Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Louisiana survey: Public supports a higher wage, Treating children like children saves money, Medicaid hiring plan revised, Legislation to reduce federal prison population moves forward

Louisiana survey: Public supports a higher wage
Most Louisianans think America’s economic structure is unfairly tilted toward the wealthy, but they differ along partisan lines  on how best to support the poor. That’s according to the latest version of the Louisiana Survey from LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab.  Elizabeth Crisp of The Advocate has more:

The survey found that only 38 percent of respondents think the economic system is generally fair to most Americans. But respondents were split — largely by party — on the best approach to helping the poor. Most Democrats (67 percent) said that taxes on corporations and the wealthy should be raised to fund programs for the poor and help reduce poverty. A majority of Republicans (61 percent) said that lowering taxes on wealthy people and corporations would stimulate the economy and do more to reduce poverty. Respondents were more likely to attribute wealth to people having “more advantages in life than most other people” (50 percent), but respondents were more likely to blame poverty on individual lack of effort (49 percent).

Kevin Litten of Nola.com/The Times-Picayune notes that the survey shows strong support for raising the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, which Gov. John Bel Edwards has championed as a key priority. Seventy six percent of respondents agree with a higher wage, a finding that’s in line with earlier surveys.

The survey asked respondents about what they thought led people to sink into poverty. Here, LSU researchers said they found a double standard: “Louisiana residents are more likely to attribute wealth to fortunate circumstances than to individual effort, but also more likely to blame poverty on individual effort than on unfortunate circumstances,” researchers wrote. There is also diversity among supporters of raising the minimum wage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey found support for raising the minimum wage was highest among people with a household income of less than $25,000, but it also found that 62 percent of high-wage earners — with a household income of $100,000 or more — support paying a higher hourly minimum wage.


Treating children like children saves money

Children in Louisiana cannot legally buy alcohol or cigarettes, gamble, or vote. But a 17-year-old can be tried and incarcerated as an adult, even for minor offenses. That might change if SB 324 by Sen. J.P. Morrell becomes law. Senate Committee Judiciary B passed the bill out of committee with amendments today. According to a report by the Louisiana Youth Justice Coalition (LYJC), Louisiana is only one of nine states that prosecute 17-year-olds as adults. States that already have raised the age have seen savings through reduced arrests, community supervision, and reduced recidivism as former juvenile offenders age. Connecticut’s Gov. Dannell P. Malloy credits raising the age with

…an enormous decline in the number of 18- to 21-year-olds in state prisons… “The best evidence of the success of Raise the Age is what has happened to young adults as they age out of the juvenile system. The number of inmates in a correctional facility between the ages of 18 and 21 is at its lowest in more than a quarter-century. It’s down 51% over the last six years − and still dropping.” The Governor’s Office estimates that raising the age is one reason the state is now saving more than $58 million annually.

Capacity also is a concern for local jails and the state prison system, but the LYJC report cites estimates of the small increase in caseloads if SB 324 is enacted:

…35-36 additional youth in detention centers statewide on any given day, with 20 additional youth in non-secure long-term facilities and 67 additional youth in state-run secure care facilities…The largest impact would be on probation at 294 additional youth at a time. But, it is likely the state can absorb that: In 2013, IPHJ [Institute for Public Health and Justice] reported that probation caseloads were at a historic low and continuing to fall dramatically.


Medicaid hiring plan revised

Facing a backlash from legislators, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has revised its plans for hiring 250 new staffers to handle the enrollment surge that will come as Louisiana expands its Medicaid program to cover the working poor. As The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports, the new plan relies on outside contractors to handle most of the work.

Under a revised plan, the Edwards administration might be able to sidestep lawmakers. The health department now intends to beef up an outside contracting deal with the University of New Orleans to augment agency staff. (DHH Undersecretary Jeff) Reynolds said UNO will have as many as 200 short-term employees who will do the eligibility review for Medicaid expansion. “They do all the leg work. A DHH employee will do the final determination” of whether someone vetted by the outside workers is eligible for the Medicaid coverage, Reynolds said.


Legislation to reduce federal prison population moves forward
Bills to reduce the length of mandatory minimum sentences and expand recidivism reduction programming at the federal level passed out of the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary Committees with bipartisan support. The two largest populations addressed in the bills are federal drug offenders, making up 50 percent of the incarcerated population, and weapons offenders making up 16 percent. Brookings’ William A. Galston and Elizabeth McElvein of the Brookings Institution point out that

To address mass incarceration in a way that targets low-level offenders, lawmakers must distinguish between the offenders who played an organizational role in the drug trade versus those who played a relatively low-level role in drug distribution. Critically, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act makes this distinction, specifying that sentence reduction would not apply to drug offenders who served as importers, exporters, high-level distributors or suppliers, wholesalers, or manufacturers.

Reducing sentences for people convicted of gun crimes is trickier. The legislation would continue to require a 10-year compulsory sentence, but provide judges with the discretion to recommend additional years based on case facts.

Number of the day:

$183.2 million – Cuts proposed for the TOPS scholarship program in the revised version of the executive budget unveiled Tuesday (Source: Division of Administration presentation)