In 2023 Gov. John Bel Edwards and the legislature had record amounts of revenue – $2.2 billion –  available to address the state’s many needs. But legislative leadership, with the blessing of the governor, steered 20% of these extra dollars to local projects that don’t have a statewide impact. The decisions about where to distribute the money were mostly made behind closed doors in the chaotic final hours of the legislative session. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports that legislative leaders saved the biggest spoils for their own districts.  

The $454 million in discretionary funding would average out to approximately $99 per resident statewide if it was allocated evenly.  In the five parishes where the legislature’s fiscal leaders reside, the average came to $145 per resident according to an analysis by the Louisiana Illuminator. … They [legislators] used $190.6 million for their own pet projects, which mostly benefit local governments and nonprofits that aren’t the state government’s prime concern.  Lawmakers also put $263.5 million in cash into the “miscellaneous non-state” portion of the state construction plan. This money also went to build projects for local governments, private organizations and other entities that are, by definition, not the state’s priority. 

“Get loud” on Louisiana’s infant mortality crisis
Louisiana bills itself as a pro-life state, but state politicians have collectively done a shamefully bad job of addressing the high number of preventable infant deaths each year. While new laws by Sen. Regina Barrow and Rep. Matthew Willard added doula and midwife coverage, there hasn’t been a full commitment from the entire legislature to invest the time, money and resources needed to address Louisiana’s infant mortality crisis. As Gambit’s Clancy Dubos explains, lawmakers need to be held accountable on how they will address the high number of preventable infant deaths in our state. 

(V)oters should demand candidates offer additional, specific solutions to Louisiana’s infant mortality crisis. One obvious solution: increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for pregnancy-related health care. Far too many women in Louisiana — up to a third — live in parishes with no OB-GYN services because Medicaid reimbursement rates are too low. That kind of change will cost money, but it will save lives. Which is why voters need to get loud — now and after the elections.

Allowing polluters to regulate themselves
Residents of a small, mostly Black community outside of Colfax, known as The Rock, say they have encountered serious health issues because of a toxic burn pit located less than two miles away from their homes. Some hope for this community came when the state Department of Environmental Quality approved a permit that would end open burning at the Clean Harbors facility. But last week the Central Louisiana Coalition for a Clean and Healthy Environment sued DEQ over a loophole that allows the company to propose its own air emission standards. The Advocate’s David J. Mitchell reports

That option could kick into gear after Clean Harbors builds the unit and conducts a required air emissions test to see how much pollution the unit produces and if it meets federal limits, the permit says. If Clean Harbors finds its new system can’t meet the initial air limits called for in the permit, Clean Harbors can put forward new ones, the permit says. The community group and its attorneys contend the provision is just asking for Clean Harbors to duck the federal air limits.  “This loophole allows (and incentivizes) Clean Harbors to design and build the system to evade (federal air) standards and protections necessary to safeguard human health and the environment,” the group wrote in the lawsuit. 

Prioritizing education in jails reduces recidivism 
A new program in Michigan is being championed as a national model for reducing jail violence and inmate recidivism. IGNITE, which stands for Inmate Growth Nationally and Internationally Through Education, offers inmates education classes that go far beyond what is normally offered in jails. Route Fifty’s Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene explain the benefits of the program and how it’s gaining support from the National Sheriff Association. 

IGNITE offers a variety of courses and seminars taught in-person and online, with solid support coming from businesses and community residents. For example, a “labor partner” donated $5,000 for a virtual reality platform that has provided welding instruction for inmates. The county’s Mt. Morris Consolidated School District sends instructors to help inmates graduate with a full high school diploma. Inmates can earn certification for work in food services, and a class has recently been added for barbering. A social work course, provided by the University of Michigan, combines inmates with undergraduate students, who come to the jail for in-person sessions. In addition, other classes focus on mental health and various life skills such as financial literacy or parenting.

Number of the Day
415 – Number of U.S. counties with persistent poverty, defined as areas where 20% of the population has lived below the federally defined poverty level for 30 years. The South is home to 81% of these counties.(Source: Economic Innovation Group)