It took three special legislative sessions last year to hammer out an imperfect budget compromise to raise enough revenue for Louisiana’s government to meet its basic obligations to the people of the state. Now, only a year later, the House voted to unwind that accomplishment by phasing out the 0.45% sales tax. House Bill 599 by Rep. Lance Harris would cost the state general fund a $913 million over the next five years – money that currently supports health care services, public colleges and child welfare programs, among other things. The bill passed the House with an amendment from Rep. Walt Leger III that would dedicate $42.5 million to early childhood education. But as Sam Karlin reports in The Advocate, it faces a tough road to passage in the Senate:
Gov. John Bel Edwards has argued the bill would threaten the state’s newfound financial stability. He said he won’t sign any “high-dollar” tax expenditures, like Harris’ measure. But state Rep. Walt Leger III, an ally of the governor, got on board with Harris’ bill after successfully tacking on an amendment that would take 0.05% of the 0.45% sales tax at issue and redirect it to early childhood education. That represents about $42.5 million a year, he said. “I don’t support what Rep. Harris is trying to do,” said Leger, D-New Orleans. “(But) I see it as a vehicle to potentially accomplish something that is transformative to the state of Louisiana.” Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens said Thursday evening the administration is still against the proposal. “We remain opposed to the effort to roll back the bipartisan compromise we reached in (the) Legislature last year, after we stabilized our budget for the first time in many years,” she said.
“It’s cruel to evict grandma”
A proposed change to federal immigration policy is discouraging many immigrants eligible for citizenship from applying for public benefit programs, according to new research from the Urban Institute. The “public charge” rule allows government officials to take an immigrant’s potential need for government benefits into account when deciding whether to admit them into the country or grant them legal status. Route Fifty’s Kate Elizabeth Queram explains how this rule is affecting immigrants waiting in line for a chance at citizenship, even those who wouldn’t be affected by the rule change.
“About one in seven adults in immigrant families (13.7 percent) reported ‘chilling effects,’ in which the respondent or a family member did not participate in a non-cash government benefit program in 2018 for fear of risking future green card status,” researchers wrote in a brief. “This figure was even higher, 20.7 percent, among adults in low-income immigrant families.” Those results are based on data from a December internet-based survey of roughly 2,000 adults who are either foreign-born themselves or live with one or more foreign-born family members. Respondents were asked about their awareness of the proposed policy change and about any observed chilling effects in their own families. According to the results, chilling effects extended even to adults who would not be affected by the change—namely, families where all non-citizens already had green cards (14.7 percent) and families where all foreign-born members were naturalized citizens (9.3 percent). Immigrants were also more reluctant to access the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, “even though the latter is not on the list of benefits in the proposed rule.”
Changes to the “public charge” rule are only one of several changes the Trump administration has proposed that would narrow the pathway to citizenship for immigrants working their way toward a better life in America through low-wage jobs. A different proposal would evict families from subsidized housing if even one family member doesn’t have documentation. Federal policy already only provides housing subsidies for members of a household who are American citizens or permanent residents. Stateline’s Teresa Wiltz reports on how this proposal would harm mixed-status families.
In the past, housing authorities have had flexibility to meet the needs of their tenants, said Michael Gerber, president and CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin. In some families, he said, the mother and her children are either documented or American citizens, but the grandmother living with them is undocumented. The grandmother doesn’t get the housing subsidy. But the mom is unstable, and the grandmother is the glue holding the family together. “It’s cruel to evict Grandma,” Gerber said.
Racist housing policy then, high cancer rates now
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, New Orleans policymakers approved construction of new housing developments atop a landfill containing hazardous waste—developments that the city’s housing authority aggressively marketed to Black residents looking to gain a foothold in the middle class. Now, with the land declared a superfund site in 1994 and those homes having lost almost all of their value, families in the parts of Desire neighborhood are left with few options to move away from homes that are destroying their health. Sara Sneath reports in NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on a neighborhood containing the census tracts with the second highest rates of cancer in the state:
The residents of Gordon Plaza have constant reminders of the health risks associated with living on top of a former dump. They aren’t allowed to dig holes in their yards without first notifying the city. At times, they said, they smell a “foul odor.” Many of them said they are experiencing health problems they associate with the toxins in the former landfill. Marilyn Amar has breast cancer. Jesse Perkins has severe allergies. Lydwina Hurst has breast cancer. Sam Ejana lost his wife to cancer six years ago. Still, Rainey is optimistic that residents will find some relief. “We’ve been at this a long long time and that’s why we know it’s going to be OK,” she said. “I’m already OK because, like I told you, I’m doing an assignment from God. So, I’m already OK.”
Death penalty drug secrecy
The Louisiana House had an impassioned debate Thursday about the state’s death penalty, but avoided a vote on the measure when the author shelved the bill without a vote. Meanwhile,a separate bill, House Bill 258, would hide from public view the companies that manufacture the drugs Louisiana uses to kill people. It sailed through that same House on a 61-38 vote on Tuesday. The Advocate’s editorial board points out that it’s in the public’s interest to have full transparency in such an important matter:
By hiding the roles of pharmaceutical firms in the gravest act a state can perform, officials hope drug companies will be more inclined to sell the lethal concoctions needed to carry out a death sentence. But doing controversial work in secret is a gesture of dictatorships, not democracies. It compromises a procedure meant to bring justice to anguished families, and it lessens accountability when the process goes wrong. The history of capital punishment has involved a number of botched executions, and it’s hard to sort out responsibility for such mishaps when the names of key players are hidden from public view.
Number of the Day
$913,000,000 – Drop in the state’s general fund revenues over five years, if House Bill 599 passes the Senate. (Source: The Advocate)