Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Payday lending bill passes Senate committee with major changes; Gov. Bobby Jindal to announce proposed Affordable Care Act alternative; Faith leaders criticize Louisiana sentencing and prison policies; and Worst places in America for mental health, child poverty and college attendance. 30 percent – The proportion of Louisiana’s population that is enrolled in Medicaid (Source: The Associated Press)

Payday lending bill passes Senate committee with major changes
Legislation designed to protect vulnerable borrowers by regulating predatory payday lenders passed its first committee test on Tuesday, but not before major changes were made. Members of the Senate Judiciary A Committee sent an amended version of Senate Bill 84 by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, to the floor. The bill originally sought to cap payday loan annual interest rates at 36 percent, which is the most effective way to control an industry that currently traps many customers in cycles of debt through short-term loans with APRs of up to 700 percent. After more than three hours of testimony, Sen. Dan Martiny, R-Kenner, tacked on an amendment that removes the rate cap and instead limits borrowers to 10 short-term loans each year. The amendment also calls for a database that would allow the Office of Financial Institutions to track payday lending transactions.

Gov. Bobby Jindal to announce proposed Affordable Care Act alternative
The day after President Barack Obama announced that more than 7 million Americans signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, Gov. Bobby Jindal was preparing to offer a Republican alternative in a breakfast meeting of Washington insiders. As Nola.com writes, Under Jindal’s proposal, states that could lower health care costs would be eligible for $100 billion in grant money, but they would have to guarantee health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, a popular aspect of Obama’s health care law. Fox News published a longer description of Jindal’s proposal online.

While the governor was weighing in on the federal debate, his administration’s 2014-15 health care budget ran into some turbulence at the state House Appropriations Committee, which is reviewing next year’s budget plan. Lawmakers questioned the use of $680 million in piecemeal funding that could jeopardize future services, The Associated Press writes. Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, complained that the governor proposes to pay for recurring health care expenses with one-time revenue sources like the state’s tax amnesty program, while draining a trust fund set aside for long-term care. This, of course, jeopardizes the state’s ability to pay for these programs in future years. Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert agreed that the funding structure presents challenges for her department, but said the administration is trying to solve the problem by drawing down more federal cash.

Faith leaders criticize Louisiana sentencing and prison policies
Roughly 75 faith leaders and their congregants took to the steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday to criticize Louisiana’s sentencing and prison policies, Nola.com reports. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world. At the press conference, PICO Louisiana announced it would present a letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal calling on him to provide needed leadership to fight the state’s high rates of mass incarceration. More than 400 Louisiana residents signed the letter, including faith leaders Pastor Fred Luter, Pastor Debra Morton, Pastor Antoine Barriere and Archbishop Gregory Aymond. The groups are supporting several bills that intend to curb high incarceration rates, including Senate Bill 323 (would reduce penalties for marijuana possession), House Bill 745 (give courts the ability to waive mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent, non-sexual crimes) and House Bill 485, which would bar employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history unless state or federal law specifically requires a criminal background check.

Worst places in America for mental health, child poverty and college attendance
A new county-by-county breakdown of mental health, child poverty, college attendance rates and other data paints a holistic picture of the quality of health in each American county. The data, compiled by researchers from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, is based off 29 quality of life factors reported by County Health Rankings. St. Tammany Parish was listed as the healthiest Louisiana parish, while East Carroll Parish was the least healthy. Overall, parishes in the U.S. Southeastern Region fared worse than others in regards to low numbers of mental health providers, children in poverty and low college attendance rates.

30 percent – The proportion of Louisiana’s population that is enrolled in Medicaid (Source: The Associated Press)