School meals legislation advances

School meals legislation advances

Legislation aimed at ending the practice of denying a school meal to a child who doesn’t have lunch money, or who has a unpaid meal balance, advanced out of the House Education Committee on Wednesday.

Number of the Day

$10 million - Amount of money from $123 million surplus that Gov. John Bel Edwards proposes to use for college campus maintenance. (Source: AP)

Legislation aimed at ending the practice of denying a school meal to a child who doesn’t have lunch money, or who has a unpaid meal balance, advanced out of the House Education Committee on Wednesday. House Bill 284, sponsored by Rep. Pat Smith of Baton Rouge, next faces action in the full House. Nearly 1 in 4 Louisiana children already live in a household that doesn’t have enough food to eat throughout the month, and studies have shown that this rate of food insecurity leads to poorer classroom performance and behavior problems at school. Wilborn P. Nobles III with Times Picayune reports:

The bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, argued that children should not be held accountable for the responsibilities of their parents. The proposed law also prohibits school authorities from taking actions against these students that include publicly identifying them with wristbands or other markers, scolding them in any way for being unable to pay, requiring them to do chores for meals, forcing them to throw away a meal after it was served, or withholding school privileges.

While there is some concern about the potential for rising costs if cafeteria staff are prohibited from denying a student a school meal, the legislation also aims to minimize the financial impact to schools:

Jeanie Donovan, policy director for the Louisiana Budget Project, which advocates for low- and moderate- income families, said schools will be able to get some reimbursements from the federal government for the alternative meals given to students. Donovan also said this bill should not incur a significant amount of debt for schools because this issue is not rampant across Louisiana. She said state Education Department data found that schools statewide only denied 439 meals last year. Even so, Dr. Rachel Herdes, a pediatrician from Children’s Hospital New Orleans, said the school meals could be the one full meal some students eat at all that day.
“No child should go a whole day without eating something nutritious,” Herdes said.


Governor outlines plan for surplus

Gov. John Bel Edwards has released his plan for how the state should spend a $123 million surplus from last year. He wants two-thirds of the money going to road and bridge work, college building repairs and local construction projects, along with a lengthy list of small-dollar items around the state. The surplus is a result of higher-than-anticipated tax revenue from the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Everyone agrees that the surplus is a good thing for the state, but as is always the case in the Legislature, there is disagreement over where the money should go. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:

“We are making a substantial investment in our state,” Edwards said. The plan includes 23 transportation projects , 199 small-dollar construction projects, community water projects, local government aid and a $10 million block of money for college campus maintenance. “Every corner of the state will receive funding for these projects,” the governor said. Lawmakers might have other ideas for the spending, however. Some House Republican leaders, including Speaker Taylor Barras, have suggested more of the surplus should go to the rainy day fund to repay dollars taking from the account last year to pay state government expenses.


Group lobbies for undoing pieces of criminal justice reform

It’s been less than a year since Gov. John Bel Edward signed the most comprehensive criminal justice reform in Louisiana’s history. There are attempts in this legislative session, however, to roll back pieces of the overhaul. Edwards stated that he isn’t backing all efforts to undo the new laws meant to reduce Louisiana’s highest-in-the-country incarceration rate, but is negotiating with various stakeholders, including the Louisiana District Attorneys Association. Julia O’Donoghue at Times Picayune has the story.

The governor wasn’t specific about what tweaks he would back, but said he has found some common ground on victim restitution payments and “street credits,” earned by people on parole trying to shorten the time they remain under state supervision. Edwards is negotiating with the Louisiana District Attorneys Association. The two sides have not come to an agreement yet, according to the governor’s office and Pete Adams, the DA association’s executive director. They’ve reached some agreement on changes to victim restitution and street credits, but they disagree on how long people should have to stay on probation, Adams said.

The Legislature is also considering a measure aimed at keeping jury votes secret unless a judge orders them to be released to the public.

The proposed legislation would automatically put jury polling slips under seal unless a judge decides to release them, Ansardi said. The legislation was amended heavily to address concerns from district attorneys and public defenders before the committee approved it. They were worried the original legislation would make it difficult for attorneys to look at a jury vote when a case is appealed.

The issue of vote tallies is unique to Louisiana and Oregon, where it only takes 10 out of 12 jurors to vote for a conviction. Sen. J.P. Morrell has sponsored a bill that would allow voters the opportunity to decide whether to require unanimous jury convictions in a new Louisiana constitutional amendment.


Consequences of ignoring the cliff

After failing to take action to address the fiscal cliff during the February special session, there continues to be a stark divide between members regarding how to deal with the state’s budget shortfall. Some lawmakers are advocating for taking responsible measures to raise revenue in a second special session to fill the budget hole, while others simply proclaim that the fiscal cliff doesn’t exist. The Advocate’s Lanny Keller takes a look at the latter group and questions whether their plan to “settle” on a shortfall of $380 million and patch that with increasing revenues from new tax collections will work.

It won’t if people see the effect of the cuts that Edwards argues will follow. There is much argument that if the GOP passes a renewal of the temporary sales tax and funds the TOPS scholarships that help even mediocre students in state colleges, then whatever happens to other institutions doesn’t matter to suburban legislators. They can say to their constituents, generally well-off, that they fought against raising their income taxes. Leave aside the children taken into the state’s protection every year and not properly helped by overstretched case workers, or the “halt, lame and blind” described in the Bible who depend on Medicaid services for literally their survival. At Eastertime, it’s not what the anti-tax legislators want to contemplate in their videos.


Number of the Day

$10 million – Amount of money from $123 million surplus that Gov. John Bel Edwards proposes to use for college campus maintenance. (Source: AP)