Louisiana is one of just two states that do not require a jury to return a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant in all felony cases. But Louisiana voters could soon have the opportunity to change that. Senate Bill 243, which would require unanimous guilty verdicts if approved by a majority of voters, advanced to the House floor after it was approved without objection by the House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday. The unique law requiring only 10 out of 12 members to reach consensus on some felony cases was adopted in an effort to “preserve white supremacy” during Louisiana’s 1898 constitutional convention. But the proposed change is drawing opposition from some district attorneys, as the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:
“This is like the vestigial tail of some prehistoric creature that we need to just chop off,” he said. “We are beyond this as a state.” Two prosecutors spoke in opposition to the bill, arguing that it is sometimes hard to get all 12 jurors to agree and said that there’s no data to show that the current system results in injustice. The Louisiana District Attorneys Association has taken a neutral stance on the proposal but allows prosecutors to take individual positions. John DeRosier, district attorney in Calcasieu Parish, told the panel that the law’s roots in white supremacy aren’t a good enough reason to change anything.
Louisiana’s minimum wage workforce is double the U.S. average
Louisiana lawmakers have repeatedly rejected efforts to establish a state minimum wage law, meaning the federal rate of $7.25 per hour applies to Louisiana workers. This is problematic because the federal minimum wage has lost 12.5 percent of its value since it was last raised in 2009, when inflation is taken into account. Because Louisiana’s economy is more heavily reliant on the service and tourism industries than other states, more Louisiana workers are earning the minimum wage. An analysis of new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics by Mike Maciag of Governing Magazine examines the differences between states:
The latest Labor Department estimates indicate that just over 1.8 million hourly workers were paid at or below the federal minimum last year. While that’s a small part of the overall workforce — a mere 2.3 percent of hourly workers — it makes up a larger portion in some states. …Along with differences in state wage laws and costs of living, the major industries supporting jobs in each state further explain why low-wage workers are more common in some states than others. According to the 2017 federal estimates, service industry occupations account for about two-thirds of all workers earning the minimum wage or less. These are mostly tipped employees at restaurants.
According to the report, an average of 4.45 percent of Louisiana workers were earning at or below the minimum wage in 2016 and 2017. This is the second highest rate in the country and is nearly double the national average.
Tweaking the ITEP rules
Gov. John Bel Edwards is not done tinkering with the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, the lucrative tax break that costs local governments billions of dollars each year in foregone property tax revenues from manufacturers. Edwards ordered landmark changes to the program in 2016, requiring companies to create jobs in exchange for the tax break, scaling back its overall scope and giving local governments a say in whether to grant the exemptions. But a predictable outcry from industry prompted a new round of tweaks to the program. The new program rules, announced Wednesday, would exempt manufacturers from 80 percent of their property taxes for 10 years. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports:
This formula would allow local governments to start immediately receiving revenues to help pay for the roads and schools needed by the newly hired workforce at the new manufacturing facility receiving the tax breaks, said Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson, author of the administration’s proposed changes.
The Advocate’s editorial board says the ITEP breaks represent a better deal for the state than other tax incentives, such as the $2.4 million the state gave to Smoothie King in 2012 as an incentive to keep their headquarters in New Orleans. Once the tax break expired, the company announced it was bolting for Dallas.
What we don’t like is what is becoming standard operating procedure in business: demanding tax breaks and cash incentives from the taxpayer, without a long-term commitment from the corporate beneficiaries.
Louisiana’s debt burden exceeds national average
Nearly half of all Louisiana households – 46 percent – have some medical debt that is in collections, according to a new study by the Urban Institute and Annie E. Casey Foundation. The news is even worse for people of color, 61 percent of whom have debt in collections. That compares to 33 percent of households across the nation (45 percent for people of color). A new interactive map breaks debt down by race, geographic location and even type of debt (medical, student, etc.). The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports:
The tool’s main takeaway? While Americans struggle with household debt from coast to coast, residents in the South — especially residents of color — are much more likely to have debt in collections. … This finding is compelling but far from shocking. When compared to their white counterparts across the nation, people of color are much more likely to be in debt thanks to longstanding inequities, such as higher-than-average poverty rates and unfair lending practices.
Number of the day
40 – The percentage of trial convictions in Louisiana over the past six years that resulted from split jury verdicts. Source: The Advocate)