Tucked away near the sleepy town of Jena in central Louisiana is a former juvenile prison that now serves as a privately operated detention center, where 1,200 immigrants spend their days under lock and key while waiting to find out if they can stay in the United States or face deportation. Only about 6 percent of the inmates at the LaSalle ICE Processing Center have lawyers – typically supplied by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other nonprofit groups. Hearings are held via videoconference, as judges are based in Atlanta and Miami. But as Maria Clark details in Nola.com/The Times-Picayune, the processing center serves as a key economic driver in a part of the state where jobs and opportunity are scarce:
GEO Group is the largest property taxpayer in LaSalle Parish – close to $1 million last year, and about $37,000 in property taxes to Jena, according to assessor’s office records. The facility also provides jobs for local residents: Of the 268 employees that work at the facility about 87 percent live in the Town of Jena, LaSalle Parish or in the surrounding parishes, said Pablo Paez, executive vice-president for the GEO Group. A 2017 press release that touted its economic impact: $1 billion in payroll over its 10 years in the parish. And yet, for all its importance to the community, LaSalle Detention Center is also a world apart, hidden from view behind barbed wire, a tree line and tall walls, shielding neighbors from the grave decisions made there every day, and their life-changing impact on the people who are detained.
The whole story is worth a read.
Sports betting could bring new source of revenue
All eyes are on Mississippi when it comes to legalized sports betting, because Louisiana’s eastern neighbor beat us to the punch in authorizing this new form of legal gaming. It seems all but decided that the Legislature will look to legalize sports betting in certain venues in the 2019 legislative session, which leaves the big question: how much money will in bring into the state coffers? Elizabeth Crisp of The Advocate has the story:
Jeff Traylor, an audit manager for the Louisiana State Police who presented a report to lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing, said revenue projections can be difficult to calculate. “Everything is so new,” he said. But the American Gaming Association has estimated that revenue from legal sports betting in Louisiana would be between $245 million and $288 million. At the state’s current taxing rate, that would translate to $52.7 million to $62 million for the state’s coffers.The actual economic impact could be larger, proponents claim. Other casino revenue in Mississippi — hotel stays, restaurant and bar tabs and charges for other amenities — also has been on the rise since legalized sports wagering began, Traylor noted. It was up 7.46 percent in August compared to the year before and 8.7 percent in September compared to the previous year, according to Mississippi gaming figures.
The cost of voting
With early voting underway and Election Day rapidly approaching, there is a lot of speculation and excitement about potential for record voter turnout for a midterm election. But turnout depends, in some states, on a residents’ ability to jump through the administrative hoops put in place by state lawmakers. These laws are often enacted in the name of “election security” but have the effect of making it more difficult for citizens to cast their vote. These laws increase the “cost of voting” in a state, say researchers behind a new index that ranks states based on the restrictiveness of their voting laws. Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post’s WonkBlog reports:
The easiest state to vote in that year was Oregon, according to the index. Voters are registered automatically, and the state mails out ballots to every voter several weeks before the election. Oregon is followed by Colorado, California, North Dakota (which doesn’t even have voter registration) and Iowa. Conversely, the index finds that voting is hardest in Mississippi, which comes in dead last in the ranking. The state requires a photo ID at the polls. It doesn’t allow early voting, or no-excuse absentee voting. It’s joined at the bottom of the list by Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana and Texas.
The researchers went on to compare voter turnout and the restrictiveness of voting laws in each state and, not surprisingly, discovered a relationship:
What sort of effect do these laws have on voter turnout? Some quick calculations suggest that the effect is potentially quite large: The five most restrictive states had turnouts in 2016 that were, on average, nearly nine percentage points lower than turnout in the five easiest states to vote in.
Louisiana has the 20th lowest “cost of voting” of all 50 states, according to the ranking.
Trump signs bipartisan opioid legislation
Medicaid is already an important source of treatment for substance abuse disorders, as evidenced by the data on the Healthy Louisiana Dashboard. But Medicaid is poised to play an even larger role in the response to the opioid epidemic after President Trump signed a major piece of opioid legislation into law on Wednesday. The legislation includes a variety of provisions aimed at making treatment more accessible and effective, including loosening restrictions on the ability of Medicaid to reimburse for inpatient drug treatment. Allan Coukell with The Pew Trusts explains what’s in the bill, including the change to federal Medicaid statute:
The law takes a multifaceted approach to prevent opioid misuse and expand access to effective treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) and should help curb this serious public health problem, which kills 115 people each day. The legislation contains multiple provisions that will expand and ensure access to evidence-based treatment for OUD. It takes important steps to better coordinate care and facilitate access to appropriate treatment based on patients’ unique needs. Among its provisions, the act will:
Increase access to inpatient treatment through Medicaid reforms. The right type of care for those receiving OUD treatment depends on many factors, including disease severity, other existing disorders, and the stability of a patient’s personal circumstances. Outpatient or community-based settings may provide appropriate care for most patients, but others may need inpatient treatment. The law loosens federal restrictions on Medicaid funds used for residential treatment centers with more than 16 beds. More importantly, it ensures that residential treatment is part of a continuum of services that includes outpatient treatment, and takes steps to ensure that each patient receives appropriate care.
Do you live in a prosperous or a distressed area?
The United States economy is growing and unemployment is low, but that economic prosperity is not spread evenly across the country or the state. The Economic Innovation Group undertook a major data analysis and mapping project that looks at what ZIP codes, cities and congressional districts are thriving and which are not. They label areas that are doing well on a variety of metrics “prosperous” and those that are not “distressed.” The researchers point out that the day-to-day experience of living in a prosperous area or a distressed area can be like night and day. Bill Lucia with Route Fifty has more:
For instance, the percentage of adults without high school diplomas in the average prosperous ZIP code between 2012 and 2016 was 5.4 percent. In distressed ZIP codes it was 21.9 percent. Meanwhile, the poverty rate in the average prosperous ZIP code was 6 percent, while in the average distressed ZIP code it was 26 percent. Then there’s the jobs recovery. Prosperous ZIP codes had a job surplus in 2016 of 3.6 million jobs, compared to 2007 in the run up to the recession. Jobs in these places recovered fully by 2013, according to the EIG research. In contrast, distressed ZIP codes have 1.4 million fewer jobs in 2016 compared to 2007. “Distressed and prosperous ZIP codes don’t simply represent two ends of a statistical spectrum; they represent two almost diametrically opposed experiences of living in the United States,” the report says.
Number of the day
634,000 – The number of adults in Louisiana who have a mental illness, nearly 1 in 5 adults in the state. (Source: Mental Health America via Nola.com/The Times Picayune)