of pay discrimination their day in court while protecting businesses from frivolous or expensive lawsuits.


Morrell’s SB254 would broaden the Louisiana Equal Pay Act to apply to private companies with more than 20 employees just as it does to government employers. He included a multistep process — similar to the one in place for medical malpractice actions — aimed at providing steps that would allow employers and employees to work out their issues before any lawsuit is filed. Under the language of the bill, an employer has 60 days to either refute unequal pay allegations or to start paying the employee fairly. If the matter is unresolved, then the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights — a nine-member board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate — can be asked to review the issue.


Why work for welfare doesn’t work

As Louisiana’s economy continues to suffer as a result of low energy prices, a movement is afoot in the Legislature to impose strict work requirements as a condition of receiving federal assistance. The effort could affect more than 30,000 Louisiana adults without dependents, who currently have no time limit on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits thanks to a waiver secured by Gov. John Bel  Edwards shortly after he took office in January.  Kalena Thomhave, an Emerson Hunger Fellow with the New America foundation (and former LBP intern) notes that millions of Americans aren’t as lucky, and are being cut off from food assistance this month because their states elected not to renew the waivers. Furthermore, work requirements don’t actually work.


The larger issue is this: Work-centered policies like the ABAWD policy validate the idea that people who receive welfare benefits do so because they prefer “a handout” to working for themselves. In fact, most welfare recipients prefer work to receiving aid from the government or their family. And, in actuality, many (if not most) people who will be affected by the ABAWD rule are probably already working—just not in a way that satisfies the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. Remember, this rule punishes people who aren’t working at least 20 hours per week, which means that an employee who works 15 hours a week is not exempt. And reporting requirements are so complex that seasonal workers and workers who are paid nontraditionally (such as caregivers) may have difficulty proving that they are working.


The public defender crisis (cont …)

Louisiana’s failure to adequately provide legal representation for indigent defendants continues to reverberate across the justice system. In New Orleans on Friday, a judge ordered seven inmates released from jail because a lack of an adequate public defense violated their Sixth Amendment right.

However, Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter stayed his order, which also included a suspension of the men’s prosecutions, pending an appeal from District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office. Assistant District Attorney David Pipes told Hunter an appeal is coming, and Hunter gave him 10 days. The seven men will remain behind bars pending the outcome of that appeal.


In Lafayette Parish, the lawyers for a teen accused of killing a flea-market employee are trying to have a judge removed from the case for improperly meeting with the district attorney’s office about the case in the presence of a defense lawyer who had no connection to the defendant.


(Defendant) Joseph, now 17, at first was represented by private attorneys, but they backed out after a few months. So like thousands of other poor people accused of criminal actions in Lafayette, Acadia and Vermilion parishes, Joseph was assigned counsel from among Marx and his public defenders. Late last year and in early 2016, however, a state funding crisis put a squeeze on public defender districts across Louisiana. Some districts are hurting more than others, including the 15th District. Earlier this year, Marx laid off or accepted the resignations of more than half of his staff and canceled the contracts of all of his seasoned criminal defense attorneys.


Number of the Day

240 – Annual percentage rate that lenders could charge their customers under new “installment loans” of up to $1,500 that would be authorized if House Bill 793 becomes law. (Source: Legislative website)