More kids in foster care in Livingston Parish

More kids in foster care in Livingston Parish

There has been good news on foster care in Louisiana recently: More children found permanent homes through adoption than ever before in 2018, and the total number of children in foster care declined 16 percent over the past four years. But it’s a very different story in Livingston Parish, where the number of kids in foster care has doubled in recent years as drug use and family dysfunction appear to have surged since the devastating floods of 2016. Officials from the state Department of Children and Family Services point to a tale of two Livingston Parishes: one with significant social resources and a higher median income than the U.S. average, and another beset by generations of rural poverty and left behind after the floods upended their lives. The Advocate’s Caroline Grueskin reports:

Family court sessions drag late into the evenings. Services for drug addiction, mental health and parenting are falling woefully short. And the same people who were once foster children are cycling back through, now at risk of losing their own kids to the state. Judges tell stories of a fifth-graders injected with methamphetamine and needles found in a child’s playpen. … While judges take kids out of the home for their safety, entering care can amount to a traumatic break. Some placements are with relatives or people they know, but many are with strangers. And in Livingston Parish there is a major shortage of foster families, meaning many kids are sent far from home: Just half of the 378 children who are in care in Livingston Parish stay with families here, according to (the state Department of Children and Family Services).


Our underfunded public defenders
Earlier this month, thanks to reporting by Times-Picayune, we learned that Louisiana is one of only four states that allocates no money to help poor people get legal representation in civil disputes, such as child custody cases, foreclosure or domestic protection orders. Texas, in contrast, spends $72 million per year. Now, Derwyn Bunton, the chief public defender in Orleans Parish, reminds us that things aren’t any better in the criminal justice system, where public defenders are chronically underfunded. This is thanks to an antiquated user-pays system that often leaves poor defendants with long waits for justice and inadequate representation in court.

Once again, OPD faces significant service restrictions in the coming months unless additional funding is provided. OPD will continue to move from crisis to crisis until resource equity becomes a reality in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana. It’s is time to create an equitable system of public defense funding, using adequate, stable and reliable sources. Three years ago, OPD refused more than 1,000 cases because of our failed user-pay system. We may have to refuse cases again. OPD is not alone. Many other parishes are facing their own endless service restrictions due to failing resources.


Sales tax rollback fizzles
As soon as the Legislature agreed to renew 0.45 cents of an expiring sales tax last year as part of a hard-fought compromise to stabilize the state budget, critics of the deal pledged to undo it. Republican leaders in the House pointed to a $150 million budget surplus as proof that Louisiana didn’t need as much taxes as it was collecting, and vowed to bring the state sales tax down to its pre-2016 level of 4 percent. But as The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports, so far those threats appear empty:

With only two weeks to go before the regular legislative session starts again on April 8, no lawmaker has picked up the mantel to lower state sales tax rates and thereby undo the deal that broke what House Speaker Taylor Barras called an “extreme deadlock.” … (House GOP Leader Lance) Harris last week described the idea as important to some representatives, but the House Republican Caucus, which met the previous week, didn’t include rolling back the additional .45 cent of sales tax as one of the majority’s goals for the upcoming session.

Lawmakers have filed several bills to chip away at the sales tax through tax-free “holidays” for the purchase of guns and school supplies. And in the Senate, legislation has been filed to gradually shift the revenue from the extra sales tax into the transportation trust fund.


Florida man wants private toll roads in Louisiana
The long-running political stalemate over how to address Louisiana’s chronic backlog of transportation needs has come to this: A columnist from a libertarian think tank thinks the only way to generate money for large-scale projects such as a new Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge is by building toll roads, and turning the whole project over to a private company that would assume responsibility for maintenance (and reap a nice profit from your morning commute). Robert W. Poole writes in a guest column for The Advocate that toll roads have become more popular thanks to technology that makes it easier to part commuters from their money:

Twentieth-century tolls were unpopular — in part because of long lines at toll plazas, rear-end collisions, and sitting in line breathing exhaust fumes. But any new toll-financed project today would use all-electronic 21st-century tolling. A transponder on your windshield reads your toll account number and debits your prepaid account. And it does this at highway speed. Major new highway projects have been financed recently in Colorado, Florida, Texas and Virginia using all-electronic tolling.


Number of the Day
3,391 – Number of Louisiana children entering foster care in 2018, a 16 percent decline from four years earlier (Source: Department of Children and Family Services via The Advocate)