A plan for rural Louisiana

A plan for rural Louisiana

Louisiana’s rural towns have been shrinking in recent decades, but even despite significant population shifts to cities and suburbs, about 750,000 Louisianans live in rural areas. Today, those communities face widespread poverty and significant obstacles to opportunity, including limitations on high-speed internet connectivity, failing drinking water systems and limited access to quality health care and education. As The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports, a new report from Governor John Bel Edwards’ Advisory Council on Rural Revitalization highlights sorely needed investments in Louisiana’s rural communities: 

Headed by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ former chief of staff, Ben Nevers, the 37-member Advisory Council on Rural Revitalization took a deep dive into the issues holding back the state’s small towns and rural areas. The council focused on identifying the needs and suggesting solutions for issues like economic development, education, healthcare, infrastructure, clean water, agriculture and forestry, workforce development, broadband, and financing for affordable housing and business opportunities.

Confinement, not care, at Pine Prairie
As other economic opportunities have sputtered out, many of Louisiana’s rural communities have come increasingly to depend on jails and prisons as economic engines. With criminal justice reform slowly lowering prison populations, those same facilities took on new roles warehousing detained immigrants, often in deplorable conditions. Now, as the Lens’s Nicholas Chrastil reports, more than a dozen civil rights groups have brought a complaint against the Pine Prairie Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center, alleging pervasive violations of ICE policy, including uses of solitary confinement that they describe as “tantamount to torture”:

(A)t Pine Prairie, the complaint alleges that people who contracted COVID-19 were frequently placed in solitary confinement, where they were denied access to any recreational materials or activities. In addition, despite having COVID-19, they received sparse medical attention. “We had several clients who had things like asthma or kidney issues who were being placed in solitary while they had COVID-19 — actively experiencing shortness of breath, blurry vision, migraine headaches,” said Sarah Decker with RFK Human Rights, in an interview with The Lens. “They’re locked in these cells where, you know, there’s a little food slot. And that’s the medical visit that they receive every day. Nobody’s checking their pulse or their oxygen levels.”

Cassidy in the infrastructure conversation
Negotiations over a significant new federal investment in the nation’s infrastructure have moved slowly in Washington amid disagreement over the size and scope of an infrastructure package – and over what counts as infrastructure. Recently, a bipartisan group of 10 senators that includes Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, have made progress toward a proposal that is likely to fall far short of the package the White House initially floated.  The Lafayette Daily Advertiser’s Greg Hilburn reports

“We’re in the middle of it,” Cassidy said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with USA Today Network. “We’re trying to make sure what works for the nation also works for Louisiana.” What’s at stake in Louisiana? In addition to funding for hard infrastructure projects, Cassidy said the package could also include $47 billion in an environmental resiliency fund for coastal restoration and Cassidy’s own legislation for incentives to develop carbon dioxide sequestration pipelines.

While senators close to the negotiations have expressed optimism, the proposal may face headwinds in Congress. Politico’s Sam Mintz explains:

No matter what is in the agreement, it is likely to face challenges from the flanks of both parties. Progressives in particular have been increasingly alarmed about the state of talks, fearing that climate goals will be watered down. They have been pushing in recent weeks to ensure that any potential bipartisan bill would be followed by a larger reconciliation package where broader progressive goals can be advanced. “We have made our position clear, that the possibility of a bipartisan deal depends on a commitment to move forward on reconciliation,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) earlier this week.

An anti-trans, pro-gun veto session?
As he had promised to do, Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed legislation that mandates discrimination against trans girls in school sports. He also is expected to reject a measure that would end the requirement that Louisianans receive some training in safe firearm use before being allowed to carry concealed weapons. Some Louisiana legislators – including House Speaker Clay Schexnayder – are calling for an override of the governor’s vetoes. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte has the story

Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder announced Tuesday night that he wants such a mid-July session, giving the possibility of the historic gathering some momentum. But GOP Senate President Page Cortez hasn’t taken a public position, which could put the chances in doubt. It only takes a majority written vote of lawmakers in either the House or Senate to scrap a veto session in Louisiana. Plus, it’s unclear if lawmakers could hold the bipartisan coalition of votes together that would be needed to overturn the Democratic governor’s spurning of the transgender sports ban bill if the veto session were held.

Number of the Day
4,700 – Number of Louisiana jobs lost between April and May of this year (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, via The Advocate)