The state Senate will debate the state budget on Wednesday afternoon, and if precedent holds it will make few substantive changes to next year’s $39 billion operating budget and various other bills that allocate more than $3.6 billion in windfall revenue. While much of the excess money is going to important, long-overdue infrastructure projects, LBP policy analyst Jackson Voss writes in a new blog that lawmakers erred by not directing some of the money to Louisiana families struggling to pay their bills:
At the start of the legislative session, the Louisiana Budget Project joined with other community organizations and advocates to invest in a Recovery Agenda for Louisiana. The Recovery Agenda called for new investments in affordable housing, worker training, weatherization assistance, student loan forgiveness and other programs aimed at lifting up low-income families and communities. If lawmakers aren’t interested in using public funds to solve those problems, then the least they could do is give back some of these excess tax revenues to working families who are most impacted by inflated consumer costs. Other states are doing exactly that, providing a model that Louisiana should emulate.
At least 12 states are using surplus or excess dollars to provide their citizens with one-time payments, either through refunds, rebates or credits. With prices rising at the fastest rate in 40 years, affecting staples like rent, gasoline and groceries, Louisiana families could use some help while there is money available.
The fractious debate over how America’s history of systemic racism should be taught in Louisiana’s public schools took on a life of its own last year, leading to the ouster of Rep. Ray Garofalo as the chair of the House Education Committee. This year the debate was quieter and the outcome was never in doubt, as the education panel shot down two bills by Garofalo that would have made it illegal for schools to teach that people of any race are still affected by racism or oppression. The Illuminator’s JC Canicosa was there:
Dr. Belinda Davis was one of two members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education who spoke in opposition to Garafalo’s bills. She instructed the committee “to look at what this legislation says, not what Rep. Garofalo says that it does. This legislation literally prohibits discussion about anything and everything that government does,” Davis said. “This bill prohibits (discussion on) government action. We can’t discuss the merits of the New Deal, monetary policy. It’s literally everything.”
Harsher sentences are back
It was just five years ago that state legislators came together to pass a bipartisan package of bills aimed at reducing Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rate. The reforms focused mainly on reducing sentences for nonviolent offenses such as drug possession, while mostly leaving in place Louisiana’s harsh penalties for violent crimes. This year lawmakers are trying to reverse even those modest gains, with bills such as House Bill 544 that would roll back opportunities for earlier release for nonviolent offenders who committed multiple felonies, extending existing racial disparities in incarceration. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports:
Some legislators have been chipping away at the bipartisan Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Package of 2017. The law made significant changes in the sentencing laws, particularly in the calculations of how long a convicted felon would actually serve behind bars. The decrease in the number of inmates taxpayers have to house was put towards programs to help nonviolent criminals function better in society. Many of those efforts have been turned aside or negotiated into changes that aren’t nearly as sweeping as originally proposed.
No wrong door
Amid the isolation and upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health and substance use disorders have been rising in Louisiana and across the country. In Baton Rouge, the Bridge Center for Hope was founded to help address this dual crisis. As executive director Charlotte Claiborne explains in a guest column for The Advocate, the Bridge Center serves people in crisis through a “no wrong door” policy and often serves as an alternative to the criminal legal system:
The average time it takes a law enforcement officer to bring an individual in crisis to an emergency room is 45 to 50 minutes. But the average time it takes to escort someone to the Bridge Center for help is only 3.54 minutes, saving officers valuable time. Some 41% of patients at the Bridge Center in 2021 came in with the help of law enforcement. … We have come a long way in the past year, but there is still far to go. Far too many individuals do not seek the help they need when in crisis, often with dire consequences for themselves, their families and our community. The people of East Baton Rouge and the surrounding parishes need increased access to mental health support and treatment, and crisis centers such as the Bridge Center need continued support.
Number of the Day
12 – Number of states that are using – or planning to use – surplus or excess revenue to provide tax rebates or other one-time payments to their residents (Source: LBP)