The $100 million cut to the Louisiana Department of Health, approved by legislators in the waning minutes of the session, could force cuts to safety-net hospitals, nursing homes, doctor-training programs and programs that serve children with complex medical needs. When federal matching dollars are included, the budget maneuver could strip $700 million that supports health care services for low-income Louisianans and people with disabilities. The Advocate’s James Finn reports from Senate hearings on Tuesday, where leaders said they regret voting for budget bills they hadn’t had time to review.   

Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, said he regretted voting for the final budget bills without knowing what was in them.  “It was a quick judgment call, and I made the wrong judgment in hindsight,” White said. … The department was not told which programs to cut in order to enact the $100 million reduction. Instead, it was given numerous guardrails from the Legislature on what programs it can’t cut, (Health Secretary Stephen) Russo said. The session’s chaotic end has prompted calls for rules barring such 11th-hour budget changes, as well as vows by some Republicans in the House to install a more conservative speaker. Many of the criticisms over handling of the budget votes have come from House conservatives angry with Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.

LBP Executive Director Jan Moller, speaking at the Baton Rouge Press Club, said this year’s budget maneuvering was a stark departure from previous budget cycles. 

“In the 21 years that I’ve been watching this process, I’ve never seen the kind of wholesale overhaul of the budget that happened in the last few hours behind closed doors of the legislative session,” Moller told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday. “It speaks to a broken process when the president of the Senate can’t explain the budget that he’s asking his members to vote on with 10 minutes left in the session.” 

Next up: Gov. John Bel Edwards must decide whether to use his line-item veto authority to restore the health agency funding, which would require offsetting cuts elsewhere in the budget. 

A “loony” and racist nullification resolution
Without much notice, nearly two-thirds of Louisiana legislators recently voted to revive a long-discredited, racist idea which holds that Louisiana has the “sovereign right” to “nullify unconstitutional acts of the federal government.” Conservative columnist Quin Hillyer dives into the racist history behind the“nullification” idea championed by Sen. Stewart Cathey. 

It was already discredited long before the Civil War by none other than “Father of the Constitution” James Madison. And that war itself, at the cost of some 750,000 lives, settled the issue once and for all. Ranting racists such as Alabama Gov. George Wallace tried, maliciously and unsuccessfully, to revive it in the 1960s, to the effect that any assertion of nullification powers today automatically carries with it the stench of the foulest bigotry. It isn’t clear what precipitated the legislators’ descent into nonsense that is simultaneously arrant, aberrant, and abhorrent, but descend they did.

The only silver lining, Hillyer notes, is that the resolution does not carry the force of law. But that should not be enough to let supporters off the hook. 

The resolution is bizarre. It is akin to an eighth-grade student council telling a school principal that the council on its own authority can abrogate school rules. And, because nullification’s history is ineluctably associated with the worst of this nation’s racial sins, the resolution makes Louisiana appear, to the rest of the country, to be a hotbed for redneck racists. 

An ombudsman office for abused children 
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed legislation this month to create a new ombudsman’s office to investigate complaints about the treatment of children in state care. The new office puts Louisiana in line with most other states and will help the underfunded – and overburdened – state agencies charged with preventing such tragedies.’s Andrea Gallo reports:

“Now we have someone who can serve as an independent third eye or a voice for those individuals and tell us legislators where there might be some unforeseen gaps,” said state Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, who sponsored the bill. … Susan East Nelson, executive director of the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families, said she was impressed the Legislature passed the bill so quickly. “It really underscores the fact that the Legislature saw this as a necessity, to put this accountability in place for children in Louisiana,” she said.

National test scores plunge
Math and reading scores for 13-year-old students plummeted to historic lows last year, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The scores on the “nation’s report card” showed the largest single-year drop in math in more than 50 years and was the latest indicator that efforts to combat the massive learning loss sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic have so far been unsuccessful. The Washington Post’s Donna St. George reports on the findings and how they’re affecting students 

The average math score is now the same as it was in 1990, while the average reading score is the same as it was in 2004. Hardest hit were the lowest-performing students. In math, their scores showed declines of 12 to 14 points, while their highest-performing peers fell just six points. The pattern for reading was similar, with lowest performers seeing twice the decline of the highest ones. Students from all regions of the country and of all races and ethnicities lost ground in math. Reading was more split. Scores dropped for Black, multiracial and White students. But Hispanic, Asian, American Indian and Alaska Native students were described as “not measurably different.”

Number of the Day
31% – Percentage of students who reported “never” or “hardly ever” reading for fun, an increase of nine points from the previous school year. (Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress)