2021 Louisiana legislative session: A return to (somewhat) normal

2021 Louisiana legislative session: A return to (somewhat) normal

This year, federal pandemic relief dollars eased the pressure on the state budget, allowing the Legislature to make important new investments in education, including a much-needed boost to the Go Grants program and the creation of the M.J. Foster Promise Program to provide workforce training for Louisiana adults – two changes that will make college more affordable for low-income students. Legislators also took an important step toward helping women and families afford basic necessities by eliminating the sales tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products, and by passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to encourage businesses to provide better accommodations for workers who are pregnant. But lawmakers also missed an historic opportunity to fix Louisiana’s broken tax structure. LBP’s staff breaks it all down in our 2021 legislative session wrap-up report

Eliminating these tax breaks, particularly the federal income tax deduction, could have resulted in millions of dollars in lost tax revenue that could have been used to increase teacher and support staff salaries, re-invest in higher education, create Louisiana’s first child tax credit and more. Instead, the revenue was used to drastically lower income tax brackets – ultimately trading one tax break for another for wealthy families. The federal income tax deduction for corporations was also eliminated and replaced with new income brackets. This was not ideal, but an amendment to the tax swap reform bill package also tacked on an income tax reduction trigger that could potentially lower rates even further in the future if revenues grow unexpectedly like they did after Hurricane Katrina. None of these bills address the impending 2025 fiscal cliff that will occur when Louisiana’s $0.45 temporary sales tax rolls off the books.

Harmful benefit cuts don’t increase employment
Conservatives across the country have argued that cutting off $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits early – as Louisiana is poised to do at the end of July – would force people to accept low-wage jobs with few or no benefits. They were wrong. The New York Times’ Patricia Cohen reports on a recent job fair in St. Louis that symbolizes the stark differences between what employers and job seekers believe a day’s work is worth.

The labor market’s deeper problem, said Francine D. Blau, an economist at Cornell University, is the proliferation of low-paid jobs with few prospects for advancement and too little income to cover essential expenses like housing, food and health care. The pandemic focused attention on many of these low-wage workers, who showed up to deliver food, clean hospital rooms and operate cash registers. “The pandemic put their lives at risk,” Ms. Blau said, “and we began to wonder if we are adequately remunerating a lot of the core labor we need to function as an economy and society.”

Cassidy goes old school 
Television viewers could have been forgiven if they thought they were looking into the past on Thursday, as they watched the president of the United States with a group of bipartisan lawmakers making a major legislative announcement that wasn’t a Covid-19 relief bill. Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy was there to celebrate the group’s agreement with the White House on a $1.2 trillion package to pay for some of America’s significant infrastructure needs. The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace lays out how Cassidy is going his own way in Washington in the hopes of accomplishing common priorities. 

Cassidy’s own way, it so happens, has led him in the same direction of past Louisiana senators such as Mary Landrieu and John Breaux, Democratic centrists who were often part of small groups trying to find common ground. On infrastructure, he joined with nine other senators to craft the compromise that Biden endorsed last week. Another 11 have agreed in principle, which puts an infrastructure bill in reach of passage despite the Senate’s filibuster rules. Not that it’s a done deal, or even necessarily close.

LSU president sets the record straight on critical race theory 
Critical race theory, which studies how racism is embedded in our nation’s legal system and policy decisions, isn’t the boogeyman it’s made out to be. In fact, when more than 65% of voters overturned Louisina’s Jim-crow era non-unanimous jury law they were addressing exactly the kind of issue that critical race theory helps us to understand: the policies and practices baked into law that disproportionately harm people of color. While many Louisiana legislators remain resistant to acknowledging the effects of racism on the lives of Black Louisianans and other people of color, LSU President William F. Tate IV, has studied the subject in depth. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard has the story

What Tate doesn’t understand is all the talk about “critical race theory,” about which he has written a great deal. Emerging in the 1970s, critical race theory, or CRT, is a scholastic way that academic and legal scholars can analyze the impact of racism over time and how it lives on in the nation’s systems. Think about the common use of nonunanimous jury verdicts before the practice was discovered to have originated a century ago with the specific aim of subjugating Blacks. Tate says critical race theory is not a subject for undergraduate students. “Critical race theory is a framework used in law school and in PhD’s education to better understand how laws are formulated and the influence of law on everyday life,” Tate said.

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Number of the Day
39.6% – Covid positivity rate among 8,211 state inmates who were tested for the virus during March 2020 and January 2021 by the Louisiana Department of Corrections. (Source: Louisiana Legislative Auditor)