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GOP lawamkers, not Edwards, can call fiscal tune

To Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ invitation to share in blame for his tax-and-spend agenda, Louisiana’s legislative Republicans should demur.

Edwards recently announced that he might forgo a special session of the Legislature under certain conditions. An additional meeting outside of the 2018 regular session prior to the end of the fiscal year is widely anticipated to address the disappearance of temporary taxes by then, at current spending levels leaving a gap of about $1.2 billion.

Realizing the resistance of majority of the Republican House caucus members to tax increases generally, Edwards proclaimed that he would not call such a session unless GOP leadership rallied behind some kind of raise, calling to do so in those circumstances a waste of time and money. For their part, leaders such as Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras has conceded the necessity of some kind of tax renewal/increase.


Study falters in finding significant gerrymandering

Despite a weak attempt to show otherwise, partisan gerrymandering above any minor influence does not exist relative to Congress, although whether it could in Louisiana’s Legislature is difficult to ascertain.

The Associated Press breathlessly reported that “Republicans had a real advantage” for 2016 elections in both statehouse and the U.S. House of Representatives as a result of drawn district boundaries. Combining its own analysis with some academic literature, it concluded that in both arenas the GOP won more seats than the distribution of votes among parties in states would have suggested, alleging that this came as a result of partisan gerrymandering.

That politicians have engaged in this strategy for two centuries certainly is not new, and unquestionably, as past studies have shown, at the margins it influences seat distribution. But in claiming a more significant role for partisan gerrymandering, the AP study resorts to dubious assertions and makes the classic error of confusing association with causation.


Slidell begging law can survive court challenge

It’s back to the drawing board for Slidell and its anti-panhandling ordinance, as both flaws in a decision negating the measure and in the city’s procedures for enforcing it allow for a retooling and a retry into its becoming constitutional.

Earlier this week Eastern District of Louisiana Court Judge Lance Africk sided with the American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the law. It requires those wishing to engage in begging to obtain a temporary, free license good for 72 hours, during which time the city can perform a background check on the applicant, and unless certain information comes to light such as a felony conviction in the prior two decades, the city must award the permit that includes an identification badge of the individual worn during expression in public.

Africk’s ruling argued that the ordinance would not be content-neutral since it treated begging differentially than other forms of expression, and that Slidell could not hurdle the high burden of proof necessary to justify its regulation. In particular, he noted that similar forms of speech the city regulated for interests of public safety, peddling and solicitation, had less onerous registration requirements, and even an exception to any registration for the latter if it involved political and religious views. Thus, given the number of complaints about and declining number of arrests for panhandling over the past couple of years, Africk asserts this does not present compelling enough evidence that the Slidell approach addresses a public safety problem.


Tax increase small part of cliff solution, if needed

So, the Louisiana Legislature is out of session – any kind – and thus it cannot threaten to take more of what we earn. That won’t last.

With a modicum of tax increases – and also factoring in a second straight year of paying June Medicaid bills in July, hence pushing these into the next fiscal year not covered in the budget about to launch – that means from current spending levels the state faces a deficit of around $1.2 billion for fiscal year 2019, as a number of temporary taxes roll off after June, 2018. Use of tax increases to deal with this would require a special session as regular sessions in even-numbered years can’t process tax increases.

That makes such an extra session inevitable, for Democrats from Gov. John Bel Edwards all the way down to the party’s legislators stubbornly refuse to consider tax reform, that might alleviate the mismatch of money to priorities that makes fewer funds available than could be for genuine needs, as something independent from tax increases. Further, concerning the increased taxation they doggedly insist the citizenry must suffer, they dictate this must come on income and progressively.


New law may nail shut Elio Motors' coffin

If Republican state Rep. Thomas Carmody didn’t plan on nailing shut Elio Motors’ coffin, he could have fooled Caddo Parish.

Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards recently signed SB 107 by GOP state Sen. Bodi White that unambiguously would prohibit bulk sales of motor vehicles in Louisiana without a dealer’s license. State law promulgates a long list of qualifications necessary, such as one has a fixed location with adequate space, that the dealership has a positive effect on the economic well-being of the state, and specifies what it sells. However, statute created an exception to a violation of direct sales for “operating a dealership” without defining “dealership.” SB 107 changed the language to grant an exception only to “an existing, licensed, and franchised motor vehicle dealership.”

The Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association stumped for the amendment to the bill to facilitate these changes, trying to fight the tide of deregulation in car sales that continues to spread. The extra costs forced upon them through regulation that they must pass on to consumers puts them at a competitive disadvantage to the direct sales model that more and more states have legalized. Having government protect them by disallowing such sales only can stave off this threat to shrink the impact of their business model.


Legislators correctly sidelined pair of bad bills

You win some and you don’t lose some describes the fate of a couple of meaningful bad bills from the Louisiana Legislature’s 2017 regular session.

Much discussion that session revolved around an unnecessary hike in the gasoline tax, which eventually went nowhere. Motorists didn’t need such a measure because over the past two years the state already proved that by boosting such spending by tens of millions of dollars.

That happened as it stopped diverting money paying for state police operations, which constitutionally allows up to 20 percent of gas taxes to go towards that function. The same can happen for sloughing off money to local government and subsidizing roads and facility operations for which users can pay, to use instead for roads work that benefits the state as a whole.


Vote shows LA political thinking still immature

The maturation of Louisiana’s politics, the incomplete evolution of which has kept the state behind the curve, still appears unfulfilled.

At this time last week, it appeared the state’s political culture had reached an inflection point. The state’s political class seemed willing to bridge the transition from revenues driving policy to the reverse when the Legislature appeared poised to budget below forecast revenues as a means to prevent shortfalls. A week later, such hope turned out premature.

Yesterday, by the barest of margins, a revolt by Republicans-in-Name-Only allowed a budget amendment to go through to spend all the money available. House leaders had argued for holding back tens of millions of dollars as a hedge to prevent budgetary deficits. If actual future receipts in the upcoming fiscal year suggested hitting predicted marks, then the Legislature would have made the sequestered money available.


Left especially must heed Graves' call for civility

This is what you get when you start carrying around a mock severed head of the president.

A gunman took dozens of shots at several Republican Members of Congress, staffers, and Capitol police this morning, striking Louisiana’s Rep. Steve Scalise and other individuals. The members had congregated for baseball practice in an Alexandria, VA park for the upcoming annual charity match between members of the two major parties. Scalise appeared not seriously wounded.

Improbably the incident, which ended when the police detail subdued the alleged shooter after an exchange of dozens of shots, had nothing to do with politics. GOP Rep. Garret Graves, having spoken to several people involved at the scene or briefed on the incident, said the suspect approached the field, specifically asked of the party affiliation of the team, and only then began firing a rifle with a magazine. (Oh, by the way, Virginia law prohibits the use of such guns in populated areas, particularly mentioning parks and Alexandria. Yeah, that example of gun control really discouraged that attack.)

Graves opined that he thought overheated rhetoric relayed in the media had, at least indirectly, contributed to the incident. He stressed that the inflamed passions he believed behind the event found stoking across the partisan spectrum.

Perhaps, but any sentient, attentive individual would acknowledge, since the 2016 elections that resulted in complete GOP takeover of power in Washington, that visceral expressions about the unsuitability, if not conveying outright hatred, of political figures has emanated predominantly from the political left and very often aimed at Republican Pres. Donald Trump. The incident where a cut-rate comedienne on video paraded around a faux, bloodied head of Trump represents just the tip of the iceberg; there are theater productions alluding to his murder, open admissions of hatred of him and justifications made for political violence, and a rush of bogus “hate” crime claims attributed to Trump’s presence and the electoral success of conservatism.

Indeed, it appears that the apparent shooter, who subsequently died from injuries sustained during his attack, loathed Trump. Scalise, as the third-ranking Republican in the House, is seen as one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress and shared in his skepticism of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, in which the believed assailant passionately believed.

Haters will not stop being haters, but at least the mainstream media can reconsider the ways in which it facilitates such views, in coverage decisions and the propriety of remarks from their commenters. A little more balance from a media overwhelmingly negative about Trump also might help. Leftist political elites in the media, popular culture, and politics additionally could lend a hand in tamping down on the extreme rhetoric.

Graves’ call for civility merits heeding by all, but clearly most pertinently applies to the political left. Today’s sad event shows that particularly liberal elites must take greater responsibility to ensure they act to foster a climate of respect in disseminating political information and participating in political debate.


Edwards budget crisis gamble likely to backfire

If Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards wanted to avoid political defeat on Louisiana’s budget, he managed to set himself up to make it more inevitable and worse.

The regular session ended without operating and capital budgets, as a direct result of Edwards’ allowing his handpicked Senate leader Republican Sen. Pres. John Alario and the governor’s ally Democrat Senate Finance Committee Chairman state Sen. Eric LaFleur to refuse any negotiations with the House of Representatives on the fiscal year 2018 general appropriations bill. The House wanted to hold back a little over $200 million as a hedge against disappointing revenue forecasts that have led to regular mid-year budget cuts over the past decade, while the Senate wanted no sequestering.

This led to the Senate trying to cram its version down the throats of the House, with its Democrat allies a mere 15 minutes before session’s end trying parliamentary maneuvers to bring it, without review by the House, to a vote in that chamber. Throughout, egged on by Edwards, his allies in charge of the reconciliation process refused to budge even as the House was willing to halve essentially the amount of dollars to set aside. This attempt represented nothing more than a bloodless coup on government spending, trying to foist a product Edwards and minority Democrats preferred over the GOP majority’s choices.


Peterson conduct illustrates liberalism's bankruptcy

Democrat Sen. Karen “Pottymouth” Peterson strikes again, illustrating the bankruptcy of ideas within her political party.

Until the past year, Peterson merely had earned a reputation for boorish behavior while performing her senatorial duties. In particular, and perhaps explaining why she captured the state party chairwoman’s role, no matter how innocuous and nonpartisan a bill she could find creative ways to inject partisanship into it, using her questioning/filibustering as a means to bash whatever Republican appeared to have a bee in her bonnet at the moment or the GOP agenda in general.

But she took it to another level of vulgarity last fall not long after the election of Republican Pres. Donald Trump when she declared herself offended at a colleague’s birthday cake. The confection, in the form of a bikini-wearing woman poking fun at the advancing age of the birthday boy, she declared obscene and rudely hacked it up. She then engaged in her own obscenities by cursing at that colleague and making wild, unfounded claims that she had seen a cake representing female genitalia present as well.


Budget deal moves closer to right-sizing LA govt

It seems like things don’t change: the University of Oklahoma just keeps on winning gymnastics and softball national championships.

But things do change: Oklahoma’s winningest football coach of all time – consider this at a school with seven national championships – Bob Stoops is stepping down after 18 seasons.

At no time in its history has this tension played out more significantly in the Louisiana Legislature than in this month of June, which has featured one rearguard action after another by big government advocates to keep the good times rolling to inflate the budget. But when a budget agreement crystallizes sometime today (asseems inevitable), it appears another milestone in right-sizing Louisiana government will have been attained.

Essentially, transforming bloated government that takes too much to do unneeded things into one that fulfills only genuine needs while letting people keep more of what is theirs follows three steps. The first demands a change in attitude, from thinking of government as a vehicle to redistribute power and wealth to something that removes obstructions to give people the opportunity to acquire power and wealth on their own. This means ridding government of both corruption and inattentiveness in steering dollars to best uses.


Tax reform dead until Democrats relent on tax hikes

If we learned anything from the Louisiana Legislature’s stab at tax reform during this regular session, it’s that key Democrats mistake tax increases for it, denoting a harmful unseriousness about it all.

As the 2017 session draws to a close, it will end with no fundamental change occurring to the state’s tax system. This came despite a big buildup over the previous year, with a special panel created to study the issue. It produced a report that emphasized both creating a more efficient system that would spur economic growth yet somewhat contradicted by its desire to increase overall taxation levels.

A raft of proposals came and went, dominated by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ package that hewed more to hiking taxes collected, in net effect raising taxes on individuals somewhat but taxes on corporations substantially. These went nowhere, precisely because of the overall tax increase these would trigger; as such measures require a two-thirds majority in each chamber to pass, well more than that proportion of legislators, almost entirely Republicans, felt restraining the growth of government, if not putting it on a diet, would work to solve any projected budget deficit for the next fiscal year.


Milkovich hopes meritless suit distracts from record

After northwest Louisiana’s Republican state senator afflicted with political schizophrenia had a rough go of it by proxy this spring, his Democrat counterpart upped the ante in wackiness.

Senate District 36’s Republican Ryan Gatti found himself covered by the spotlight shone on his brother when Robbie Gatti made a failed bid for state representative. Ryan Gatti squeaked into office in 2015 by emphasizing social conservatism, deeming education reform overreaching, and alleging adherence to “true conservative principles of fiscal responsibility.” Apparently, he understood that to entail voting for a raft of tax increases and increased regulation on business, and as a result in 2016 earned a score of 22 out of 100 on the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s business-oriented legislator scorecard.

Fairly or not, that pro-government, anti-growth reputation blew back on Robbie Gatti, but he lost more over doubts about his espoused social conservatism than on whatever sins Ryan Gatti was thought to have committed in office by his voting. Still, his brother’s unsuccessful run highlighted Ryan Gatti’s as a catspaw for big government advocate Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, a personal friend of the Gattis whom they assisted in his campaign.


Veto bill to reduce LA penchant for overregulation

Louisiana’s penchant for overregulation strikes again, in this case concerning new car sales, that a governor’s veto can correct.

SB 107 by state Sen. Bodi White, ostensibly to facilitate delivering specialty law enforcement vehicles, went uncontroversially to Gov. John Bel Edwards. But in the process state Rep. Tanner Magee slipped in an amendment that clarified language regarding direct sales of new vehicles.

State law mandates that motor vehicle dealers obtain a license, and promulgates a long list of qualifications necessary, such as having a fixed location with adequate space, that it has a positive effect on the economic well-being of the state, and specifies what it sells. However, statute creates an exception to a violation of direct sales for “operating a dealership” without defining “dealership.” SB 107 changes the language to grant an exception only to “an existing, licensed, and franchised motor vehicle dealership.”


Lawmakers botch lukewarm LA convention attempt

Given an opportunity to concoct corrections to fiscal flaws in Louisiana’s Constitution, lawmakers flinched earlier this week.

HB 456 by Democrat Rep. Neil Abramson would have appointed a panel to assess whether the state needed a limited constitutional convention, originally focusing on revenue and finance, local government finance, retirement systems, and higher education organization and finance. If deemed wise, the panel would join delegates elected from House of Representatives districts to work on a document incorporating any changes that voters could approve.

While the bill covered appropriate subject matter, it erred in stumping for the 27 superdelegates representing special interests, elected officials, and academia both to set the agenda and to participate in deliberations. This passed along too much power to entrenched interests. More appropriately, it could have replaced them at the convention with additional delegates elected from the 39 Senate districts. Further, delegate election could have excluded any state or local elected official who had served in the previous six years, to ensure, unlike the last such effort in 1974, that those with ties to government organized along the lines of the present arrangement that has proven lacking do not have outsized influence over the product.


Angelle moves on from LA, leaving mixed legacy

It seems that former Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle has ended his long career in Louisiana politics, frustrated by a decision he made which reverberates statewide to this day.

Before assuming his position on the PSC, Republican Angelle had logged time in a number of positions in local and state government in a career progression pointing to the Governor’s Mansion. The time seemed best to take that step after his previous boss GOP former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s second term ended.

However, a significant obstacle presented itself in the form of Republican former Sen. David Vitter, who had wielded more influence over the state’s politics than any other politician over the previous decade. Throughout his career having articulated almost entirely undiluted conservatism with a dash anti-big-government populism, Vitter would present a formidable obstacle.


Bad LA film tax credit fix better than none

Louisiana seems set to test, in the case of the Motion Picture Investors Tax Credit, whether bad legislation is better than no legislative solution at all.

This week, the House of Representatives likely will take up and approve of SB 254 by Democrat state Sen. JP Morrell. It tinkers around the margins with the film tax credit program that independent study after independent study has demonstrated costs Louisianans far more in income tax rebates paid out than in revenues supplied to government as a result of its existence.

Besides this transference of a large amount of wealth from taxpayers that could fund other priorities such as higher education and health care to a relatively small number of individuals, mostly outside the state and/or wealthy, the law has attracted a number criticisms at which the bill hardly addresses. It establishes a cap of requests for credits at $150 million a year and a payout of $180 million annually, which can be rolled forward or backwards for years with excess requests, for the next three years which then declines to $150 million for the next five. This period of higher paying takes up slack from credits banked from previous years.


Memorial Day, 2017

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday around noon U.S. Central Time (maybe even after sundown on busy days, or maybe before noon if things work out, or even sometimes on the weekend if there's big news) except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Thanksgiving Day, Independence Day, Christmas, or New Year's Day when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, in addition to these are also Easter Sunday, Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.

With Monday, May 29 being Memorial Day, I invite you to explore this link.


Smaller LA government, higher taxes seem likely

With Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras’ admission that a fourth special session in 18 months of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ term seems inevitable, the endgame to the fiscal year 2018 budget has arrived.

As bills Edwards supported raising enough taxes to cover a “fiscal cliff” – $1.3 million in revenues from curtailing income and sales tax exceptions plus an extra penny in sales taxes that expire at the end of FY 2018 – never made it out of the cradle, legislative debate has focused on how much of the cliff mattered and how to compensate for it relative in the upcoming year’s budget. Even though expiration assured the money’s availability through that cycle, what to do about the cliff depends upon actions taken with this budget.

Edwards’ budget request so far as totaled about $677 million higher than the House’s version of HB 1 now in the hands of the Senate. He wanted an increase over this year of $440 million, while the House concocted a standstill overall plan then subtracted $237 million, or 2.5 percent, as a buffer in case of revenue disappointments during the year. That would mean the shortfall for FY 2019, given the House’s preferences that would become the baseline moving forward, would be in the neighborhood of just less than half of the cliff’s amount.


Leniency on criminal fines subverts crime reduction

Louisiana’s lawmakers can’t let money concerns overrule good sense when it comes to criminal justice reform, thus requiring compromise within bills such as state Rep. Tanner Magee’s HB 249.

As state policy-makers have made a concerted effort to reform the system that incarcerates more people per capita than any country in the world or than any state in the country, many have sold the effort as a means to save money. They have argued that smarter allocation of resources could result without impairing effectiveness of correctional policy.

But the package of bills to reflect changes to transform the system has faced scrutiny for introducing too much laxity in sentencing and carrying that out. Supporters have had to tone down measures that unwisely would have eroded the deterrent effects concerning the most serious crimes, which also served to erode savings promised.


Caddo-area officials struggling to get with program

Seems a job requirement for many elected officials around Caddo Parish is absolute thick-headedness, judging by their reactions to the evolving Elio Motors controversy and daydreaming about minor league basketball.

Caddo Parish commissioners have become increasingly nervous over Elio, which continues to give signals that it won’t last much longer. The firm desires to build a three-wheel automobile and begun taking reservations to distribute these years ago. To that end, an arm of parish government, the Caddo Industrial Development Board, used $7.5 million in parish money to purchase and lease to Elio two-fifths of the old General Motors plant on the southwest side of the parish.

In response, Elio has kept delaying production while burning through cash at a high rate. That includes proceeds worth millions of dollars from sales of equipment at the site technically under parish ownership, although IDB President Gard Wayt claims only outdated equipment remains. Another entity, Glovis America, said it would lease part of the property as well and had moved closer to launching there production of automobile parts.


Good trafficking bill hijacked for obscure motives

The next chapter in the strange mutation of SB 144 could continue later today in the Louisiana Senate, although more twists could lay ahead if the bill makes it to the House of Representatives.

This bill originally would have barred people from under 21 from performing as strippers in places that serve alcohol. The impetus came to combat human trafficking, which particularly plagues the youngest individuals, research reveals It actually passed last year in a slightly different form without a single dissenting vote, but then lost out on a court challenge that nonetheless demonstrated alterations that could make the law constitutional.

With that in mind, last year’s bill author Republican state Sen. Ronnie Johns submitted this year’s more elaborate version, with no controversy expected regarding it. Even when Sen. Pres. John Alario assigned it to the Judiciary B Committee, unlike last year’s that went to Judiciary C – the two have identical jurisdictions – that didn’t seem so odd since Johns sat on the former.


HB 71 support consistent with conservative principles

My colleagues at the Baton Rouge Advocate raise an issue concerning appropriateness of state government intervention particularly according to conservatism, a concept easily understood if cognizant of the scope and purpose of government as defined in America and conservatives’ views on where in the act of governance optimal policy-making occurs.

Referring to HB 71 by state Rep. Thomas Carmody, which passed the House after two hours of contentious rhetoric, the editorial page shows confusion over the issue. Presently, state law mentions nothing about how local governments may deal with objects such as monuments related to military entities and events. In that vacuum, New Orleans through its representative institutions has removed three related to the Confederacy and has plans to cart off one more.

The bill would change the imputed process as it currently exists – the governing authority brings up the issue of removal or other alteration and may decide whether to make any changes – so that a local governing authority would bring up the issue in the form of a plebiscite where the voters in that jurisdiction decide. To this, the Advocate opines, “For the Legislature’s self-proclaimed conservatives, who are supposed to champion limited government, to meddle in how local communities manage their monuments is the height of hypocrisy.”


Costs of well-meaning IG bill more than benefits

While HB 443 by state Rep. Julie Stokes sounds good in principal, it actually serves as an example of unwise rigidity and duplication of government.

The bill would dedicate $2 million a year to the office of the Inspector General, then index the amount to inflation. This agency, whose head is appointed for a six-year term, investigates malfeasance and waste in government, created over a quarter-century ago spurred by former Gov. Edwin Edwards, whose checkered career in state government would end several years later with a corruption conviction.

Supporters pointed out that by giving the agency a stable source of funding then disgruntled elected officials subject to investigations by it could not yank its resources using the budget process. They noted the office had investigatory powers, unlike the other agency in state government with the task of analyzing actions of agencies and their people, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, which meant it had better capacity to root out corrupt activities than if it had to rely upon cooperation. The LLA also acts upon direction by law or the Legislature, while the IG can scrutinize on his own.


Panel refuses to halt LA inspection money grab

The handling of HB 597 provides an object lesson in how not to erase a bad statute from the books.

Earlier this week, the Louisiana House of Representatives’ Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee tossed aside the bill by state Rep. Larry Bagley that would have ended the necessity of vehicles, with the exception of those garaged in parishes – at present East Baton Rouge and four surrounding it – under federal clean air jurisdiction, to have inspections. As originally written, the state would have joined 42 others that do not have an annual or biannual requirement for all passenger vehicles.

Inspections meant something a half-century ago in an era of far less durable vehicles and without modern safety features. Data from about a decade ago when cars were significantly less safe than now show only a little over one percent of all accidents occur because of something wrong with the vehicle that would be part of an inspection – and involved items that easily could fail in between annual or biannual inspections with little warning, meaning it would be blind luck if an inspection happened to pick up on it right before failure.


Changing selection makes convention bill useful

Today the Louisiana House of Representatives Appropriations Committee takes up a measure to call a limited constitutional convention. With some tweaking, it’s an idea whose time perhaps has come.

HB 456 by state Rep. Neil Abramson would begin next year a process that could end up having a substantially revised governing document in place by the time of swearing in of the next governor and Legislature. A committee of 27 representing special interests, elected officials, and academia would meet in the first part of 2018 to determine the necessity of revisions and, if needed, to construct draft portions, followed by election later in the year of 105 others to join them in vetting the document. In 2019, the 132 would consider the changes through May 30, and, if deemed necessary, draft a revision to appear for statewide electoral approval at the time of the regular 2019 elections. Majority assent kicks in the new, revised document (and chooses among any alternatives, an option employed the last – actually in state history only ever – time the state undertook this utilizing a popular vote) at the beginning of 2020, just as new officials come into power.

Essentially, alterations could occur only to four areas of the present constitution: revenue and finance, local government finance, retirement systems, and higher education organization and finance. This deliberate attenuation of scope addresses areas over which a growing consensus has emerged that need change and assuages fears of some both within the public and among elected officials that this threatens to empower government too much and/or reduces their power and influence, as a means to rally support for the idea.


LA higher education freedom of speech bill needed

Perhaps HB 269 by state Rep. Lance Harris would not have precluded the immature behavior witnessed recently at Bethune-Cookman University, but it certainly would provide a valuable backstop that enables more effectively delivers higher education in Louisiana.

The bill mandates that Louisiana higher education leaders devise standards and procedures that protect academic freedom, both inside and outside of the classroom in regards to university-sponsored events and spaces. It seeks to prevent protests against speech from impending the presentation of learning experiences.

While Louisiana public institutions of higher education largely have been free of such disruptions – just last year, Louisiana State University Baton Rouge handled well an event where some elements wished to block presentation of certain views – the incident in Florida reminds of the possible negative consequences if a school has not prepared to defend free speech. That involved the commencement speech by Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to graduates of the historically black university.


Budget battle threatens to make Edwards irrelevant

As long as the Louisiana House of Representatives Republican majority holds the line on tax increases for next fiscal year, they will have teed up Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards for a humiliating defeat and seized control of the governing agenda at least through 2019.

Having previously dispatched into ignominy Edwards’ entire fiscal package, last week the chamber sent to the Senate HB 1, the general appropriations bill. It contained $677 million fewer than Edwards wanted, who will need to hike taxes to come close to bridging that gap. This represents $237 million fewer spent than the current fiscal year, which House leaders call a “standstill budget” that includes no growth in overall spending plus intentionally holding back 2.5 percent from this year’s as a buffer in case revenue projections disappoint.

Conditions came with the measure. The bills makes off-limits cutting programs that aid people with disabilities, which actually received a small increase, and if as part of a response to the lower spending public-private partner hospitals receive a haircut, the shearing cannot single out any facility disproportionately. It also orders that cuts must first arrive in the form of scrapping vacant job openings and disallows pay raises for state employees on the basis of performance. Otherwise, the bill gives few specific directions.


Establishment politicians take hit in NW LA elections

Dissatisfaction at the ruling class was apparent. How deep it ran was the surprise.

Last month, Caddo Parish voters rejected all five ballot propositions presented to them after high-profile campaigns for and against the four Caddo parish-wide property measures. These that attempted to renew taxes at higher millage rates than at the initial approval levels all narrowly lost.

Evidently the opponents’ arguments hit home. They noted that the increases came on top of reserves that equaled about double the parish’s budget, a level approximately 20 times higher than the typical local government’s. Further, the taxes would not expire soon, but from 2019-22. They critiqued whether the parish needed more money than ever, and why ask for it prematurely.


LA Medicaid work requirements good, if done right

Work requirements in Louisiana for able-bodied adults without disabilities to enroll in Medicaid make a lot of sense, even if it would not save much money. It’s just its effective implementation that gets tricky.

SB 188 by state Sen. Sharon Hewitt would require this category of Medicaid enrollees to fulfill a “community engagement” standard, defined as employment, volunteer work, caretaking, job training, education, or job search activities comprising at least 20 hours a week. The bill would exempt many from the requirement, essentially those who care for dependents of some kind. Last week the Senate Health and Welfare Committee took up the bill, but in the face of opposition Hewitt deferred the bill in favor of a study resolution.

The notion build upon successful application of work policies in other federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program that distributes vouchers for food and drink for lower-income households. However, it would not act as a panacea to rein in runaway Medicaid costs, given the tightly drawn nature of this measure, which mimics those in a handful of other states. Only roughly 11 percent of current Medicaid recipients – jobless able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) – fit the bill, and using a slightly lower percentage the Legislative Fiscal Office saw for next year only about $7 million saved, not including $4 million in initial costs, nor a small annual cost to review client eligibility, nor continuing reduction in the 5.5 percent premium tax charged on managed care policies into which Medicaid clients enroll.