Two of the hardest things to do in state politics is to raise revenue and amend the constitution. That’s because those things require a two-thirds majority support in the House and Senate. But what happens if the Legislature can’t resolve its differences on the budget during the current regular session? As Gannett’s Greg Hilburn reports, the budget would then need a three-fourths majority vote to pass a spending plan, under a unique provision that makes it extremely difficult to appropriate any money after the regular session in an election year.
It’s the only action in the Louisiana Constitution that requires a three-fourths vote by the Legislature, according to House Clerk Butch Speer. In all other instances, even during Special Sessions in non-election years, passing a budget only requires a majority vote. “It’s hard to get a two-thirds vote for a Mother’s Day resolution,” quipped Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, who said he was aware of the three-fourths vote requirement. But most members were unaware of the unique three-fourths requirement, thinking two-thirds votes on issues like taxes and Constitutional amendments set the highest bar. In all, there are 38 issues that require a two-thirds majority for passage in the Louisiana Legislature, but only one that requires the three fourths. Speer [House Clerk Butch Speer] the three-fourths trigger has never happened. In the House, a three-fourths majority would require a minimum 79 votes, while it would take 29 in the Senate.
A sensible work pilot program
A north Louisiana pilot program designed to connect Medicaid recipients with work-training opportunities has won praise from an independent, nonpartisan policy research center. Tricia Brooks, of the Georgetown University Health and Policy Institute Center for Children and Families, said the Ouachita Parish work-training initiative announced by Gov. John Bel Edwards earlier this month is a far better path than onerous, counterproductive work requirements that have been tried in other states.
Positive work support initiatives illustrate there are better ways to assist Medicaid enrollees in improving their employment situations than implementing punitive, onerous, and costly work reporting requirements. In announcing the new initiative, Gov. Edwards said, “Creating a program that is helpful but not punitive is something we have consistently been working on. State lawmakers came together and spoke loud and clear on this issue. And with the recent court decisions against the faulty design of similar programs in other states, we are even more convinced that this is the correct path take.”
The case against cash bail
Most people who get arrested in the New Orleans area are poor. The bail, fines and fees associated with these arrests go to government coffers and profits for for-profit bail bonds companies, which creates a perverse incentive for these actors to squeeze as much money as possible for those who can least afford to pay. Micah West of the Southern Poverty Law Center elaborates in a guest column for Nola.com/The Times-Picayune:
As Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson asked last year, “Would you have faith in the system if you knew that every single actor in the criminal justice system – including the judge and your court-appointed lawyer – relied upon a steady stream of guilty pleas and verdicts to fund their offices? Would you doubt your ability to get justice? … You’ve got to concede that there is something about the system that does not feel right.” … New Orleans’ money bail system also disproportionately impacts the city’s black residents. As the Vera Institute of Justice found, eight out of 10 people in New Orleans jails are black, in a city where black people make up only 59 percent of the population, and where the median income among black residents is 57 percent lower than the median income of white residents. Louisiana should pass comprehensive bail reform to eliminate the perverse incentives that motivate judges to set high bail, and for bail companies to exploit arrestees and their families for profits.
Standing in the way of a living wage
Louisiana voters are broadly supportive of efforts to raise the minimum wage. More than 80 percent think the wage should go up to $8.50 per hour, while 59 percent are OK with a $15 hourly minimum, according to the Louisiana Survey. But the Advocate’s Stephanie Grace notes that this hasn’t seemed to sway the members of the Louisiana Legislature, who are more likely to listen to business interests than the wishes of their constituents.
While most people support a higher wage, the intensity is still likely to be with the opposition, those well-heeled business groups that haunt the Capitol hallways and that will make the tenuous claim that slightly higher minimum wages kill jobs. A third is that there are all sorts of ways for legislators to make an issue go away without taking unpopular positions. One appeared to happen last week on a related measure, a bill by state Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, that would allow cities to raise their own minimum wages. Conservative House members got together and routed the bill to an unfriendly committee, where it may well die without an up-or-down House vote.
Number of the Day
70 – Percentage of Louisianans who support the historic criminal justice reforms of 2017, which have helped reduce the state’s prison population. (Source: LSU Public Policy Research Lab via The Advocate)