Louisiana’s beleaguered child welfare agency still doesn’t have enough staff to respond to the most serious cases of child abuse and neglect. The Department of Children and Family Services recently ramped up its hiring, but employee turnover has outpaced new hires. As the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Andrea Gallo explains, years of budget cuts and low pay, combined with already high caseloads, have made it difficult for the agency to retain caseworkers:

Ideally, [secretary of the state Department of Children and Family Services David] Matlock said he needs an additional $35 million annually to stop the bleeding in child welfare. He said he’s looking at reprogramming money to add 300 employees, new vehicles, improved office space and more. Should he need to ask state lawmakers for a boost in funding, it might be a tough sell. It would require a 12% increase in the agency’s general fund allocation. Previous DCFS leaders spent years trying to persuade the Legislature to offset deep cuts from former Gov. Bobby Jindal that halved the agency’s budget and eliminated 1,000 jobs. Former Gov. John Bel Edwards did little to restore funding or add new staff.

Going backward on criminal justice reform 
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative helped Louisiana shed its dubious distinction as the world’s incarceration capital – and produced almost $153 million in savings for the state-  by sharply reducing the number of people serving time for non-violent offenses. But proposals that are advancing during the special legislative session on crime would make Louisiana’s prison system stricter than it was before the set of historic criminal justice reforms were enacted in 2017. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Finn reports

One Landry-backed bill would eliminate parole in most cases. …  Other proposed legislation would make all state prisoners serve 85% of their sentences before they’re eligible for early release as a reward for good behavior. Pre-2017, first-time nonviolent offenders became eligible for that perk after serving 40% of their sentences. A 2017 bill passed as part of the JRI cut that portion to 35%. … “We’re not even going to go back to where we were (before 2017),” said former Rep. Joe Marino, now a judge, who was a lead negotiator of the 2017 package. “We’re going to be worse.”

Landry has faced little pushback from legislators during the crime special session, as an expedited timeline has been implemented – and public debate limited – for bills that would dramatically reshape Louisiana’s criminal justice system. But it appears the governor’s move to control the state’s public defense system – like his recent efforts to overhaul state election rules – is a bridge too far for lawmakers. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Meghan Friedmann reports

Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Mike Reese, R-Leesville, passed the Louisiana Senate on Thursday by a vote of 27-12—but only after lawmakers adopted amendments restoring some power to a public defender board, which would be reconstituted if the bill passes. “We have continued to engage with all stakeholders in this process, and we listened clearly to their testimony in committee,” Reese told lawmakers. 

FAFSA changes are hurting students
The delayed rollout of a revised Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as FAFSA, means families do not know how much financial aid they will receive to attend college. And legislation making its way through Congress would, among other things, limit the amount of Pell Grant assistance that support educational needs of low-income students. Dr. Xavier Cole, president of Loyola University New Orleans, writing in a guest column for the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate explains how the new FAFSA changes are hindering education equity: 

Federal support doesn’t merely facilitate access to institutions, it ensures that our country’s future leaders come from every corner of society, bringing diverse perspectives and talents to address our most pressing challenges. Federal support also ensures that talented students aren’t limited to one type of university but have access to the educational experience of their choice. Students should have the opportunity to attend an institution like ours, where we are not only preparing students for their careers but shaping ethical and moral leaders for our world.

Concealed gun bill misses mark
Louisiana suffers from some of the highest gun violence rates in the country, including femicides, which is the murder of a woman by an intimate partner. But instead of building on recent bipartisan efforts to curb gun violence, lawmakers are trying to advance legislation that would make it easier for people to carry concealed firearms without permits or training. As the Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose explains, we can’t expect everyone in the state to be a world-class competitive marksman like Sen. Blake Miguez, the bill’s sponsor. 

Unfortunately, the provisions of Senate Bill 1 offers no guidance on how to determine who’s a bad guy or a good guy. Even if they were so bold as to wear “I’m a good guy with a gun” on a T-shirt, there’s no real way of knowing if someone is an actual good guy. And even if they are Mr. Rogers- or Mother Teresa-caliber people, there’s still no way of telling if they’re capable of using their gun safely The same goes for individuals who openly carry firearms, which is legal in Louisiana. Without knowing the intentions or experience of the arms bearer, it’s understandable that one would react with concern and discomfort upon encountering someone on the sidewalks strapped with an AR-15 and ammo belts — even Mr. Rogers.

Number of the Day
$14,060,602 – Amount of money Louisiana taxpayers have paid for wrongful convictions over the past 30 years, which amounts to $3.02 per citizen. Louisiana is in the top 10 for most money paid for wrongful convictions. Legislation by Rep. Julie Emerson would make it harder for people convicted of crimes to prove their innocence. (Source: The National Registry of Exonerations via KTAL)