A special session cometh

A special session cometh

Political debates over the state’s budget priorities and Louisiana’s civil justice system will continue through June, with the Legislature calling itself into a 30-day special session starting almost immediately after the current session wraps up at 6 p.m. on June 1. It’s only the second time in state history that lawmakers have called themselves into session. The Advocate | Times-Picayune’s Tyler Bridges and Sam Karlin report that the session will focus on the priorities of large corporations that carry vast influence at the Capitol. 

Besides the tort issues sought by the business lobby, (Senate President Page) Cortez and (House Speaker Clay) Schexnayder also want lawmakers to consider revising the generous tax breaks for companies under the Industrial Tax Exemption Program and setting up the rules for people to begin betting on so-called fantasy sports games.

Bridges notes that a special session could also give legislators a shot at overriding potential vetoes by Gov. John Bel Edwards on corporate tax cut bills that have found favor among conservatives. 

House Concurrent Resolution 66 by state Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, would temporarily suspend a tax paid by businesses known as the state franchise tax. The one-year suspension would cost $9 million. HCR66 passed the House with 72 votes, or two more than needed for an override. The full Senate is scheduled to take it up Monday.

But The Advocate | Times-Picayune editorial board writes that the state’s budget crisis makes this the worst time for new tax cuts. 

The most practical advice that legislators can get was provided by Jan Moller, head of the Louisiana Budget Project: If you’re in a hole, stop digging. He spoke about the tax-cut bills at the State Capitol, including a multiyear cut in the oil severance tax, but it’s good advice in general. Louisiana’s lawmakers have shown some signs of heeding Moller’s guidance. The House Ways and Means Committee waved through the big oil and gas bills but balked at another measure to suspend all franchise taxes, once it became clear that the price tag would have been in the hundreds of millions.


Coronavirus devastates black New Orleans
The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on Louisiana’s economy as a whole, but the biggest financial shocks have been felt by people of color. That’s particularly true in the New Orleans region, where economic trouble has hit musicians and hospitality workers especially hard. The Wall Street Journal’s David Benoit reports that the pandemic’s effects on health and wealth are bigger than the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Economists and civic leaders are warning that the deaths are only the start of what could be a devastating setback to black communities in America. Black workers are losing jobs at elevated rates and are less prepared for the shock. Many black-owned small businesses have been unable to access a government-supported loan program meant to keep them afloat. “Even if you have been able to get ahead, these disasters set us back,” said Ashley Shelton, executive director of the Power Coalition, a Louisiana advocacy group. “We are in the quiet time before the storm.” A recent study showed how little they have to fall back on. Black families have a median of only 32 cents in available cash or other liquid assets for every $1 a white family has, according to the JPMorgan Chase Institute, the bank’s internal think tank. Black families in New Orleans had only 27 cents.


Nursing homes struggle with Covid
Louisiana’s nursing homes are among the most powerful political forces in state government. And they are charged with the care of some of our most vulnerable residents. They’ve also been among the institutions hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, accounting for more than 40% of the state’s deaths so far. The Advocate | Times-Picayune’s John Simerman reports that the industry’s travails have brought new energy to the effort to shift resources from institutional care to live-at-home options. 

New Orleans developer Pres Kabacoff and David Marcello, executive director of Tulane University’s Public Law Center, have been lobbying for bipartisan congressional support to boost funding for at-home services. “This is not a problem that is unique to red or blue states,” Marcello said. “The COVID-19 pandemic makes a compelling case that for their own safety, people must stay at home. We know by the death toll in nursing homes that ‘stay at home’ is literally a matter of life and death. We’ve got an obligation to make it possible.” In the meantime, the nursing home industry is pushing its own slate of stimulus needs. 

The tug-of-war between nursing homes and community care advocates in Louisiana has been raging for decades. Simerman interviews 99-year-old Gladys LeBreton, who survived a battle with coronavirus to talk about her clashes with industry lobbyists in the 1980s.  


Hunger is stalking families
The recent spike in unemployment has provided clear evidence of how many Louisiana families were just one or two missing paychecks away from being financially destitute. Nearly 2 in 5 Louisiana children are experiencing hunger. Food banks are overwhelmed, and the demand is expected to rise in the weeks ahead as schools remain closed and summer camps are canceled. Foundation executives John Hawie and Michael Tipton write in The Advocate | The Times-Picayune that donations are needed: 

Feeding Louisiana member food banks are working to support those in need and are finding new ways to provide nutritious meals to children and families despite the lack of programming occurring through the summer months. “Every dollar counts in the fight against hunger. In fact, every dollar donated to Feeding Louisiana provides four meals to those in need,” shared Korey Patty, Executive Director of Feeding Louisiana.

While food banks and pantries are essential sources of emergency support, charity alone cannot meet the need Louisianans are facing, and SNAP remains our most powerful tool to fight hunger.


Number of the Day
11,000+ – Length of the waiting list to receive a Community Choice waiver that allows people to receive at-home care as an alternative to nursing homes. (Source: AARP Louisiana via The Advocate | Times-Picayune)