Twenty years ago, Louisiana lawmakers passed legislation that focused on rehabilitating juvenile offenders rather than incarcerating them. But the state abandoned this model in the ensuing decades, culminating in the recent decision to send juvenile offenders to the maximum-security adult prison at Angola. But Louisiana is slated to receive a $250,000 federal grant, which will be administered by Southern University, to revive a more therapeutic approach to juvenile justice. The Advocate’s James Finn reports:  

“A bill means nothing if you aren’t following through with what’s laid out in the legislation,” state Sen. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, said at a ceremony announcing the grant. Duplessis chairs the implementation commission.  “This is a call for a renewed commitment,” Duplessis added. The $250,000 award from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will pay for the commission to hire interns and full-time staff who will plan meetings, handle communications, conduct research, engage the community and create a website, according to federal officials. 

Going quiet during a crisis
The fire stemming from last month’s explosion at the Marathon Petroleum refinery was so big that it could be seen on satellite imagery. Yet no sirens were sounded to alert local residents of the leak of dangerous chemicals. In the days following the explosion, representatives for Marathon, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency refused to answer questions about which chemicals nearby residents were being exposed to. Sara Sneath and Julie Dermansky, writing for the Louisiana Illuminator, report that Marathon’s reticence is reflective of an industry-wide practice of going quiet during a crisis. 

In the absence of information, residents struggle to assess the potential impacts to their health. While Marathon and other chemical companies are required to submit a letter to the state within seven days of an event detailing the root cause and details about how much chemicals were leaked, companies often request an extension for the report, meaning by the time the information does become available many have moved on. … However, without information about which pollutants are being monitored, it’s unclear whether the air is or was truly safe to breathe for those who live and work in the area, said Wilma Subra, a renowned environmental scientist and toxics expert. 

Footnote: State lawmakers blocked a bill during the recently concluded legislative session to require industrial plants to install systems that measure and record pollution and alert nearby residents when leaks occur. 

Another effort to block student loan relief 
Sen. Bill Cassidy is leading the GOP’s effort to block more than 20 million people from lowering their
monthly student loan payments. Cassidy and other congressional Republicans are targeting the new Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, the latest move by President Joe Biden’s administration to offer relief to student-loan borrowers as monthly payments resume in September. So far, more than 4 million borrowers, including nearly 64,000 Louisianans, have signed up for the new plan. State Newsrooms’ Ariana Figueroa reports

“Our top priority is to support borrowers as they prepare to return to repayment with the tools and resources that they need,” Jason Miller, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said on a call with reporters Tuesday. The new income-driven repayment plan calculates payments based on a borrower’s income and family size and forgives balances after a set number of years. The Department of Education has estimated that most borrowers will save about $1,000 per year under the new plan.

How to replace the dwindling gas tax
Most of the money to build and repair Louisiana’s roadways comes from gasoline taxes paid by drivers. But the tax has been stagnant since 1990, and has lost much of its value due to inflation, vehicles becoming more fuel efficient and the advent of electric vehicles. A Louisiana legislative task force charged with recommending ways to tax the increasing numbers of electric vehicles in Louisiana was supposed to have proposals ready for lawmakers to consider for the recently concluded legislative session. But those aren’t expected to be ready until next year. Governing’s Jared Brey provides some recommendations that states can consider to replace their gas tax. 

Advocates and researchers have been talking for years about moving from a gas tax to a user charge based on vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and some states already have pilot VMT programs in place. … “If you look at the numbers over the last two decades, we’ve been losing revenue to fuel-efficiency gains in internal combustion engines,” [Eno Center for Transportation’s Garett] Shrode says. The first state to pilot a VMT fee was Oregon in 2006; that program became permanent in 2015, and allows drivers to opt in and pay a 1.8-cents-per-mile fee and get a credit against gas taxes paid. Lawmakers have discussed making it mandatory in coming years.

Number of the Day
76,752 – Number of Louisiana children that are in danger of losing access to child care programs. The enrollment cliff stems from expiring federal pandemic aid that helped support child-care services over the past two years. (Source: The Century Foundation)