Lawmakers face an onslaught of decisions every day at the capitol: vote up or down, pass this amendment, defer that bill... A few key players in this week's Medicaid expansion debate explain why they voted the way they did.
The legislature technically decided Wednesday to put off accepting federal funding for health care expansion, which would include more low-income individuals under Medicaid. A series of bills were voluntarily deferred, both in the House and Senate, to be taken up next week. A bill by Rep. Barbara Norton was involuntarily deferred - that’s typically a death sentence for a bill.
The representatives that voted to shelve Norton’s bill did so because they’re unsure of what will happen if they accept the money - despite that the Legislative Fiscal Office testifying that the program would initially save the state money.
Polls show that the people of Louisiana and the legislature are at odds. Tuesday a constitutional amendment to raise the cigarette tax failed in committee – though recent polls by the American Cancer Society show 73 percent of Louisianians would approve of a tobacco tax increase.
House committees took up two big ticket items Monday: budget reform and tobacco taxes. Bills that would makeover the process of building the state’s budget passed favorably in the House Appropriations committee. A packed Ways and Means committee did not vote on tobacco taxes; representatives deferred their bills.
Louisiana House Speaker Chuck Kleckley last week called on the legislature to restore funding to the state program that provides breast and cervical cancer screenings to uninsured and underserved women, and Sen. Karen Carter Peterson chaired a committee focused on funding for women’s services.
Women testified about holes in funding for domestic violence shelters, pregnancy care, cancer screenings, and sexual health. Peterson called Governor Jindal’s budget proposal for next year irresponsible. According to Beth Meeks, from the Louisiana Coalition on Domestic Violence, the governor’s slashing of women’s services just doesn’t make fiscal sense.
Parents that live from Inniswold to Shenndoah testified that they just want to make schools safer and more academically successful for their children, like Norman Browning, president of the pro-breakaway group ‘Local Schools for Local Children.’
State lawmakers are being more sensitive to how they spend money.
A bill containing minor change to the state’s Enterprise Zone program failed to pass in the House Thursday.
The Enterprise Zone is an incentive program that works to encourage businesses to expand in rural parts of the state. The bill would have changed the definition of a “multifamily residential housing”, making bigger apartment complexes eligible for a tax credit.
One bill seeks to circumvent federal restrictions on semi-automatic firearms, despite several members questioning how it would stand up to the Supremacy Clause, which establishes federal law as the law of the land.
Representative Katrina Jackson leads the caucus. She says under her plan, the funds from raising the tobacco tax would be dedicated. “It starts making the areas of higher education systems whole, and the area of health care as well,” Jackson said.
Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Representative Joel Robideaux, said he’d spoken with constituents, House leadership, and policy analysts. There’s little support for bills that repeal the income tax without making up the revenue. “As a result of my conversations and review of the analysis," Robideaux said, "I would prefer if we indefinitely shelve bills to repeal the income tax. It’s a difficult, but I believe necessary measure.”