Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed House Bill 544 on Tuesday, calling it a rollback of a 2017 bipartisan package of bills aimed at reducing Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rate by reducing sentences for nonviolent offenses such as drug possession. The legislation by Rep. Debbie Villio would have curbed earlier release opportunities for certain nonviolent offenders, extending existing racial disparities in incarceration. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports:
Current law provides that a person shall be eligible for parole once he or she has served 25% of the sentence. HB544 would have extended parole eligibility to 65% of the sentence for offenders convicted of a fourth and subsequent nonviolent felony. In addition, the bill would change the rate that “good time,” which can lead to an earlier release in return for good behavior. Current law calculates 13 days of “good time” for every seven days served in actual custody. Villio’s bill would change that from one day off for every two served for fourth and subsequent nonviolent offenders. “It would result in over a 100% increase in the time required to be served in the law after 2017,” Edwards wrote in his veto message that began with a long homily on the 2017 changes in the sentencing laws, particularly in the calculations of how long a convicted felon would actually serve behind bars.
Long Covid disability
The federal government estimates that between 7 million and 23 million Americans are living with “long Covid,” and 1 million people have chronic symptoms that leave them unable to work. Those figures are swelling the ranks of people with disabilities, and potentially changing how think tanks and policymakers approach a diverse disabled population that encompasses 1 in 4 American adults. The Washington Post’s Frances Steed Sellers reports on research showing that people with disabilities experience poverty at twice the rate of nondisabled people, and are three times as likely to experience food insecurity.
By joining forces, long haulers are forcing an existing conversation into the open. “We’re at this real confrontational moment of trying to educate as many people as possible about disability and structural inequalities and trying to make sure [long-haulers] get the resources they need right now,” said Mia Ives-Rublee, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease.
Rules for the Social Security Supplemental Security Income program (SSI), which require disabled recipients to have extremely low incomes and very limited savings to qualify for assistance, force millions of people into poverty.
Reducing pollutants in Cancer Alley
A settlement proposed for lawsuits that environmental groups filed against the Environmental Protection Agency could reduce toxic emissions in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. Last year, an investigative report showed that the 85-mile corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge had the unhealthiest air in the country, thanks largely to the proliferation of large petrochemical factories along that stretch of the Mississippi River. The settlement, which was announced on Tuesday, would reduce toxic and cancer causing chemicals at several area plants and create stricter rules for flares used to burn emissions from some plastics manufacturing facilities. The Times-Picayune’s Mark Schleifstein reports:
“EPA’s recognition that it must perform this long overdue rulemaking is an important step along the path toward finally strengthening the protection from cancer-causing toxic air that community members in St. John have been breathing for years,” said a statement released Tuesday by Concerned Citizens (of St. John) and (the Louisiana Environmental Action Network). “This is an example of Biden’s EPA starting to chart a new course on environmental justice, and clean air, after years of EPA ignoring fenceline communities’ daily reality of being overwhelmed by cancer-causing pollution. “The ultimate test will be whether EPA listens to St. John community members, follows the science and strengthens air toxics standards to protect public health.”
Study: Welfare cuts increased crime
The 1996 overhaul of federal policies governing cash assistance to low-income families dramatically cut the number of impoverished American children who received government cash assistance to meet their basic needs, and took aid away from poor kids transitioning to adulthood. Now, a new study in the prestigious Quarterly Journal of Economics found that children who lost access to cash assistance when turning 18 were more likely to turn to crime than those from before 1996, who maintained their benefits after becoming adults. Oxford University Press summarizes the findings:
By comparing records of children with an 18th birthday after the date of welfare reform enactment on August 22, 1996, and those born earlier (who were allowed onto the adult program without review) the researchers were able to estimate the effect of losing benefits on the lives of the affected youth. They found that terminating the cash welfare benefits of these young adults increased the number of criminal charges by 20% over the next two decades. The increase was concentrated in what the authors call “income-generating crimes,” like theft, burglary, fraud/forgery, and prostitution. As a result of the increase in criminal charges, the annual likelihood of incarceration increased by 60%. The effect of this income removal on criminal justice involvement persisted more than two decades later.
Didja Know? Podcast
The latest episode of the podcast dropped on Wednesday. Click here to listen to LBP executive director Jan Moller and director of public affairs and outreach Davante Lewis recap the 2022 Louisiana legislative session and preview next week’s special session for lawmakers to redraw racist congressional maps.
Number of the Day
2 million – Projected net increase of jobs from the large-scale decarbonization of the U.S. economy by 2050 (Source: Decarb America)