Monday, May 9, 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

Insult to injury for uninsured drivers; Food stamp data to aid Medicaid sign-up; High stakes for higher education and; Energy bust hits downtown Shreveport

Insult to injury for uninsured drivers

Almost two years ago, in the waning minutes of the 2014 legislative session, state Rep. Barry Ivey of Central snuck through legislation that raised $53 million a year by raising the penalties associated with driving without insurance. The fee increase falls mainly on low-income drivers (who are more likely than others to drive without coverage because of the high cost of insurance in Louisiana).


Lo and behold, now a private corporation with ties to the brother of former House Speaker Jim Tucker is backing a bill that would allow it to install cameras in law enforcement vehicles that would scan the license plates of passing motorists and match the information with a state database in an effort to catch uninsured motorists. Fines collected from the scheme would be split between sheriffs, district attorneys and the private company, Louisiana Public Safety Consortium Inc. The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports that the company has been trying since 2011 to pass similar legislation, which was wisely vetoed last year by Gov. Bobby Jindal.


Here’s how the program would work: cameras in the nine parishes, and any others that sign on, would automatically scan license plates of passing vehicles, run the plates through the state database and then match those that belong to uninsured motorists. A parish law enforcement officer would then review the list of violators and determine which ones to forward to the local district attorney, who would decide which ones should receive citation notices. Those who received citations would have the option of paying a fine or challenging the violation in court. Adams said it would differ from the red light cameras by giving greater discretion to law enforcement officials to send a citation and giving drivers a better opportunity to contest it. In committee testimony last year — but not mentioned this year — the district attorneys said they expect to install cameras on overpasses, tunnels and trailers throughout the parishes, to issue even more citations.


Food stamp data to aid Medicaid sign-up

Louisiana will soon be the first state in the nation to use data from food stamp rolls to sign up people for expanded Medicaid coverage. As Kevin Litten of Times-Picayune reports, six other state have tried a similar approach, but Louisiana is in line to be the first state to do so without first getting a federal waiver.


The approach will allow the Department of Health and Hospitals to automatically qualify tens of thousands of people for the state’s expansion of Medicaid, the federally funded health care program for the poor. It will also reduce the workload for DHH and its contractors as they begin signing up as many as 375,000 people over the next several months for the program that’s now being branded as “Healthy Louisiana.” “We don’t have to make an eligibility decision” for food stamp recipients, said Ruth Kennedy, DHH’s former Medicaid director who has shifted into a newly created role that will focus on rolling out Medicaid expansion. “That decision was made by the SNAP agency.”


High stakes for higher education

As the House Appropriations Committee prepares to put its stamp on the state operating budget, The Advocate’s editorial page says the stakes are particularly high for public colleges and universities. They cite a warning from Dan Reneau, the longtime president of Louisiana Tech University who now serves as interim head of the University of Louisiana System. “We need some answers now,” Reneau said recently. “Students are definitely making up their minds now.”


The education marketplace is significantly different from most state agencies. If your budget is cut, as the colleges have been over the past few years under former Gov. Bobby Jindal, there are back-office functions that can be streamlined or other “easy” cuts made. But sooner or later — and later is where we are in Louisiana — the easy cut has been made, and the further reductions involve reducing services and significantly impacting hiring. Add to that the reality of a worldwide competition for talent, and you have a recipe for Louisiana’s long-term economic and social decline. The smart people are mobile and eagerly sought after by other states and their institutions. The voice of experience of Reneau ought to be heeded by lawmakers. Answers, one way or another, ought to be generated by the state’s leadership.


Energy bust hits downtown Shreveport

The decline in oil and gas prices – and subsequent slowdown in drilling activity in the Haynesville Shale – has had ripple effects in downtown Shreveport. Just a few years ago, office space was at a premium in that city. But these days there are plenty of vacancies, according to the Shreveport Times’ Kevin Connelly.


The downturn had direct effects on Shreveport, with more than a few companies setting up shop in downtown office space. Ever since then, consolidation has run rampant leaving plenty of office buildings void of tenants. Swaine believes some of the companies are only downsizing — not completely leavin — but it’s still led to more vacancies than normal. Oil service giants Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes made significant layoffs last year. Petroquest and Stone Energy cut operating budgets. Enable Midstream cut more than 100 jobs from its Shreveport operation.


Number of the Day
3,158 – Number of individual income tax returns filed in Louisiana from the 2014 tax year that reported federal adjusted gross income above $1 million. The average return in this category reported $2.7 million in taxable income. (Source: Louisiana Department of Revenue)