It has been 10 years since Congress last raised the federal minimum wage. But while the federal government has refused to update the wage floor, many state and local governments have stepped up to bring low-income earners closer to a living wage. In Louisiana, however, state law stops cities from setting their own wage floors, leaving many workers in cities with high costs of living stuck earning $7.25 an hour. To fix this, Rep. Royce Duplessis has filed House Bill 422 that would allow local governments in Louisiana the power to set wage and paid leave rules that meet the needs of local communities. The New York Times’ Ernie Tedeschi has more on how cities and states are leading the charge to help workers:
For Americans living in the 21 states where the federal minimum wage is binding, inflation means that the minimum wage has lost 16 percent of its purchasing power. But elsewhere, many workers and employers are experiencing a minimum wage well above 2009 levels. That’s because state capitols and, to an unprecedented degree, city halls have become far more active in setting their own minimum wages. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have state-level minimum hourly wages higher than the federal one. In Washington State and Massachusetts, for example, it’s $12. But the true sea change is in the surge of city and county governments setting minimums. New York City has a $15 minimum wage, while in SeaTac, Wash., it’s $16.09.
Another wage bill, Senate Bill 155, sponsored by Senator Troy Carter, takes a different tack to lifting the lowest wages in the state: allowing the voters to decide if they want to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour through a constitutional amendment. As Sam Karlin of The Advocate reports, this bill cleared its first hurdle on Thursday, and while more obstacles remain before a $9 minimum wage becomes the law of the land, Carter’s proposal is supported not only by labor groups, but by business leaders and public polling:
The bill was approved by the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee by a 5-1 vote. It would require a two-thirds vote of both chambers, a high bar to clear. “The need for a living wage knows no bounds,” said Carter, who was backed by business executives testifying in support, including the head of Ochsner Health System. “In all 39 senate Districts and all 105 House districts, there are constituents in need of a living wage.” The executives said they have increased their minimum wages at their respective organizations and have experienced lower turnover and more productivity. “We purely look at this as an investment,” said Ochsner CEO Warner Thomas, who raised the wage of about 1,200 workers making $8.10 an hour to $12 last year.
Suspending driver’s licenses because of debt is a bad idea
If you have court debts in Louisiana, a judge can take away your license to drive. And just like the practice of suspending professional licenses for people with student loan debt, which the House Commerce Committee recommended repealing last week, taking away someone’s license because they owe money to the court is counterproductive. Most people have to drive to get to work, and a suspended license forces them to choose between breaking the law and risking additional fines or earning money to make payments on their debt. Two bills currently in the Legislature would end this practice, but some judges worry that this change would cut the revenue that pays for public defenders. Julia O’Donoghue of Nola.com| Times Picayune has more:
House Bill 397, sponsored by Rep. John Bagneris, D-New Orleans, would prohibit a judge from suspending the licenses of anyone unable to pay criminal fines or fees. House Bill 255, sponsored by Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, has a similar prohibition, but only if the debt stems from a felony or misdemeanor conviction. Unpaid fines from traffic violations would put still drivers at risk of losing their licenses under Magee’s proposal. They also would be subject to the six-month deadline currently in place. District attorneys and local judges are pushing for Magee’s version. Robert Morrison, with the Louisiana District Judges Association, said the criminal justice system can’t afford to take away incentives for people to pay up their fines and fees for traffic violations. Traffic violation fees are the main source of funding for Louisiana public defenders, many of whom already face financial crisis.
Are exemptions paying off?
Louisiana’s abundant natural resources should make it a rich state. In reality, Louisiana is poor by many metrics. One reason: Louisiana gives corporations billions of dollars through the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP), seeking to to lure industry to the state, without clear evidence that such generous giveaways do much to entice or keep industries that would otherwise be lured by the state’s oil and gas infrastructure. These lucrative tax breaks sap revenue from parish and local government, where they could be used to pay for schools, police forces and transportation services. Nationally, states spend an average of $291 per person on corporate subsidies. In Louisiana, that number is $2,857. Paul Solman of PBS takes a look at the $2 billion exemption recently awarded to Driftwood LNG, a company building a liquified natural gas processing plant in Lake Charles:
Driftwood’s Texas-based parent company declined our interview request, but did issue a statement — that the project would generate more than $700 million in sales taxes the first ten years, and then, after the abatement expires, more than $100 million a year in property taxes. But a key question — would the company really not have come without the exemptions? Surgeon Alan Hinton, a lifelong Republican, doubts it. “Industries want to be in this area because of the ship channel, the pipelines, the rail system and the interstate system. And people here are willing to accept big, heavy industry in their backyard.”
Ending the death penalty
The Louisiana Interchurch Conference, A large group of Catholic and Protestant religious leaders, has for years opposed the death penalty in Louisiana. While this push by clergy and other advocates hasn’t seen success in past years, the state has also effectively halted administering capital punishment, unable to obtain the drugs it uses for lethal injections. Now, some in the Legislature are proposing to restart executions by eliminating transparency about the process the state uses to kill prisoners. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte has more:
Louisiana’s last lethal injection was in 2010. Seventy condemned inmates are awaiting execution, but capital punishment has been stalled in the state. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration says it can’t obtain lethal injection drugs because companies don’t want to be publicly associated with executions. Republican Former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration described similar difficulties. While Claitor and Landry are proposing to halt the death penalty, Republican Rep. Nicholas Muscarello of Hammond has a measure aimed at trying to restart lethal injections in Louisiana. Muscarello is proposing to make secret any information about the person or company that manufactures, supplies, or transports drugs for an execution. The legislation was suggested by Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry as a way to help resume executions.
Number of the Day
$11.80 – The average minimum wage across America in 2019, including state and local wage floors. Adjusted for inflation, this is probably the highest minimum wage in American history. (Source: The New York Times)