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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.