As next month’s state elections near, voters will begin to focus on issues that the state legislature will face in the next four years. Many problems that impact poor people should be considered:
EDUCATION CONCERNS: Several educational issues need consideration:
–Teacher Raises. There should be continued emphasis to raise the pay of our teachers and school personnel. This year, there was a raise given for the first time, but it was small and hardly noticeable. Additional incremental help is needed for our education professionals.
–Tops Tech Diplomas: The state is increasing its emphasis on issuing watered down high school diplomas called “Tops Tech Diplomas.” These diplomas are academically worth less than a Hiset or GED diploma. Many poor children are being pushed into this track, and away from course work that requires higher-level thinking. For minorities and the poor, its expansion will ultimately create a generation of laborers and very few thinkers. The program needs to be revisited and revised.
–Teacher Contracts. Present law allows school districts to calculate teacher pay based on nine months or 182 days of work. However, the law does not prevent districts from stretching the 182 days over ten months. Many districts now require teachers to report in August and a few in July for the same nine-month salary. The law should require districts to calculate 182-day salary within a nine-month period, and any days worked beyond nine months should be paid in addition to the nine-month contract.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE: There are several criminal justice reforms needed:
–Marijuana be decriminalized: In spite of the hype, studies have shown that recreational use of marijuana is not a public threat. At worst, it is one the same level as alcohol. However, thousands of people are jailed and fined each year for mere possession of pot. It is not reasonable for a citizen to spend six months in jail for possession of fewer than three teaspoons of marijuana. Fourth offense offenders receive 20 years in prison and $5,000 in fines. Those wealthy enough to afford attorneys skip these penalties, the poor end up in jail. Marijuana should be decriminalized but regulated, just like alcohol. The arrest records of any person charged with possession of marijuana should be expunged retroactively.
–Speedy Trials: While the constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, that is not happening for many poor people. Many are held in prison for years, before their trials. Those who are found not guilty are irreparably damaged in the process. The law should require that non-violent offenders, being held in prison, be brought to trial within a year or released on their own recognizance pending trial.
—Recidivism Prevention: After many years of imprisonment many ex-convicts relapse and are reincarcerated. The state should increase funding for grants and programs that help ex-convicts assimilate into the general society assisting them with housing, employment, and emotional support. In addition, there should be tax incentives to businesses that take a chance and hire ex-offenders and their voting rights should be restored when they walk out of the prison door.
HEALTH CARE: The state should take every step possible to insure that the poor have access to adequate health care beyond the emergency room.
There are other concerns as well, involving economic development, job training, agriculture, and other issues that impact the poor. However, poor people who are attending forums or get a chance to ask questions of candidates for governor or the legislature can use these as talking points, from the perspective of the poor.
Don’t be surprised if those who are not poor think these are illogical and reasonable concerns.