See you in court

See you in court

The Legislature wrapped up its three-week redistricting session last week by prioritizing its own interests over those of the voters it represents. Lawmakers set aside calls from everyday citizens to increase minority representation to better reflect Louisiana’s changing demographics, instead favoring the status quo to protect themselves from being voted out of office for the next decade. But as The Advocate’s Mark Ballard explains, the issue appears headed to court.

“You’re likely to see a flurry of lawsuits,” Chris Kaiser, advocacy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, said Thursday night as the final deals were being cut. Louisiana’s population grew slightly to 4.6 million people, according to the latest U.S. Census. But the number of White residents decreased 6.3% to 2.6 million people, or about 57% of the state’s overall population. The number of people identifying as Black grew 3.8% to 1.5 million, or 33.1% of the state’s total population. The numbers of Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics, and others grew dramatically to 779,535 people, accounting for 16.7% of Louisiana residents.

There also is the potential of a veto from Gov. John Bel Edwards. 

Edwards said Monday he hasn’t decided yet, and won’t until the bills hit his desk. But Republican majority state legislators have overridden vetoes from Democratic governors in Kentucky and Kansas, and the Democratic-dominated General Assembly in Maryland brought its redistricting bills back to life after the Republican governor vetoed them.

Final rule on ARPA funds
The Treasury Department’s final rule on how states and localities can spend their American Rescue Plan Act dollars gives greater flexibility to state and local governments to use the funding for what it was intended: to help people and communities most affected by the pandemic. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Ed Lazere explains, the rule gives the green light to investing in households and communities with low incomes: 

The final rule creates new definitions of individuals and communities that have been “impacted” or “disproportionately impacted” by the pandemic and lists the kinds of services that states and localities can provide for each group using (money from the State and Local Fiscal Relief Fund). The new definitions build on Treasury’s interim final rule, which encouraged states and localities to use the funds to “foster a strong, inclusive, and equitable recovery” and to focus on “households, businesses, and non-profits in communities most disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.” The interim final rule made it clear that investments to support people or communities with low incomes were allowable, and the final rule clarifies and simplifies the process for making these kinds of investments.

But the final rule also creates risks by allowing states to use their federal allotments as a match for federal programs. For example, states could use funding for its portion of federally funded transportation projects, despite the fact that billions of dollars will be flowing to states over the next five years under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

White farmers block relief for Black farmers
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act included $4 billion of debt forgiveness for Black farmers, a group that has lost land as they were shut out of loans by banks and the federal government. But as The Washington Post’s Alan Rappeport explains, Black farmers haven’t seen any of the promised relief because of lawsuits from white farmers. 

After the initiative was rolled out last year, it met swift opposition. Banks were unhappy that the loans would be repaid early, depriving them of interest payments. Groups of white farmers in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Oregon and Illinois sued the Agriculture Department, arguing that offering debt relief on the basis of skin color is discriminatory, suggesting that a successful Black farmer could have his debts cleared while a struggling white farm could go out of business. America First Legal, a group led by the former Trump administration official Stephen Miller, filed a lawsuit making a similar argument in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Last June, before the money started flowing, a federal judge in Florida blocked the program on the basis that it applied “strictly on racial grounds” irrespective of any other factor.

Academic freedom and CRT on college campuses 
The political battles over how America’s history of racism can be taught in schools – already raging in secondary schools – has enveloped college campuses. The Washington Post’s Nick Anderson and Susan Svrluga report that students and faculty leaders at public universities are fighting back against efforts by state legislators to regulate what professors can teach in their classrooms. At the heart of the controversy is critical race theory, the study of how public policy and laws perpetuate systemic racism and a catch-all term used by some conservatives to describe any lessons about America’s racist history that they find objectionable. 

In this case it pits politicians, mainly Republicans, who depict themselves as guardians of objectivity concerning “divisive concepts,” against professors who say the state has no business meddling in the content of lectures, syllabi and seminars. The latest skirmish has erupted in Texas. On Monday, the Faculty Council of the University of Texas at Austin approved, on a 41-to-5 vote with three abstentions, a resolution rejecting “any attempts by bodies external to the faculty to restrict or dictate the content of university curriculum on any matter, including matters related to racial and social justice.” 

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not take the criticism well, and now wants to abolish faculty tenure. 

Programming Alert
Join us tomorrow for the next installment of Racism: Dismantling the System speaker series, hosted by LBP and the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication. The discussion will give insight on how companies handle racism that their consumers and employees experience. Details: Tuesday, Feb. 22 at 3:30 pm. Click here to reserve your space for the online event. You can also view this episode on LBP’s Facebook Livestream

Number of the Day
– Percentage of Louisiana adults in rental housing who were not caught up on rent in September and October 2021 (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)