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Political courage needed to reduce superfluous judgeships

The Louisiana judiciary went into full bunker job protection mode at the latest meeting of the body that advises on judicial policy, to the detriment of the citizenry.

The Judicial Council of the Supreme Court was nonplussed, to say the least, at a report issued last month by the New Orleans-based Bureau of Government Research that determined the state’s judiciary as a whole, but particularly in New Orleans, was overstaffed. The Council, which has a majority of judges sitting on it with the remainder of the 17 members from the legal community save a lone citizen representative, spent considerable meeting time criticizing the report.

Perhaps what really irritated them was in its calculations the BGR used the Council’s own data and formula for deriving the ideal workload in demonstrating at the statewide level (using only the ten largest districts) there were about a quarter more judges than needed (excluding Orleans) and in New Orleans a stunning double-and-a-quarter times needed. This led during the meeting to a series of attacks on the study’s methodology, the irony being the Council ended up criticizing its own methodology. It even led to one member to ask for redoing the formula – precisely a recommendation in the BGR report which noted that many states followed the National Center for State Courts' that used 25 base types instead of nine and to use time studies rather than raw time amounts.


LA protects rule of law against inconvenienced few

The federal government’s effort to paint stripes on the same-sex pair horse and calling it a marriage zebra in Louisiana produces both a challenge to the rule of law and emotionally hyperactive invective bereft of intellect.

In recent months, courtesy of its interpretation of what is permitted by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this past summer, the Pres. Barack Obama Administration has instructed that the federal government recognize same-sex marriages wherever possible. However, only a handful of states recognize them for their legal purposes, and like almost all that don’t Louisiana has written into its Constitution that marriage occurs only between a single man and single woman. Further, in terms of constitutional law, the federal government cannot define marriage, only the states may and for its purposes the federal government only can accept a license from a state as proof of marriage for its administrative purposes.

So, the ruling allowed the federal government to claim that (given the privileges and immunities clause of the Constitution) a marriage in one place is good in any place for its administrative purposes, but cannot force that on states that do not recognize same-sex marriages for their administrative purposes. Practically speaking, this has caused at least two complications for Louisiana.


Study exposes dishonest, disingenuous federal suit

What we must understand is that the ideological imperative trumps all other considerations in Pres. Barack Obama’s Department of Justice’s lawsuit to limit Louisiana’s scholarship voucher program, despite the demonstration that overall this produces all benefits and no costs to the students involved.

Last week, a report produced by two doctoral students studying at the leading academic center for educational policy noted that, contrary to DOJ’s assertion that Louisiana’s program, which allows students at schools rated mediocre and below to receive state subsidies to attend another, almost all private and religious-affiliated, school, had the effect of increasing segregation by race in public and private schools, when in fact it had the opposite effect for districts under desegregation orders. DOJ sued the state in August, claiming that because the program could tilt the racial balance of a public school more towards the majority race in it and/or do the same to private schools that received such students, this could violate desegregation court orders that should mandate court review of such actions.

In a sense, both the research and DOJ positions are valid. The researchers, who used the data from a substantial portion of the voucher population created by passage of a law that took effect last school year, saw reduced segregation on the basis of schools matching their communities’ racial distributions. They discovered that, in the aggregate, "transfers made possible by the school-choice program overwhelmingly improve integration in the public schools… bringing the racial composition of the schools closer to that of the broader communities in which they are located.” They also note that “[i]n the school districts under federal desegregation orders, which are the focus of the Department of Justice litigation, L[ouisiana] S[cholarship] P[rogram] transfers improve integration in both the sending schools and the private schools that participating students attend.”


Pay decision may set precedent for efficient bureaucracy

The silver lining for Gov. Bobby Jindal having the misfortune to govern through a period where subpar policy decisions at the national level have caused economic malaise that eroded Louisiana’s finances is that he could use this to spur policy innovation to make state government more efficient. Having worked out this way in health care and corrections, to name two major areas, this may be extended to classified personnel pay policy.

In the past few years, Jindal has spurred changes to better align health care resources to needs, to make Medicaid work better, and to get the state largely out of the business of direct health care provision, savings hundreds of millions of dollars annually as a result. More has been saved by introducing operating efficiencies into the prison system through technology and judicious closings. While it may be that the atmosphere of fiscal difficulties prodded him to seek these aggressively, that he did so indicates his natural inclinations led him.

But one area where he found himself mostly unsuccessful was in civil service pay reform, especially in tying pay to performance of classified employees. His most far-reaching proposals ended up getting watered down by the State Civil Service Commission, which would have included such a measure. Presently, the norm for departments in giving pay raises of 4 percent to whomever does not get rated as “unsatisfactory” – which ends up, in a figure hardly changed over the years even after the most recent reforms – at 1 percent or less of the total.


Political machinations, unfairness justify end to Tulane program

It’s clear the time has come to end the unique-in-academia arrangement where government officials have the power to award scholarships to a private university in Louisiana.

Starting with a 19th-century arrangement, its current version allows every legislator one and the mayor of New Orleans five annual scholarships to be awarded to Louisiana high school graduates who meet Tulane university’s entry requirements and graduation in the top quarter of their class and an American College Test combined score of 28 or a Scholastic Aptitude Test combined score of 1870 or for continuing students maintenance of a 2.3 grade point average. Until two decades ago, awarding had no academic requirements at all.

But after a spate of unfavorable publicity where family members of politically-connected individuals, if not family members of legislators themselves, received these free rides, the standards for the little-known program got established. Still, it seems not much has changed.