As if it wasn’t hard enough under normal circumstances to raise revenue in the Louisiana Legislature, the current session is happening amid record levels of mistrust between the House and Senate – much of it related to the tussle over the annual state construction bill. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte deconstructs the meltdown over House Bill 2, which has carried over from the regular session to the current special session.
Senators accused the House of refusing to negotiate over the bill in the final days and hours of the regular session, after the Senate rejected the House approach aimed at shrinking the size of the budget to more closely match the projects to available money. “The House had the bill for over two months. We had it for one week. And yet they claim they did not have enough time. How much time do they need?” said Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Chairman J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, as it became clear the House wouldn’t vote on the bill in the regular session’s final hours. As they moved into the special session, House leaders sought to try to diffuse the tension. Barras and Abramson met with Senate leaders and said they continue to talk with their counterparts on the other side about how to craft the bill.
The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges has a revealing profile of Ways & Means Chairman Neil Abramson of New Orleans, who has been a focus of Democrats’ ire and has a habit of being absent for critical votes.
During the 2016 regular session, Abramson missed 65 percent of the recorded votes, according to Legiscon, more than any of the other 103 House members who served during the entire session. For comparison’s sake, state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, the other major money panel, has missed 12 percent, the 37th highest number.
Finally, Mark Ballard of The Advocate devotes his Sunday column to the topic, wondering if the dysfunction is due to structural problems that can be fixed. He let the director of a plucky nonprofit group have the last word.
“There’s nothing wrong with the process,” agreed Jan Moller, who heads the Louisiana Budget Project, which advocates for low- and moderate-income people. “But the process always works better when leaders talk to one another. I don’t think the breakdowns we’ve seen the past few sessions are the fault of the process, it’s the fault of the people.”
Roadblocks to reform
The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American-Press has seen more budget crises than just about anyone at the Capitol not named John Alario. And as the second special session drags on, he’s growing increasingly frustrated by the refusal of GOP lawmakers in the House to go along with the governor’s revenue proposals.
Two realities of life in Louisiana have so far been unable to move the anti-tax forces. The state’s poverty rate is 18.3 percent, which ranks 49th highest in the country. The state has 748,000 families living at or below the poverty level based on family income. The rate of poverty also helps explain why Louisiana is the unhealthiest state in the country. The obesity rate here is 34.9 percent, fourth highest. The 306 cardiovascular deaths per 100,000 people is fifth highest. The state has a high percentage of smokers and some 30 percent of adults don’t exercise, the third highest rate of physical inactivity in the country. Both the poverty and health statistics are examples of why providing health care is so important and a costly part of state government’s responsibilities.
The case for managed long-term care
The debate between Louisiana’s powerful nursing home industry and advocates for home and community-based services continues in this morning’s Advocate, where Kelly Viator of the ALS Association pushes back against the industry’s opposition to managed care. Nursing home interests successfully pushed back against legislation by Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger III of New Orleans that called on the state Department of Health to establish managed long-term care as part of the Medicaid program – a move that would have established new incentives for seniors and people with disabilities to get cared for in the least costly and restrictive setting.
Managed-care organizations have the authority to provide people with home and community-based services, which is less expensive than the nursing home alternative. Currently, it costs Medicaid about $25,000 per year to assist someone to live in the community, while it costs about $47,000 per year to serve someone in a nursing home. As stated earlier, implementing managed long-term services and supports can help balance the system, but more importantly, it is a way to provide the services that people want. To paraphrase state Rep. Walt Leger, who spoke in support of House Bill 790: I don’t know anyone who says that they can’t wait to go into a nursing home.
Uniting against payday lending
Efforts by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to crack down on predatory payday lending is finding support among an unusually diverse array of Christian churches. As The New York Times’ Mark Oppenheimer reports, the groups are starting to make progress.
The bureau released a version of their proposed rules more than a year ago, in March 2015. According to Ms. (Molly) Fleming (of PICO), there has been “massive engagement” from the faith community. When Ms. Fleming’s organization informally polled Christians in Missouri, “a majority of every ideological group supported interest rate caps,” she said. “But conservative Republicans supported them even more than moderate Republicans.” Ms. Fleming’s theory is that conservative Republicans are more likely to be conservative Christians, and thus more aware of the Bible’s condemnation of usury — which is explicit in the Old Testament, and often inferred from the New Testament. She noted that in the Roman Catholic tradition, usury is thought to break the commandment “thou shalt not kill” because its impoverishing effects can deprive people of life.
Number of the Day
389 – Number of legal restrictions in Louisiana on employment for ex-felons. The national average is 123. (Source: Alliance for a Just Society via Nola.com/The Times-Picayune)