The Legislature has just nine days remaining in its current special session, and so far has almost nothing to show for its efforts. As the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports, lawmakers have failed to reach agreement on their stated priorities – curbing the governor’s executive authority, shoring up the state’s unemployment trust fund and addressing the Covid-19 pandemic.
To be clear, lawmakers still have time to do those things they said they called themselves into the monthlong session to achieve. The session must end Oct. 27, but the House and Senate seem sharply at odds over what legislation they believe is constitutionally sound and what path they want to take. Negotiations are continuing.
Among the few measures to reach Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk is a spending bill that steers $22 million to local projects in legislators’ districts. The project list was negotiated behind closed doors, and led to predictable outrage from good-government groups and The Advocate’s editorial board.
Disgusting. The list of projects this session evolved in the dark, behind closed doors. House Bill 39 steered $22 million in state cash to local projects like sports fields and parks. … It’s telling that in the midst of a pandemic, with vast dislocation of society and the economy, the highest priority of top leaders in the Legislature is taking care of No. 1, that is their politics and their patronage back home.
The bill also provides Edwards with unexpected political leverage in the waning days of the session, as he can use his line-item veto authority to kill projects in the districts of legislators who vote against his interests.
Cash bail and the Covid-19 pandemic
Louisiana remains one of the most heavily incarcerated political jurisdictions in the world, despite years of bipartisan efforts to reform our state’s harsh sentencing laws. The toll of mass incarceration falls disproportionately on Black people and poor people. That’s especially true of those who sit in jail awaiting trial. Ashley White and Montrell Carmouche, in a guest column for Nola.com | The Baton Rouge Advocate, explain why cash bail reform is so urgently needed:
Cash bail creates a two-tiered system of justice: one for the wealthy and one for everyone else. The median income in Louisiana is $27,027, and yet statewide, the median bail set for people is $24,000. In 2017 in New Orleans, residents paid a total of $6.8 million in bail fees — 88% of which were paid by Black families. Statewide, people who are legally presumed innocent and are awaiting trial spend nearly half a year on average in jail before their cases are resolved. This is unjust. It’s also expensive: Pretrial detention in Louisiana costs taxpayers $290 million per year.
No Covid relief before Election Day
The U.S. Senate reconvenes this week in a last-ditch effort to pass a much-needed Covid-19 relief package. But it looks increasingly like the effort will fall short, and that an economic recovery bill will have to wait for the post-election lame-duck period or be pushed to early 2021. Meanwhile, without additional aid, people who still aren’t able to return to work are increasingly choosing which of their urgent needs—such as utilities, food and shelter costs—they can afford to pay for. The Associated Press reports:
Delays in coronavirus aid come as the recovery from this spring’s economic shutdown is slowing and as the massive stimulus effects of the $1.8 trillion March relief measure wear off. COVID cases are spiking again heading into a third wave of the pandemic this winter. Poverty is climbing and the virus is continuing to take a disproportionate toll on minority communities.
Tariffs and taxes
President Donald Trump’s decision to raise taxes on American farm products through increased tariffs has barely dampened the enthusiasm for the president among Louisiana farmers. Nola.com | The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports that Louisiana’s exports to the Far East have fallen 8% in 2020 as trade with China has slowed. But prices for soybeans have begun climbing after hitting rock bottom last year.
The price increase is not benefitting all Louisiana soybean farmers yet. Frank Burnside, for example, sold his 2020 crop in advance this year for less than $9 per bushel because he did not foresee the recent price increase. “My crystal ball was not too sporty,” said Burnside, who farms in Tensas Parish in northeast Louisiana. “But we’re in it for the long run. We’ll end up being in a better place for next year.”
Number of the Day
74% – Decline, since August, in the median checking-account balance of people who are unemployed. Checking balances grew in the early months of the pandemic, as people saved part of their $600 weekly federal supplement, but balances have shrunk since that aid expired in July. (Source: The New York Times)