Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Governor’s options for revenue; Death sentences rarely hold up; More support for raising the age and; Louisiana not ready for emergencies

Governor’s options for revenue

Gov. John Bel Edwards continues to push for a special revenue raising session beginning June 7 aimed at avoiding devastating cuts to education, public safety and health care programs. While the governor says he will wait on recommendations from a tax study committee making recommendations, Greg Hilburn of Gannett reports that Edwards has some ideas on what he’d like to see:


“My hope and expectations are we’ll look at tax credits and rebates that benefit business and examine whether or not the state is getting a return on its investment,” Edwards said Tuesday in an interview with Gannett Louisiana… “I’m asking (a tax reform task force) for early recommendations so we can start building support for a plan,” Edwards said. … Though many lawmakers, especial Republicans in the House, are resistant to raising more taxes, Edwards said he believes they will ultimately be unable to stomach the cuts that would be required without additional revenue. “We know we’d lose four safety net hospitals, and we have to fix that; a $50 million cut to K-12 education and we have to fix that; a $46 million cut to higher education and we have to fix that; and a $184 million cut to TOPS and we have to fix that,” Edwards said. “It’s hard for me to believe they will let that happen. “I don’t think they can fashion a budget with $600 million in cuts that they’re willing to take home,” he said.


The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports that policymakers are still not sure what returns the state is getting from all its various tax incentives, but notes that the Senate Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Committee is making progress on that task as part of an ongoing review.


For example, the Legislative Fiscal Office was unable to estimate the cost of a tax break approved by lawmakers in 2009 that reduce the taxes owed from the sale of a Louisiana business. So the fiscal office put the cost at zero. The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee learned on Monday that the tax deduction is projected to cost $53 million next year. About 95 percent of the benefits go to the 17 percent of taxpayers with the highest incomes, according to the Revenue Department.


Death sentences rarely hold up
Louisiana is not doing a very good job administering the death penalty. A new report published in Southern University Law Center’s Journal of Race, Gender and Poverty finds that more than half of the 241 death verdicts handed down in Louisiana over the past 30 years have been reversed, and only  28 resulted in executions. The cases are costly to try and drain money and resources from public defenders offices already struggling to meet their caseloads. Della Hasselle of The Advocate has more.


The “extremely high” reversal rates in parishes throughout Louisiana, combined with what political science professor Frank Baumgartner and statistician Tim Lyman call “shocking” racial discrepancies, make the state’s experience with capital punishment “deeply dysfunctional,” the study says… The two men published an earlier article that focused on racial disparities in the application of the death penalty. They found that those who killed white people were more than 10 times as likely to be executed as those who killed black people. Their new article homes in on the modern era of the death penalty, starting after the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision in which the Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutionality of capital punishment. The trends the authors identified also are seen in other death penalty states, but they are exaggerated in Louisiana. For instance, Louisiana’s rate of executions is 4.5 percentage points lower than the national average, and the rate of reversals is almost 10 percentage points higher.


More support for raising the age
The Times Picayune editorial board weighed in on the side of Louisiana kids, saying it’s time that children accused of minor offenses be tried and sentenced in the juvenile court system. Senate Bill 324 by Sen. J.P. Morrell of New Orleans, which is pending on the Senate floor, raises the age for adult prosecution to 18. Here’s what the paper had to say:


Seventeen-year-olds who commit a nonviolent crime shouldn’t end up in jail with adults, but they do in Louisiana. That should end. Kids who make a minor mistake shouldn’t be locked up with hardened criminals. The experience could turn someone who made a childish mistake into a repeat offender and could put youngsters at risk of attack from older inmates. Being labeled as an adult offender can follow you for life and make it difficult to get an education, join the military or find a decent job…A study done for the Legislature by LSU’s Institute for Public Health and Justice in New Orleans said 17-year-olds are still developing mentally and emotionally. They engage in more impulsive behavior and are heavily influenced by their peers, researchers said.Essentially, they are immature. That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it argues for treating them as juvenile offenders…Of course, some 17-year-olds — and even younger children — commit terrible acts. The juvenile system may not be appropriate in those cases. State law provides for the transfer of offenders as young as 15 to adult court for first- and second-degree murder, aggravated or first-degree rape or aggravated kidnapping. That would still be allowed. Most often, though, 17-year-olds in Louisiana are committing much less serious offenses. “These kids are not threats to public safety,” said Stephen Phillippi, an LSU professor who authored the study for the Legislature on raising the juvenile age. And the state shouldn’t write them off by treating them as if they are beyond saving.


Louisiana not ready for emergencies
A 2016 study by the Center for Disease control found Louisiana to be the least prepared of any state to deal with a public health emergency. As Wynton Yates of WWL-TV reports, the Center’s National Health Security Preparedness Index gave Louisiana a score of 5.6 out of 10, below the national average of 6.7. Researchers looked at capabilities of government, emergency management, public health, and private sectors in order to determine rankings.


“(The index) a way to gauge how ready we are as a nation to respond to emergencies to disasters, be it earthquakes, or wild fires, or the Zika virus, each region has its own kind of emergency situation,” Dr. Alonzo Plough with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation explained…”Timely access to things like trauma centers, burn centers that are needed in the case of injuries that accompany large disasters, timely access to nursing homes that are well staffed and able to respond in the event of a disaster if they need to evacuate or move populations” explained Mays. Louisiana is among a cluster of southern states below average and with Governor Jon bel Edwards’ recent announcement that the Department of Health and Hospitals will soon get hit with a $70 million budget cut, the state could fall farther behind. “For states like Louisiana that historically have had areas of the state that have had been  underserved by healthcare providers, that makes it more difficult of to put in place these types of healthcare protections,” said Mays.


Number of the Day
$1 million – Average amount of money added to prosecution costs when seeking the death penalty as opposed to life without parole. (Source: The Advocate)