Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Payday lending bills face first legislative tests; Medicaid expansion would help people with disabilities; Common Core up for debate this week; Federal government focuses on Louisiana for ACA push; and Advocate: TOPS reform inevitable, necessary. $20-$25 million — The cost to Louisiana for scrapping Common Core and adopting different educational standards. (Source:

Payday lending bills face first legislative tests
This is the week when the Legislature gets its first shot at regulating Louisiana’s predatory lending industry — the roughly 1,000 storefronts, heavily concentrated in low-income communities, that offer short-term credit at exorbitant interest rates that trap most customers in a “cycle of debt.” The Advocate’s Mark Ballard sets the scene in his Sunday column by looking at two competing bills — an industry bill (House Bill 766) being pushed by House Commerce Committee Chair Erich Ponti, and a reform bill (Senate Bill 84) by Sens. Ben Nevers and Robert Adley.

While Nevers’ bill would bring fundamental reform to this flawed industry by capping annual interest rates at 36 percent, Ponti’s bill, as currently written, would merely require online payday lenders to register with the state. But Ponti told Ballard that a “compromise” amendment was being negotiated: “On the east side the State Capitol, Ponti predicted his weekend would be spent in negotiation. Ponti’s goal is to insert sweeping compromise language into House Bill 766 and hear the measure on Monday. He’s hoping the industry will agree to a number of concessions, including doing away with late fees and corralling other fees.”

It’s unclear who Ponti may be negotiating with, as it does not appear to include any of the groups — such as AARP Louisiana and Together Louisiana — that have actively advocated for an interest-rate cap. What’s abundantly clear is that any legislation that fails to address the “debt trap” caused by payday loans is unworthy of the “reform” title.

Medicaid expansion would help people with disabilities
The director of the New Orleans-based Advocacy Center — which has done more than any organization to ensure that Louisianans with disabilities have access to appropriate community services — took Gov. Bobby Jindal to task for his recent claim that Medicaid expansion amounts to discrimination against the disabled because it comes with a favorable match rate. Writing in the Shreveport Times, Lois Simpson called the claim “bizarre.” “It is unfortunate that Gov. Jindal is attempting to pit Louisianans with disabilities against poor Louisianans to justify his rejection of what will amount to $1.65 billion in annual federal health care subsidies by 2022. The reality is that Medicaid expansion would be good for all Louisianans — including Louisianans with disabilities — and the governor is presenting a false choice. … More importantly, providing access to health care for the state’s most vulnerable Louisianans will actually prevent disabilities and even save lives by allowing them to receive critical preventive care, such as mammograms and pap smears, and treatment for serious conditions like diabetes.”

Common Core up for debate this week
One of the most divisive issues the Legislature will face this session is up for debate in committee this week. Six bills will be discussed on Wednesday and Thursday around the educational standards and the associated multi-state testing. Supporters applaud the more rigorous standards, and say Louisiana’s lagging public schools are in desperate need of an updated curriculum, not to mention the cost of changing course now. Opponents see Common Core as an unwanted intrusion by the federal government, while others have criticized the lack of funding and training associated with the rollout. But, the debate seems like an all-or-nothing proposition. According to the Associated Press: The fervor of some Common Core opponents, combined with their deep distrust of nearly anything supported by the education department and Superintendent of Education John White seems to rule out space for middle ground. They want Common Core and its associated multi-state testing gone from Louisiana’s public schools, period.

Federal government focuses on Louisiana for ACA push
Today is the last day to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and according to NPR, Louisiana is getting special attention, with a series of special media calls highlighting Louisiana success stories. This is because Louisiana lags behind the national average for signups. Only 9.3 percent of those eligible have signed up, compared to 15 percent nationally. Some attribute this in part due to a slew of negative advertising targeted at unseating Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu. “I think in Louisiana we’re caught up, unfortunately, in a political vortex,” said Shreveport mayor Cedric Glover, a Democrat who also participated in the White House’s Thursday conference call. “A lot of the misinformation … out there for lots of folks in places like Louisiana to consume is actually not based in fact, but is more driven by politics.”

Advocate: TOPS reform inevitable, necessary
As politicians once again failed to pass any meaningful legislation to rein in the increasing expense of TOPS, The Advocate used its editorial page to admonish lawmakers. Costs for the program are estimated to reach $300 million in the coming years, and, the editorial board argues, that far outweighs the program’s current benefits. The program, though, does nothing for universities except substitute a state check for the ones that families would otherwise write. Ironically, legislators are quick to condemn programs for the poor that don’t require “skin in the game” in the form of work requirements; higher-income families would surely put some pressure on children to maintain grades if the family was paying the freight, but today, a large part of college costs are a TOPS freebie.

$20-$25 million — The cost to Louisiana for scrapping Common Core and adopting different educational standards. (Source: