Legislature shortchanges local government

Legislature shortchanges local government

The Covid-19 economic downturn has taken a steep toll on local government finances, especially in tourism-dependent New Orleans. The federal CARES Act was designed to provide some relief by steering aid to states that could then be used to reimburse local authorities for virus-related expenses. But Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate columnist Will Sutton that $300 million in reimbursement requests will go unfilled. That’s the same amount that the Legislature took away from local governments in the final hours of the regular legislative session to give to a poorly run small-business relief program. 

When (New Orleans Mayor LaToya) Cantrell visited the Appropriations Committee of the Louisiana House in October, she asked for support to get more federal funds to help the city close its budget gap. Rather than focus on the request, several legislators challenged Cantrell on her COVID-19 restriction decisions. That misplaced line of questioning wasn’t helpful. The mayor was seeking support to help the parish that is the largest economic driver in the state, and the hearing wasn’t the time to debate coronavirus restrictions. If the legislators wanted to be helpful, the right focus would’ve been on balancing how to best aid a parish like Orleans with COVID-19-specific expenses as officials worked aggressively to bend the curve, reduce hospitalizations and limit community spread. Unfortunately, the formula created to determine federal funding to help locals didn’t take that in account. 

 

Standards of Care
Many Louisiana nursing homes were poorly prepared for the coronavirus pandemic, failed to adequately respond once Covid-19 emerged among their residents and were potentially negligent in their care of patients, according to a new investigative report. In the first of a three-part series, WWL-TV’s Katie Moore takes us into Forest Manor in Covington, site of one of the deadliest Covid-19 outbreaks in Louisiana. 

In the early days, the nurse said administrators isolated COVID-positive patients in their rooms. Many of them happened to be in the group of rooms in the wing of the facility called the 500 hall. “At the beginning, they didn’t even put up a wall to say our COVID patients are going here. They basically started throwing everybody into 500 without moving the people who were not COVID positive. So now we’re spreading it and potentially getting everybody sick,” the nurse said.

Experts and advocates for nursing homes say the state could have done more to prevent these deaths. 

“The state should have put the state inspectors into these homes that have the virus and have them there all of the time during the day to make sure that they have enough staff, they have enough PPE and they’re practicing safe practices. So, a lot of states have not done that,” [ University of San Francisco Nursing Professor Charlene] Harrington said. … “The state needs to be more forceful, there needs to be more enforcement, more accountability, and families should be questioning why these nursing homes still have licenses,” said AARP Louisiana State Director Denise Bottcher.

 

SCOTUS hears opening arguments to overturn ACA
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in a lawsuit from a group of state attorneys general, including Louisiana’s Jeff Landry, seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act. If successful, the suit would take away health insurance and coverage protections for people with preexisting conditions from millions of Americans. The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes explains where the the ACA stands heading into today’s hearing: 

It faces a far more conservative court Tuesday. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in the majority during both previous cases, has been replaced by President Trump’s nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Scalia protege who criticized those decisions when she was a law professor. Democrats who challenged Barrett’s nomination turned her confirmation hearings last month into a tutorial about the horrors they say await Americans who could lose their health care with an adverse ruling in the case, California v. Texas. But advocates across the ideological spectrum, even those who opposed the Affordable Care Act in the past, say this is the law’s weakest challenge and the court will have to agree to three contested issues to reach Trump’s goal of sinking the program.

 

State task force to tackle climate change
Louisiana politicians have spent decades ignoring – or downplaying – the effects of human activity on the world’s warming climate, even though the Pelican State’s sinking coastline makes us particularly vulnerable. On Monday, 23 people representing business, politics, environmental groups and various government entities gathered at the state Capitol to begin discussing how Louisiana can meet a “net zero” emissions goal by 2050.  Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Mark Schliefstein was there: 

Virginia Burkett, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist who helped write portions of three United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, and who serves as a non-voting science advisor on the task force, outlined the world’s climate risks for the task force. … The key human factor is greenhouse gases, she said — mostly carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production and flaring of gases by industry that has caused the world’s average temperatures to reach record levels. Atmospheric carbon dioxide, she said, is at its highest level in at least 3 million years.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, who created the task force, said Louisiana is in a good position to capitalize on the move toward renewable energy.

“This is not some ‘pie in the sky’ promise of economic opportunity. We already have an emerging offshore wind energy industry, and Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry has played a key role in the early development of U.S. offshore wind energy in the Atlantic Ocean,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards. … A single 600 MW wind farm in the Gulf would produce an estimated 4,400 jobs and $445 million in economic output during the construction phase, based upon modeling the by U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Operations would contribute 150 new permanent jobs, along with an estimated $14 million in annual spending.

 

Number of the Day
4,400 – Number of jobs a single 600 MW wind farm in the Gulf of Mexico would produce during the construction phase. It would also produce $445 million in economic activity during this phase, and 150 new, permanent jobs. (Source: U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory via 4C Offshore).