With one boneheaded, tone-deaf piece of legislation, Louisiana’s Republican legislative leadership threw away any chance they had to differentiate clearly a GOP-led Legislature from spender-in-chief Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards – and on a silver platter handed Edwards a means to diffuse criticism of him.
HB 39 in the special session started off innocuously enough. Author Republican state Rep. Zee Zeringue – as head of the chamber’s Appropriations Committee, a top lieutenant of GOP Speaker Clay Schexnayder – originally asked only to take $15 million out of apparently leftover dollars, from a federal government boost the portion of Medicaid it finances through the end of the year and let the Louisiana Public Defender Board use it to buy office space for its constituent districts. This would free up rent money that could go to supplementing a system chronically short of funds that has triggered a suit over that lacking, which allegedly causes inadequate representation.
The simplicity obscured that the bill would serve as the vehicle for other adjustments in the budget as since the fiscal year commenced the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic continued and the state received two hurricane blows, and cybersecurity matters increasingly gained in importance. Principally – and leaders had articulated this as one of the two major reasons to have the session – it would trigger a refill of the Unemployment Compensation Fund, as economic retrenchment due to restrictions imposed by Edwards had caused a spike in unemployment that increased benefits going out and reduction in business that reduced tax collections from employers going in.