State legislators have introduced a slew of bills targeting public sector unions. The proposals by Republican lawmakers would restrict unions’ ability to spend money on political activities, ban collective bargaining and could ultimately eliminate union activities altogether. As Verite News’ Katie Jane Fernelius and Minh Ha explain, these efforts would further increase wage disparities for public sector employees, especially for Black and female workers. 

Public sector wages lag behind private sector wages, but the discrepancy between the two sectors widens in states where collective bargaining is banned outright. … “Louisiana already ranks at the bottom of states for gender parity and employment and the best states for women to work,” said Christina LeBlanc, an economic opportunity policy analyst at Invest in Louisiana. “And when you think about the target populations that these bills are touching … you’re talking about some of the most hardworking and marginalized workers in our economy who are being targeted by these bills.”

Louisiana teachers’ salaries already lag behind their regional and national peers. Gov. Jeff Landry failed to include a teacher pay raise in his budget recommendations to the Legislature, opting to renew a one-time stipend that was included in this year’s budget. Fernelius and Ha explain how the anti-union bills could make it harder for teachers and support staff to secure permanent raises in the future. 

Studies show that restrictions on public sector collective bargaining result in a relative decline in spending on teacher salaries and benefits. In addition to teachers, other workers in the public school system could be impacted, including bus drivers, social workers, behavioral specialists, cafeteria workers, clerks and secretaries – all of whom are represented by the Louisiana Association (of) Educators.

Not much is known about Gov. Jeff Landry’s attempt to restructure the state’s economic development agency. The Committee of 100 for Economic Development, a private non profit organization that is leading these efforts, is expected to release a report soon outlining its recommendations. But as the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports, it appears the new approach will build on the old strategy of showering corporations with tax breaks:

The tax incentives don’t work by themselves, (Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Susan) Bourgeois told the senators, saying the agency needs to do a better job of selling Louisiana to potential investors and working with existing businesses to help them expand. … The department is key to Landry’s economic philosophy to lessen regulations and taxes on business with the expectation that this will generate more investment and job creation. That in turn, he believes, will produce new tax revenue to continue funding schools, public health care and the myriad other government services.

Reality check: For decades, corporate leaders have preached that giving away our tax dollars that support schools, health care, roads and other vital services is the only way to lure businesses to a poor state like Louisiana. But the tax giveaway model exacerbates the high poverty rate and poor levels of educational attainment that make Louisiana unattractive to businesses in the first place and takes away vital revenue needed to make long-term improvements. 

Louisiana babies born in areas with high levels of pollution are more likely to be preterm and have lower birth weights than babies born in areas with “good” air quality, according to a new study by scientists from Tulane University. But the study also found elevated risks of preterm births and lower birth weights in areas with a high rate of low-income Black residents that didn’t have toxic air pollution. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Mark Schleifstein explains how racial and environmental disparities in health are contributing to Louisiana’s negative birth outcomes. 

But neighborhoods that were both predominantly Black and low-income and also had higher pollution exposure levels had even higher numbers of lower birthweight and pre-term birth outcomes, the study found. “What we found was that air pollution and social deprivation independently have a negative effect on birth outcomes, specifically on the rates of low birth rate and pre-term births,” said Dr. Kimberly Terrell, lead author of the study and a staff scientist at the law clinic. “But above and beyond that, the neighborhoods that are polluted have an extra burden of these adverse birth outcomes.”

Members of the House Appropriations Committee questioned the Louisiana Department of Health’s process for redetermining Medicaid eligibility during a review of the agency’s budget on Tuesday. States across the country are kicking people off their Medicaid rolls, a process sparked by the end of pandemic-era coverage protections. But the vast majority of Louisianans who have lost coverage were dropped for procedural reasons, not because they were ineligible. BRProud’s Shannon Heckt reports:

LDH is in charge of rolling people off of Medicaid who don’t qualify anymore. Over 400,000 people were taken off of Medicaid after the extra pandemic coverage ended. While some qualified to be put back on, there are over 270,000 they couldn’t reach who have lost coverage and could still qualify. Of the closures of benefits, over 100,000 are children and over 17,000 are pregnant women. 

By last July, Louisiana’s Medicaid program covered 45% of the state’s population. This increase was largely due to the state’s high poverty rate. To qualify for Medicaid in Louisiana, you have to have a very low income, or have a disability. But some lawmakers seemed surprised that Louisiana’s endemic poverty is an underlying issue affecting the state’s health care landscape. 

36% – Percentage point increase in risk of having a low birthweight for Louisiana babies born in areas with high levels of toxic air pollution. (Source: Tulane University)