Justice for all?

Justice for all?

The criminal justice system in Louisiana was built on notions of racism and white supremacy, so it’s no surprise that the system continues to produce racially biased results.

Number of the Day

$18.54 - Hourly wage needed to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans, $3 more than the median hourly wage for renters in the city.  (Source: The Advocate)

The criminal justice system in Louisiana was built on notions of racism and white supremacy, so it’s no surprise that the system continues to produce racially biased results. The crown jewel of that biased system is the non-unanimous jury provision, which allows a jury to convict a defendant even if two members of the jury disagree. The origin and outcomes of the 10-2 jury rule are spelled out in great detail in an impressive series of stories with original data analysis by The Advocate’s Jeff Adelson, Gordon Russell and John Simmerman. The Advocate’s editorial board summed up the core of the reporters’ findings:

Louisiana residents often take pride in doing things differently than most everyone else in the country. That eccentricity can be charming, but there’s nothing appealing about the state’s 10-2 rule for felony cases, which requires that only 10 members of a jury agree in order to convict a defendant of a serious crime. Louisiana’s departure from the national norm emerged after the Civil War, when residents feared extending the full protection of law to newly freed slaves. In 1898, Louisiana leaders pledged to restoring “the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race” enshrined the departure from unanimous juries in the state constitution. It was a way of ensuring that the white majority would still prevail in trials that now involved an occasional black juror.

Find the whole series of stories and analysis here.


Housing matters come before the Legislature

State lawmakers often cite the merits of “local control,” or leaving decisions to be made by local elected officials who are closest to the people. That is, until they don’t like the decisions of some local entities. Such is the case when it comes to “inclusionary zoning” policies aimed at increasing the availability of affordable housing in major cities. New Orleans, and to some extent, Baton Rouge, are struggling to keep working people from being priced out of the housing market by new development. As a result, the two cities are considering inclusionary zoning policies. As The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports, some members of the Legislature are trying to usurp that local authority:

SB 462 would replace the term “inclusionary zoning” with “voluntary economic incentive policies,” which would circumvent a Louisiana city’s go-to move to create more affordable housing. The measure cleared Martiny’s Senate Commerce committee without objection. (A similar bill passed the Senate last year but was defeated by a House committee.) “Inclusionary zoning” requires developers and homebuilders to set aside a certain percentage of units in apartment, condo, and single-family home projects to sell at below market rates in return for allowing the construction of more units at market value.

Another housing-related bill will come before the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday morning. House Bill 386, by Rep. Katrina Jackson of Monroe, would ensure more renters get their security deposits back. Right now, many landlords return security deposits as they’re supposed to, but current state law allows some “bad apple” landlords to keep deposits without justification or consequence. A tenant may spend weeks going through small claims court trying to get the deposit back, but even if they win there’s no penalty to keep that landlord from stealing from the next person. Click here for more information  from the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center on how HB 386 would strengthen protections for renters.


Juvenile justice reforms threatened by fiscal cliff

In 2016, Louisiana legislators overwhelmingly supported legislation to “raise the age,” which means including 17-year-olds in the juvenile rather than adult criminal justice system. Now, some want to delay the law from taking effect, citing concerns about financial resources and capacity of the juvenile justice system. What’s more, the state’s budget shortfall is threatening to eliminate some juvenile probation services, which could result in an even greater strain on the juvenile justice system. The Advocate’s Ben Myers reports:

Starting July 1, about 70 additional people will need housing in a secure-care juvenile facility over the course of the next year, according to an LSU study. Bueche told the Appropriations Committee the office hopes to house these offenders in the Acadiana center, no matter where they are from. Gassert noted that the influx of people transferring into the juvenile system will not occur overnight. If the secure-care population continues to decline, she said, the juvenile system might be able to absorb the new arrivals at current capacity levels. That depends in part, however, on the probation and parole programs currently on the chopping block, [Rachel] Gassert said.  “If the cuts go through and they do lay off all those probation officers, the result will be that more kids will be incarcerated,” she said.

Senate Bill 248, which would delay the move of 17-year-olds from the adult to juvenile system is set to be heard on Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary A Committee. Click here to go to the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights action center to learn more.


Bill aims to increase use of  “Community Eligibility” option

Gov. John Bel Edwards and First Lady Donna Edwards launched the No Kid Hungry Louisiana initiative in September of last year to combat child hunger in the state through increasing access to federal nutrition programs. In line with that effort, the governor is also backing a bill that would ensure every child gets nutritious meals at school every day.  House Bill 284, by Rep. Pat Smith of Baton Rouge, seeks to increase the number of Louisiana schools that are taking up the federal Community Eligibility Option, which allows schools with high percentages of low-income students to serve free meals to all students. The Nola.com/Times Picayune editorial board explains:

There will be no unpaid costs for some school districts. Congress approved a program in 2010 to allow schools with at least 40 percent low-income students to serve every child breakfast and lunch at no cost without having to do individual paperwork. School districts have to opt in to the program. As of the 2016-17 school year, 78 percent of eligible Louisiana school districts were participating, according to the Food Research & Action Center. The state added more than 100,000 students to the program between 2016 and 2017, its report said. Every Louisiana school that qualifies ought to participate. Not only would it help schools financially, but the program makes sure every child at a school can be fed without any stigma attached to a “free lunch.”


The debate over seniors’ health care continues

Over the weekend, The Advocate’s Rebekah Allen took a close look at a campaign promise made by Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2015 that has yet to come to fruition. Currently, most seniors who qualify for Medicaid wind up in nursing homes, although some would prefer to stay in their homes and have in-home care provided. Those in-home services are often much less expensive that nursing home care, meaning the state could save money by shifting its Medicaid model from one that relies primarily on institutional care to one that is more flexible and provides patients with the care in the setting that’s best for them. But for now, they’ll be left waiting.

“Seniors have clearly demonstrated they want to live at home, and the governor needs to remember that he already has a solution in front of him and can keep a campaign promise with the stroke of a pen,” said Andrew Muhl, a lobbyist for AARP of Louisiana. “He can change the lives of thousands of seniors languishing on state waiting lists who are hoping for care.” Over the past years Edwards has expressed waning confidence in the proposal. Asked about his inaction, he’s previously cited concerns that managed care would reduce quality for seniors and has raised questions about upfront costs and problems in other states.  This week, when asked about the accusation that he had gone back on his word, his spokesman reaffirmed the governor’s commitment to the plan but cited costs as the major deterrent.


Number of the Day

$18.54Hourly wage needed to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans, $3 more than the median hourly wage for renters in the city.  (Source: The Advocate)