House advances “ban the box” bill
A measure from Rep. Denise Marcelle of Baton Rouge that would ban agencies who employ unclassified state employees from asking about a job applicant’s criminal background before an interview made it out of the House chamber on Tuesday after lengthy debate. The “ban the box” initiative has garnered many state and national supporters in recent years as a sensible criminal justice reform that encourages work among ex-offenders and reduces recidivism. The measure scraped by the final House vote with 53 representatives in support – the minimum number of votes needed to move it onto the Senate. Megan Trimble of The AP was there:
Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, said she co-authored the bill with Marcelle to fight the stigma created by the box on job applications. … Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, questioned whether knowing less about applicants’ criminal backgrounds would help them, despite their employment classification. Instead, he said, the measure may expose applicants and employers to risks by allowing each to forego duties to ask important hiring questions. … But supporters argued against Connick’s point, saying nothing in the proposal would remove an employer’s ability to ask about criminal histories during job interviews or prevent them from seeking background checks. … Ultimately, Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, said Louisiana is “at a point of no return,” and, while the bill may not be perfect, he asked lawmakers to think in “commonsense terms.” He argued communities will be made safer by helping former convicts establish gainful employment instead of prompting them to “go right back to where they came from.” Marcelle agreed, saying the proposal will help establish “equal footing” by having employers vet applicants based on applicable skills and interview conversations, instead of a checkmark. “This by no way means they would get the job,” Marcelle said.
Lawmakers scrambling to find TOPS money
A standoff has developed in the Capitol over whether a second special fiscal session is needed to raise enough revenues to keep state programs in business after July 1. Despite a threat of $185 million in cuts to the popular TOPS scholarship program, some House members are still resisting new taxes. Gov. John Bel Edwards has said repeatedly that he plans to call the Legislature back into session after the June 6 scheduled adjournment, but WRKF’s Sue Lincoln reports that some lawmakers have other ideas in mind, like deeper cuts to state contracts, to solve the problem:
Although we’re past the halfway point of the legislative session, House leaders say they are still about three weeks away from moving the budget bill, HB 1. So Senate Finance Committee members got an update on the budget proposal Monday. … “Absent new revenue, you’re going to have to go in and cut $185-million,” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne replied. “I can’t tell you that there’s $185-million in responsible cuts that are to be made in order to fund TOPS.” Meanwhile, in House Appropriations, Rep. Jerome Richard’s bill to cut contracts was being amended by Rep. Blake Miguez. “What about an amendment for $184-million, requiring the Commissioner of Administration to cut some type of contracts – wherever he sees fit – so we can figure out a way to fund TOPS fully?” Miguez offered. Jonathan Walker with the Office of State Procurement did the math to show there’s not really much room to do that. “It’s about 3,000 contracts with a cumulative value of $12-point-5 billion. $11.5-billion of that is either Bayou Health or OGB contracts. So that’s a billion left of the 12-point-5,” Walker explained. “Within that billion dollars, approximately 40-percent of all contracts are discretionary, so you’d be looking at a 50-percent cut on these contracts.”
With lawmakers showing little political will to fix the daunting fiscal problems in the state, columnist J.R. Ball with Nola.com/The Times-Picayune says it’s no wonder the people of Louisiana have little faith in their elected officials:
State Rep. Dee Richard, in an effort to find $183 million in funding for TOPS, comes up with the bright idea to start cutting professional, personal and consulting contracts. The Edwards administration said it’s looking through the contracts for possible cuts. “We’re not sure what’s out there,” Richard told The Baton Rouge Advocate. “But it’s a big figure.” Are you kidding me? State Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate John Kennedy has been whining about these contracts since midway through ex-Gov. Bobby Jindal’s final term. Surely a man who argues these contracts are the root of all budgetary evil has exhaustively studied the matter, right? You think maybe Richard could simply ask Kennedy for a list? … This stupefying craziness is a mere glimmer into why an April 13 poll by the LSU Public Policy Research Lab found fewer than one in five residents trust state government to do the right thing either “some of the time” or “never.” A poll in March, by the same group, found residents in a “historically grim mood,” with 63 percent saying Louisiana is going downhill.
Some states re-thinking corporate tax breaks
New research from D.C-based research and advocacy group Good Jobs First shows that states across the country have spent the last few years reeling in some of the expensive tax breaks to companies that were originally enacted to spur economic development. The news comes on the heels of a recent announcement that forthcoming rules from the federal Governmental Accounting Standards Board will require states to disclose more details about the taxpayer money corporations receive. Author Tim Jones of Bloomberg explains why rules like those proposed by GASB could especially help a state like Louisiana, where corporate credits show no sign of slowing:
Louisiana, where declining oil prices slashed tax revenue, still provided $7 billion in tax breaks in 14 separate deals in the past three years. The cost of tax breaks and other incentives to corporations have exceeded state corporate income and franchise tax revenue by more than $225 million since November. … Nor are incentives guarantors of prosperity. German Pellets Louisiana, a manufacturer of wood fuel for commercial and residential use, in 2013 received a $75 million industrial tax exemption for capital improvements under a state program for job creators. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February. In a court filing, the company blamed slumping oil prices, warm winters and a bad investment. … The new GASB rules will require state and local governments to reveal the description and purpose of all tax abatements, the dollar amounts involved and provisions for recapturing the revenue. “As the transparency gets better, that will increase the public outrage,” said [University of Missouri Government Professor Kenneth] Thomas, who has followed trends in public subsidies for more than 20 years. “There’s an ebb and flow to subsidies, but somewhere down the line there will be another recession, and we’ll see what state and local governments do.”
Feds tackle recidivism
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch outlined new federal efforts this week aimed at curbing the number of state and federal offenders who end up back behind bars soon after their release. President Obama and his administration have been vocal in their support for comprehensive criminal justice reform, and Lynch’s plan shows how eliminating barriers between recently-released offenders and things like employment and housing can be a good start. But finding federal money to fund “second-chance” programs like those discussed is another story. The New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau explains:
[Attorney General Lynch] laid out steps to address the problem, including a push for states to allow newly released federal inmates to trade their prisoner identifications for a state-issued ID. But the plan included little new funding, with $1.75 million in federal grants spread among 18 housing and community service programs nationwide to help incarcerated juveniles find jobs and housing once they are released. … “We’re doing what we can,” Kevin S. Lewis, the press secretary for the attorney general, said of the new round of grants. “We could always use more, but we’re using the resources we have and that Congress has given us.” … According to a study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics tracking data for a five-year period ending in 2010, about two-thirds of all offenders incarcerated in state systems were arrested for a new crime within three years, and more than three-quarters were arrested within five years. … Ms. Lynch, a longtime prosecutor, said the idea of allowing freed federal inmates to trade their prisoner identifications for state-issued IDs would carry a powerful practical and symbolic impact, and she wrote to all 50 governors to ask them to work with the Justice Department to put the initiative in place.
Number of the Day
$7 billion – Amount in tax breaks from state and local governments given to U.S. corporations in 2013. (Source: Bloomberg News)