Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday, May 15, 2015

State “finds” more money; Labor committee decides workers don’t need paid sick leave; Parliamentary procedure keeps pension bump alive; and Save the health clinics!

 

State “finds” more money

The Revenue Estimating Conference – the four-member panel that determines how much money the state can spend each year – met on Thursday and delivered some good news. They recognized $99 million in additional revenue for the current budget year, which will be used to cover a shortfall in the TOPS program and to pay for increased K-12 enrollment. The panel also upped next year’s estimate by $79 million. Every little bit helps, but it’s not nearly enough to fill the $1.6 billion hole in next year’s budget. And in a twist, a big chunk of that money came from a previously somewhat obscure insurance fund. Mark Ballard with the Advocate has the details:

 

Most of the new money for this year came from an accumulation of assessments that were levied against insurance companies to cover claims of customers of companies that had gone out of business. Different laws and fewer insurance company bankruptcies than a couple decades ago have left unused money in the Louisiana Insurance Guaranty Association fund. The money is there and ready to use. But to get at the money — about $74 million — legislation will need to be filed, approved and signed by the governor. That process will begin Tuesday when the LIGA board votes on the issue. Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon assured the panel that the LIGA board would approve the legislation, and Alario said the legislation would be quickly passed.

 

Labor committee decides workers don’t need paid sick leave
A contentious debate erupted in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations committee on Thursday over a proposal to guarantee paid sick leave to Louisiana workers. Brian Slodysko with the Associated Press reports on a particularly tense exchange between Sen. Ed Murray and two business lobbyists:

 

During the meeting, lobbyists from the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business both said their organizations were opposed to the paid sick leave bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans. Dawn Starns, Louisiana state director of NFIB, and Renee Amar, with LABI, both said they opposed Peterson’s bill because they think it would be burdensome for businesses. “They might reduce (employee) benefits, they might reduce (employee) hours and they obviously might increase costs to their customer,” said Amar. Sen. Ed Murray interrupted the two and asked if they received paid sick leave – Amar said she thought so, Starns acknowledged she did – leading to a testy exchange. “The companies you represent are opposed to your own policy,” said Murray, D-New Orleans. “The hypocrisy up here never ceases to amaze me.”

 

The bill would have guaranteed workers an hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked, up to a 52 hour cap. While paid sick time is a given for most white-collar professionals (apparently, including lobbyists), it is a rare luxury for most low-income workers–those most in need of the pay and least able to take the time off. Bill sponsor Sen. Karen Carter Peterson estimated 700,000 working Louisianans have no sick leave protection. The bill failed on a 3-1 vote.

 

Parliamentary procedure keeps pension bump alive
A move by Rep. Sam Jones to give 100,000 retirees a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment, equivalent to about $30 a month, got out of committee after some parliamentary wrangling, the Advocate reports:

 

The House Retirement Committee on Thursday complied with a directive to release legislation it had bottled up on a 6-6 tie vote. The full House voted 64-25 last week to order the committee to advance the bill…The committee sent House Bill 42 sponsored by state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, to the House floor with an unfavorable report. The parliamentary maneuver means that Jones will have to seek House approval to keep it alive and move it on to the agenda for later debate.

 

The bill has 73 co-sponsors, a welcome sign for retirees who have had their incomes eaten into by higher health care costs imposed by the Office of Group Benefits.

 

Save the health clinics!
It was a sharp elbow to the New Orleans area –and 57,000 uninsured patients in four parishes–when Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget was unveiled without the funding needed to keep open a network of safety-net clinics set up after Hurricane Katrina. But on Monday, New Orleans Rep. Helena Moreno convinced the House Appropriations Committee to restore the funding, a move lauded by the editorial board of the Times-Picayune / nola.com:

 

The clinics have been one of the most positive changes since the disaster, and it would be a shame for the state to undermine those successes…Kristy Nichols, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top administrator, acknowledged the clinics’ benefits when she presented the administration’s proposed budget to legislators. “I know these clinics provide valuable services,” she said. The primary care clinics do a great deal of good with the relatively small amount of money the state has been providing. Pushing uninsured patients to ERs also would be costly for hospitals, which are already stressed by the cost of care they are providing for uninsured patients.

 

Number of the Day

700,000 – Estimated number of working Louisianans who have no paid sick leave (Source: Associated Press)