The Legislature in limbo

The Legislature in limbo

Louisiana legislators – at least some of them – will return briefly to the Capitol this week. But their only task will be to read newly filed bills into the record, which must be done by an April 1 constitutional deadline. The harder task will come when the session reconvenes, and lawmakers have to rewrite a state budget that lies in shambles because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports

How do you forecast the impacts of a global virus outbreak, the shutdown of large sectors of the national economy and an international feud further driving down oil prices? Economists for the Edwards administration and the Legislature are working to model possible implications, and their financial analysts are combing through congressional aid bills to determine where federal assistance may fill some gaps. Louisiana’s state income forecasting panel is scheduled to meet April 8.

The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports that some legislators – including Sen. Barrow Peacock of Shreveport – haven’t given up on their dreams of tilting the civil justice system away from people who are injured in auto accidents. But others think “tort reform” will have to wait until next year. 

(Rep. Kirk Talbot) believes enough legislative time and will is available for tort reform but acknowledges that his colleagues’ minds are now elsewhere. “Nobody woke up and said, ‘Maybe my car insurance isn’t that expensive.’ But obviously (COVID-19) is sucking a lot of air out of the room,” Talbot said.

The Public Affairs Research Council, in a commentary published over the weekend, expects that at least one special session will be needed to deal with the challenges presented by the virus. It recommends that legislators cast aside all but the most critical tasks, such as passing a budget and renewing state agencies that are due to sunset on July 1. 

The high priorities must also include immediate key steps to help the state and its citizens deal with the crisis and recovery, but legislative leadership will need to keep a firm grip on the most actionable and impactful legislative means to do this while putting aside anything that can wait.  


When ‘mandatory reporters’ stay home
Children are at greater risk of being abused or neglected as their parents and caregivers face increased financial stress due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Advocate’s Jacqueline DeRobertis reports that the problem is compounded by the fact that children are cut off from teachers, coaches and other adults who are required by law to report if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected. 

A similar pattern unfolds during the summer months when children are out of class, isolated from concerned adults who might notice bruises or malnourishment. But when disasters strike, from floods to pandemics, the stakes are higher for children in potentially abusive situations, officials say. “Whenever someone is under stress of not being able to meet the needs of their children and their family, the fear sets in,” (Rhenda) Hodnett (assistant secretary for child welfare at the Department of Children and Family Services) said. “Patience gets low. People just get overwhelmed. In times of stress, it’s always a concern, and children can be at higher risk.”


Front-line workers speak out
As coronavirus cases soar in Louisiana, health-care workers on the front lines are speaking out about growing equipment shortages in local hospitals and their fears of carrying the virus home to their families. The Times-Picayune | Advocate’s Andrea Gallo, Blake Paterson and Matt Sledge spoke to nurses from New Orleans to Shreveport, who described an increasing sense of desperation as they try to do their jobs without becoming infected. 

One New Orleans ER nurse with children at home described an elaborate routine that he still fears is insufficient. When he gets home from work, he strips to his boxers outside of his house, throws his scrubs in the washing machine with color-safe bleach and then takes a hot shower. As long as he and his co-workers are asymptomatic, they can keep coming to work, where he has used the same N95 mask for two weeks.


Feeding kids in a pandemic
A new partnership between Baton Rouge-area restaurants and a nonprofit organization is helping to fill the gap that was created when several school districts backed off from providing free meals to students displaced by the coronavirus school closures. The Advocate’s Charles Lussier reports that the program is  feeding children while also providing much-needed income for restaurants. 

To get meals to these children after Gov. John Bel Edwards’ March 13 order closing all Louisiana public schools was a daunting task. “These kids are going home, they don’t have food — or they have something cheap and unhealthy,” said Emily Chatelain, a consultant to school meal programs across the country who founded the nonprofit Three O’Clock Project in 2016 to serve nutritious meals to children after school and during the summers.


Number of the Day
$0 – Amount that New Orleans and other Louisiana cities will receive in direct relief from the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act signed into law last week. The state will get an estimated $1.8 billion to help deal with virus-related budget problems. But only cities with populations above 500,000 are eligible for direct grants. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).