Efforts are underway at the Legislature to replace Louisiana’s current school voucher system for low-income families with a new program for “Education Savings Accounts” that would eventually be available to all families, regardless of income. Much of the demand for ESAs in other states have come from affluent families that have already chosen to enroll their children in private or religious schools. The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Patrick Wall explains that even some conservatives have heartburn about using scarce public dollars to subsidize wealthy families: 

Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank that promotes school choice, said he strongly supports vouchers for disadvantaged families. But he questions the fiscal and moral case for spending tax dollars on tuition aid for all. “What I’m not as excited about are programs that end up subsidizing super-wealthy families who already have their kids in private schools,” he said. “At a time when budgets are tight, it just seems like a really poor use of public money.”

Analysis from the Public Affairs Research Council estimates that ESAs will cost the state $520 million per year once fully implemented. Supporters have downplayed the cost by saying the Legislature could simply not appropriate the full amount. But lawmakers’ refusal to reign in the exorbitant costs of the state’s TOPS program casts doubt on this claim: 

Jan Moller, executive director of Invest in Louisiana, a nonprofit that analyzes state policies, said he expects the same dynamic to play out with ESAs. If the Legislature passes a universal ESA bill, parents will put “enormous pressure” on lawmakers to fund it. “They’re going to expect that because it’s the law,” he said. “And what politician is going to say, ‘Yeah I voted to put this in the law, but I didn’t really mean it.’”

The House and Senate have nearly identical ESA bills that are up for debate on Monday. House Bill 745 is scheduled for debate in the House of Representatives, while Senate Bill 313 is scheduled for Senate Finance. For more on this issue, read Invest in Louisiana’s recent guest column for The Advocate | The Times Picayune and issue brief

Gov. Jeff Landry wants the Legislature – along with 27 of his hand-picked appointees – to write a new state constitution by July 15 and have voters decide on the new charter in the Nov. 5 election. Landry so far has refused to say what he wants to change in the constitution, and barely mentioned the subject while seeking office last fall. A Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate editorial reminds readers that the last constitutional convention lasted a full year, and came with far more public review and input than Landry is proposing: 

First, the governor hasn’t revealed what, exactly, convention delegates would address. Lawmakers and citizens have seen no draft of a revised charter. Second, even though voters could approve or reject any proposed changes in November, we feel that a proper constitutional convention should offer numerous opportunities for public input, including from diverse constituencies. Third, eight weeks is nowhere near enough time to rewrite an entire constitution, especially one that includes popular protections such as the homestead exemption, civil service, local home rule, caps on state income taxes and more. 

Insurance Commissioner Tim Temple’s “free market” approach to solving the state’s insurance crisis is focused on industry-friendly policies that weaken consumer protections. Last week lawmakers shelved a proposal by Rep. Matt Willard that would have paused higher premiums for customers of the state’s insurer of last resort. The Times -Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Stephanie Grace wonders if lawmakers have forgotten about consumers during their efforts to address the high costs of insurance:

Asking consumers to believe that giving insurers everything they want is really about helping them is a hard enough sell. But refusing to pair all that pro-industry legislation with just this one break? It really makes you wonder whether the folks making policy decisions are listening to consumers at all.

Sam Karlin tells the story of Tisha D’Aquin, of Crown Point, whose property insurer went belly-up after Hurricane Ida and who now pays $8,000 per year to her new insurer, up from $1,800 per year under her old policy. Similar frustration is bubbling across South Louisiana, as people are unable to buy, sell or afford new or current homes.

That’s a concern for D’Aquin, who said that in Crown Point, which is south of New Orleans, “for sale” signs are ubiquitous as neighbors struggle to afford insurance premiums that often reach $15,000 a year. “I don’t know how long we’re going to be able to maintain it,” she said. 

Rural areas of Louisiana often lack access to basic amenities, such as retail and grocery stores, and crucial necessities, such as health care and reliable internet. But as The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Alena Maschke reports, a new initiative by the Rapides Parish Public Library system is aiming to provide rural residents with medical care through online telehealth services: 

With the help of a grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, the local public library system has deployed telehealth kiosks to branches across the parish, offering basic equipment like blood pressure measuring cuffs and scales for residents to use in their telehealth appointments. … Health advocates have pointed to telehealth as a solution for the lack of access to medical care in rural parishes. In Louisiana, approximately 73% of the population lives in what the federal government has termed a Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Area, with rural areas making up the lion’s share of the underserved.

$400 million – Amount of money that could be withdrawn from a state savings account under a  resolution filed during the regular session. Legislative leaders have said juvenile detention centers would be prioritized if lawmakers withdraw funds from the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund. (Source: Louisiana Legislature)