Advocates want the Legislature to make an $86 million down payment as part of a $1 billion investment into early care and education over the next decade. Without the increased funding, the Louisiana Early Childhood Care and Education Commission said, 114,000 children in the state would lack resources needed to be prepared for kindergarten. While Louisiana is set to receive $775 million for child care from the American Rescue Plan Act, The Advocate’s Will Sentell notes that these dollars are temporary, and that permanent funding is needed to ensure young kids from low-income families have access to high-quality education services.
“(W)e know that the state must put together a plan now for how it will fund early care and education at the appropriate levels once the stimulus funding runs out,” state Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton and co-chair of the commission said in a statement. The group also wants the Legislature to provide nearly $4 million in matching funds to go with that amount in local dollars for the Early Childhood Education Fund for the 2021-22 school year, and to identify a permanent funding source for that match. State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said only 40% of children in Louisiana enter kindergarten ready to learn. “While we embrace the short-term solution provided through stimulus funds, Louisiana should consider investment for the long-term funding solutions,” Brumley said.
The commission also recommended that all revenue from sports gambling be dedicated to early childhood education. But Senate President Page Cortez, who will sponsor legislation outlining the parameters of sports betting in the state, disagrees.
Cortez said while he backs increased spending for the programs, he would prefer to do it through general tax collections rather than earmarking the sports betting tax dollars to a specific program. The Senate president spoke Wednesday at a legislative leadership conference sponsored by policy group Ellevate Louisiana.
No agreement on worker misclassification
Louisiana is the only state that lets corporations off with a warning instead of financial penalties when they get caught committing payroll fraud by misclassifying workers. A task force has been working since last year on potential recommendations to fix the problem. The group wrapped up its work last week without adopting recommendations on most of the proposals. But as the Illuminator’s Wesley Muller reports, bipartisan support is building for legislative ideas laid out last year by Rep. Mandie Landry:
House Bill 151 (by Rep. Neil Riser) would implement a fine of up to $5,000 for a first offense. The penalties would increase for each subsequent offense and even mandate a fine of not less than $50,000 per employee for a company with three or more separate offenses. In a phone interview Monday, Riser said his bill is one Republicans can easily support because it is fiscally conservative. The bill, he explained, would increase state revenue and simultaneously drive down costs for the legitimate businesses that have been paying their taxes and shouldering the tax burden of the cheating companies.
What if a city is no longer a city?
Leaders in 142 mid-sized cities across the country are fearing the loss of federal funding due to a proposed change to the federal definition of a Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). The Office of Management and Budget is proposing to raise the population threshold for qualifying as an MSA to 100,000 — double the current standard – which would disqualify Hammond and Alexandria. The Advocate’s Paul Cobbler explains how this proposal is causing worry for these two cities and hundreds of others like them across the country.
Hammond Mayor Pete Panepinto said his city is taking a wait-and-see approach to the proposal, voicing concern about some federal funding for southern Tangipahoa Parish but saying the proposal is still in a preliminary stage and the full impacts are unknown. “This is kind of like asking a meteorologist to tell you if it’s going to rain on a specific day six or nine months from now,” Panepinto wrote in an email. “It’s all up to the federal government.” … “Losing those federal dollars would be particularly harmful for Alexandria, especially during the COVID-19 economic recovery period,” said Deborah Randolph, president of the regional chamber. Randolph pointed to financial damage that could be done to two major hospital systems based in Alexandria that employ nearly 23,000 people. The hospitals could lose Medicare funding from the Inpatient Prospective Payment System, for which funding is partly dependent on a region’s MSA designation.
Undoing non-unanimous convictions
When Louisiana voters outlawed the state’s racist law allowing people to be convicted of a crime by a non-unanimous jury vote, that change only applied to convictions that took place after 2018. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether the standard should be applied retroactively (the court outlawed non-unanimous jury convictions in 2020). As the Advocate’s Ben Myers and John Simerman explain, it can be difficult for incarcerated people to determine whether or not they were convicted using this relic of Jim Crow:
This often requires an arduous journey through local clerk’s offices, appellate courts and other venues, sometimes without legal help, said Jamila Johnson, a managing attorney with the Promise of Justice Initiative, which spearheaded the legal challenge to split verdicts. “It’s really, really hard for people who are incarcerated to get their own records. That has been a significant problem in Louisiana,” Johnson said. “Maybe they got transferred and lost all their records, or their records were in a facility that flooded, or their records were sent to an aunt who died.” There are roughly 300 inmates who believe they were convicted by split juries but cannot prove it, according to Johnson. Time may be running out for them to do so. Inmates seeking to vacate non-unanimous decisions must apply for post-conviction relief, and state law appears to impose a one-year deadline from the Ramos decision. That deadline is April 20, but a decision on retroactivity could come after that.
As Louisiana showed when voters decided to overturn the state’s non-unanimous jury law, money can’t buy a criminal justice reform movement, but it can help fuel one. Chloe Cockburn, director of criminal justice reform at Open Philanthropy, writing in a guest column in The Washington Post explains:
With strong leadership and good infrastructure in place thanks to new money in recent years (though more is still needed), Los Angeles organizers have a shot at forging a new political consensus that centers on health and safety and where no one is disposable due to poverty or race. The L.A. story is not unique. Around the country, powerful leaders are building the strength to reshape the safety agendas in their communities. This group includes strong local organizations such as Voice of the Experienced, which has spearheaded passage of multiple reform bills in deep-red Louisiana thanks to its large base of directly impacted voters, and national ones such as Essie Justice Group, which trains women with incarcerated loved ones to heal and advocate for change. These groups are looking beyond the immediate question of closing jails.
Number of the Day
3 – Number of confirmed Covid-19 infections among 2,479 front-line health care workers who were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines between mid-December and early March. (Source: CDC via The Washington Post).