The public’s right to know what government officials are doing in their name could be severely curtailed under legislation that cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday. The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced Senate Bill 482, despite strong opposition, which would shield email, text messages and any other records produced in the process of making government decisions. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Finn reports

Lee Zurik, a journalist for WVUE FOX 8 in New Orleans, told the Senate committee he files about 450 public records requests each year. Those records have fueled stories such as an investigative series on the collapse of New Orleans’ Hard Rock Hotel, he said — stories that wouldn’t have been written if the bill had been in effect. “This isn’t about clearing up the law — this is about blocking the media, and more importantly, blocking your voters, your constituents, from records that they funded,” he said. 

Reminder: Open records acts exist because public employees – from legislators and governors to rank-and-file agency staff – work for us. 

Property insurers are fleeing Louisiana in large part because climate change has produced more frequent and extreme weather events such as floods and hurricanes. State legislators are proposing to solve this problem through deregulation, as bills are inching closer to final passage that would let insurance companies drop longtime customers, raise rates more often and weaken penalties for scofflaw companies. Activist Julie Schwam Harris, in a letter to The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, explains the pitfalls of this approach: 

Costs are high because of risk — high and growing risk from hurricanes and heavier rainfall events due to climate change — and too many people without money to harden their houses and roofs. The so-called “reforms” allow insurance companies to make bigger profits in the short run then drop policyholders and leave the state when the going gets tough. Louisiana should wean our state economy off fossil fuels, stop climate-damaging fracking that releases methane gas 30 times more harmful than carbon, slow natural gas exportation and expose the false promises of carbon capture — not invest in it.

Louisiana’s budget faces short-term risks, mostly due to the expiration of a temporary .45-cent sales tax. Next year the state faces a shortfall of $559 million. That deficit is expected to grow to $733 million by the 2027-2028 fiscal year. But Louisiana and other states face longer-term budget threats from the devastating and costly effects of climate change, an aging population and other factors. Pew’s Peter Muller breaks down a range of emerging risks that could disrupt state budgets: 

An aging population and smaller workforce could lead to reduced state tax revenue. Wage-based income taxes and sales taxes may be particularly vulnerable as retirees tend to earn and spend less than full-time employees and often receive favorable tax treatment on the income they do earn. … Sustained sea-level rise or extreme heat, for example, could affect state revenues and expenditures. Coastal states may need to invest significant funds to help at-risk communities adapt to or retreat from rising water levels while also seeing significant economic impact from the loss of previously valuable or productive real estate.

The state funding formula for Louisiana’s public schools started its annual march through the Legislature this week, albeit without a pay raise for teachers and support workers. The Minimum Foundation Program formula is developed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and lawmakers can only accept or reject it but cannot make changes. As the Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose explains, Wednesday’s hearing before the House Education Committee was a chance for education leaders to criticize Gov. Jeff Landry’s decision not to give teachers a permanent pay raise: 

Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, called the inability to provide teachers with a permanent pay raise a “state of emergency.” He noted the average teacher salary in Louisiana is $2,500 below the Southern regional average and $12,000 below the national average. In the 2021-22 school year, Louisiana teachers were paid a mean of $52,660 based on parish averages. Money lawmakers have put toward high-dose tutoring and school choice measures would be better spent on paying teachers, Carter said.

Louisiana’s constitution protects the MFP, but that could be undone in a proposed constitutional convention later this spring. 

-40% – Decline in reported homicides in New Orleans from 2023 to 2024. The Crescent City’s decline in murders is part of a historic decrease nationwide. (Source: AH Datalytics)