Gov. John Bel Edwards urged the Legislature to boost public school teacher salaries, create a state minimum wage and repeal Louisiana’s seldom-used death penalty as he kicked off the final regular session as governor on Monday. Edwards’ final opening-day address was a far cry from his first, in 2016, when the state was staring at a $2 billion shortfall that was patched with temporary taxes and cuts to critical programs. Seven years later, Louisiana is sitting on $1.6 billion in surplus and excess revenue that will allow lawmakers to continue making new investments in infrastructure, early childhood education and other needs. The Advocate’s James Finn reports

Edwards also urged caution, saying that the state’s outlook could sour if lawmakers don’t make sound financial choices leading up to the 2025 expiration of a .45-cent sales tax increase that generates around $418 million annually. … Besides proposing the annual teacher raises, which would cost Louisiana taxpayers about $196 million annually, Edwards has asked lawmakers to approve $23.4 million in yearly spending on pay increases for law enforcement and first responders and $51.7 million annually for the state Department of Education’s early childhood program.

GOP eyes work requirements for Medicaid and SNAP
House Republicans, struggling to come up with the budget cuts they want as a condition of raising the federal debt ceiling, have set their sights on food assistance and health care programs that support low-income families. The Washington Post’s Tony Romm and Rachel Roubein report that the latest plan involves imposing work requirements on people who get Medicaid coverage or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. 

The president has expressed a willingness to discuss broader fiscal issues with [House Speaker Kevin] McCarthy, but White House aides have outright rejected any changes to food stamps and Medicaid that reduce enrollment. “The President has been clear that he will oppose policies that push Americans into poverty or cause them to lose health care,” White House spokesman Michael Kikukawa said in a statement. “That’s why he opposes Republican proposals that would take food assistance and Medicaid away from millions of people by adding burdensome, bureaucratic requirements.” 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offers a helpful explanation of why work requirements don’t work, and make it harder for people to find and maintain employment. 

“Pro-life” tax credits over funding for new parents and children
Louisiana law forces women to carry pregnancies to term even if they’ve been victims of rape or incest. But so far, Gov. John Bel Edwards hasn’t proposed any new funding to help pregnant women or their children since those restrictions became law. Instead, the governor has thrown his support behind a tax credit for controversial crisis pregnancy centers, and other lawmakers have similarly focused their efforts on “pro-family” tax credits rather than increased funding. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donghue reports: 

[Senate Bill 41] would provide an income tax break of up to $5,000 per individual or business to cover 50% of a donation made to an anti-abortion pregnancy crisis center. The tax break would be capped at $5 million statewide annually, though the unclaimed tax credit availability could also be rolled into future state budget cycles. … . Pregnancy crisis centers have several critics. Some of the faith-based organizations have falsely claimed abortion increases a person’s risk for breast cancer and infertility and equated emergency contraception to abortion, according to Lift Louisiana, an abortion rights advocacy organization.  Lift Louisiana also says the centers suggest they are akin to medical facilities, but they often don’t employ nurses or doctors. Many refuse to administer or promote birth control.

Isolation and education failures at Angola youth lockup
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to house child offenders at Louisiana’s maximum-security prison at Angola continues to draw challenges. A 16-year-old held at Angola, identified in a court document as Frank F, claims he was mostly confined to his room and denied adequate educational opportunities and has asked to join a lawsuit challenging the state policy. The Advocate’s Jacqueline DeRobertis reports: 

According to the filings, Frank has an individualized education program and is supposed to receive certain accommodations, such as materials being read aloud to him, which were not provided at the Angola facility. He also did not receive group therapy, despite previously participating in such a program while at another secure care facility for an hour each day, the filings say. Echoing the other teen accounts of their time at Angola, Frank said in the filings he spent most of his time alone in his cell between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. every day. At one point, he “spent two whole days in his cell alone and unable to talk to anyone. He was only permitted to leave his cell to shower,” the court filings say. 

Bishop Sredni Autrey, a local pastor and Shreveport chapter lead with Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, in a guest column for the Louisiana Illuminator, urges Edwards and lawmakers to commit to true juvenile criminal justice reform. 

In the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers should recommit to a holistic plan instead of putting forth piecemeal approaches that simply don’t work. Our faith leaders can still rise up and take a stand for our children. Because we have to do something different to get different results.  We must provide children with the education and support they need to thrive and for our state to thrive. Only then, will the people rejoice.

Number of the Day
$12.23 – The value of the federal minimum wage in 2022 if it had kept up with inflation since 1968. The minimum wage has not been raised since 2009, and remains stuck at $7.25 per hour. Louisiana doesn’t have a state minimum wage and defaults to the federal minimum, but Gov. John Bel Edwards has called on legislators to raise the state minimum. (Source: Economic Policy Institute via LBP’s State of Working Louisiana report)