Legislature moves to balance current-year budget
A bill that seeks to fill some holes in the current-year budget cleared its first committee hurdle on Tuesday. The House Appropriations committee approved House Bill 1094, redirecting tax amnesty dollars and other funds to fill shortfalls in K-12 education, TOPS scholarships and prisons. The “supplemental funding” bill passed the committee unopposed with only six weeks left in the fiscal year, according to the Associated Press.
New Census data shows health coverage expansion would help every legislative district
As the House Health and Welfare committee considers bills this morning that would extend Medicaid health coverage to low-income uninsured adults, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows how many uninsured Louisianans in each legislative district would benefit from improved access to preventive care. Expanding coverage would bring billions in new funding to Louisiana and create 15,600 jobs. But most importantly, the evidence is clear that expanding coverage reduces mortality and saves lives, a policy that should be welcome in a pro-life state like Louisiana. To see the number of Louisianans in each House district who would benefit from expanded coverage, click here. To see the numbers by Senate district, click here.
House moves toward dedicating BP oil spill funding
“Economic” damages the state could collect in its suit against BP would be directed to the “rainy day” fund and a state trust fund set aside to boost payments to nursing homes under legislation that cleared a House committee on Tuesday. House Bill 1241 by Rep. Cameron Henry could end up redirecting more than $1 billion in BP settlement funds — around $350 into the Rainy Day Fund and $700 million to the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly. A court date for the lawsuit has not been set and it is not clear how much Louisiana could receive, or when.
Louisiana tapped the Rainy Day Fund multiple times during the recession to cover budget shortfalls. A dispute over the repayment schedule ended up in court and resulted in a negotiated settlement that will require hundreds of millions in state dollars to be repaid — a requirement that HB 1241 would offset.
The nursing home trust fund is on track to be empty by the end of the 2015 fiscal year after several years in which the Legislature and governor have tapped the fund’s principal as a way to avoid rate cuts to nursing homes. Unless new dollars are found, there will likely be a major hole in the Medicaid budget in 2016. But it is unclear what economic damages the nursing home industry faced due to the BP oil spill.
Yesterday, the House also unanimously approved a proposed constitutional amendment (HB 148) by Rep. Simone Champagne that would dedicate different BP oil spill funds received from violation of state and federal environmental laws to the coastal restoration fund. That legislation now heads to the Senate, while HB 1241 heads to the full House.
Criminal justice funding increasingly reliant on fees that pinch the poor
A yearlong investigation by National Public Radio found that states are relying more and more on court fees and other penalties to fund their criminal justice systems, and often jailing those who are too poor to pay. Fees to cover the cost of public defenders (a constitutional right), probation and parole officers, and even charges for “room and board” while in jail have become increasingly common over the last 40 years as incarceration rates skyrocketed and states faced budget shortfalls. When offenders can’t pay, they can be jailed, fined again and charged interest. Ironically, the cost of incarceration can often exceed the amount of the initial court fees that went unpaid. The explosion of fees can turn minor criminal offenses into years-long ordeals of impoverishment, incarceration and diminished job opportunities. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation and charges fees for electronic monitoring, probation, public defenders and room and board, according to NPR’s state-by-state survey.
Senate passes K-12 education funding measure
After the Senate Education committee rejected the funding formula for K-12 students put together by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) earlier this session, a revised formula breezed through committee this week and passed the full Senate on Tuesday, reports the Advocate. The $3.6 billion Minimum Foundation Program formula provides the bulk of support for K-12 students and teachers across Louisiana.
The Senate rejected BESE’s first proposed MFP formula, saying that it would require annual per-student spending increases. For years, legislators included a 2.75 percent annual increase in the formula to keep up with inflation. But per-student funding has been frozen for the last five years, resulting in a de-facto cut in state support for K-12 students. Last year, legislators added a one-time bump of $70 million for K-12 schools to the budget, which has now been incorporated into the MFP formula. Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 55 next heads to the House.