Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

New Orleans Archbishop: Time to Raise the Age; Gov. Edwards signs TOPS changes into law; State Office of Juvenile Justice puts new facility on hold; and Report: Hospitals help Louisiana’s economy

New Orleans Archbishop: Time to Raise the Age

The “Raise the Age” bill by New Orleans Sen. J.P. Morrell goes to the House Committee on Criminal Justice on Wednesday morning. It’s one of the final legislative hurdles for the measure that would include 17 year-olds in the juvenile justice system, rather than trying them as adults. The bill, backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, has the backing of a diverse coalition of advocates across the state. Included in that coalition is the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops. New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond explains in a guest column for The Advocate why raising the age makes sense from both a public safety and moral perspective:


Social science research strongly supports the value of treating young offenders in the juvenile justice system. Study after study has shown that young people who are kept in the juvenile justice system, rather than transferred to adult court, are less likely to commit subsequent crimes. The Centers for Disease Control reviewed the research on the subject and found that keeping a child in the juvenile system decreases recidivism by 34 percent. … Even after young people are released, the system continues to punish them. An adult record makes it difficult to get accepted into schools, obtain employment, serve in the military, and even rent an apartment. All of these barriers make it less likely that a person can build a stable, law-abiding future. … The wonderful thing about human beings, even those who have persisted in error for some time, is that they can always do better. This is the power of reconciliation and rehabilitation. The Senate passed the “Raise the Age” act by a wide margin, with strong bipartisan support. I would encourage the House of Representatives to also support Senate Bill 324.


Gov. Edwards signs TOPS changes into law

While the popular college tuition assistance program TOPS continues to dominate the budget debate at the Capitol, few measures have made it passed their legislative hurdles and onto the desk of the governor for final passage. But one measure, backed by Sen. Jack Donahue, officially became law this week after gaining unanimous support in the Senate. Edwards signed Act 18 into law on Tuesday, which decouples the TOPS award amounts from the cost of college tuition. The measure aims to rein in costs of the expensive program that serves tens of thousands of Louisiana students. Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue has the details:


Starting with the fall semester of 2017, TOPS awards will no longer automatically rise with tuition increases. Students and their families will be expected to pay the difference unless the Legislature votes to raise the TOPS award amount. Act 18 received overwhelming approval from both branches of the Louisiana Legislature. It passed the House on a 74-21 vote and the Senate on a 36-0 vote.  The legislation was part of the governor’s session agenda. Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, put forward the bill as a way to control the state’s costs. The popular college scholarship program serves about 51,000 students currently and is expected to cost Louisiana about $300 million in the 2016-17 school year. … While the proposal is supposed to address the scholarship’s long-term viability, it does not deal with the short-term funding crisis TOPS faces for next fall and spring. A few proposals — such as legislation to raise the GPA requirements for some TOPS awards — are also still moving through the Legislature. … Regardless of what happens next year, Donahue’s legislation represents a permanent change to how TOPS will work for students who are juniors in high school and beyond.


State Office of Juvenile Justice puts new facility on hold

Construction on a new, long-awaited facility for youth offenders in Bunkie will be put on hold due to budget restraints, the Office of Juvenile Justice announced this week. The latest version of the budget calls for a 15 percent cut to the office, which will not only halt construction on the Bunkie facility but will also force cuts at other OJJ facilities. As The Advocate’s Jim Mustian explains, the latest round of budget cuts follows a 38 percent cut over the past seven years:


As of Monday, “only youth who are considered to be the most serious-needs, violent offenders will be moved into secure care until further notice,” Mary Livers, the agency’s deputy secretary, wrote in an email to staffers. … The Office of Juvenile Justice intended to open the doors of the Acadiana Center for Youth in coming months, but those plans have been shelved “indefinitely,” said Beth Touchet-Morgan, the agency’s deputy assistant secretary. The agency’s current budget “does not include any funds” to open the Bunkie detention center in the fiscal year that begins July 1, she said. … Touchet-Morgan said the current budget calls for a 15 percent cut for the Office of Juvenile Justice. Livers, testifying last week before a Senate committee, expressed frustration at the specter of new budget cuts. While juvenile justice reform is expensive on the front end, she said, it saves the state money in the long run. … “At some point, the state needs to decide what are they going to invest their money in. If we don’t invest money in juvenile justice and we don’t invest money in the plan that we’ve laid out and we don’t follow through with those plans, we are going to have more kids going straight into the adult (corrections) system.”


Report: Hospitals help Louisiana’s economy

Louisiana’s hospitals are a major economic driver in the Pelican State, according to a new report commissioned by the industry’s trade group. The Louisiana Hospital Association’s report looks at direct employment, construction activity and the influx of federal dollars brought by the hospital industry to every region in the state. The report, authored by LSU professor Jim Richardson, includes some key findings::


It is estimated that Louisiana will lose between $810 million to $864 million annually in federal support by not accepting Medicaid expansion. These federal payments to Louisiana would support the following:  An estimated 16,800 additional jobs in the Louisiana economy;  An estimated payroll of $680 million; and  State and local tax collections of approximately $89 million per year. …  Louisiana receives approximately $1.65 for every dollar the state contributes. Medicaid contributions are leveraged and have exacerbated effects because of the federal matching program. If the state reduces its direct expenditures for Medicaid by $150 million, the state will lose an additional $245 million of federal dollars for an overall reduction of $395 million. This would lead to statewide reductions in jobs, personal earnings and overall business transactions.


Number of the Day

103,400 – Number of workers employed by Louisiana’s hospitals in 2015 (Source: Louisiana Hospital Association)