The legislative debate over Gov. Jeff Landry’s plan to rewrite Louisiana’s constitution starts this week. The House and Governmental Affairs Committee will hear a proposal from its chairman, Rep. Beau Beaullieu, on Tuesday that would use the Legislature and 27 appointees of the governor as delegates for a constitutional convention. A Landry transition team has recommended stripping constitutional protections for certain departments and programs, which would make it easier for lawmakers to cut when the state runs into financial problems.  The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports

Beaullieu said Landry and House leaders want to move quickly because they want the new constitution in place for 2025. That’s when lawmakers are meeting in a “fiscal session” where they can raise tax rates or reduce tax breaks, something they can’t do during regular sessions in even-numbered years. Lawmakers are also facing a projected $500 million deficit next year that’s caused primarily by the scheduled expiration of a temporary .45-cent sales tax. So they want to be able to cut spending in areas that are currently protected by the constitution, including funding for K-12 schools through the MFP formula, he said.

Louisiana routinely makes use of a federal policy that waives work requirements for food stamp recipients who live in areas with high unemployment and low job prospects. But Sen. Blake Miguez’s Senate Bill 195, which is scheduled for debate in the upper chamber on Monday, would prevent the Department of Children and Family Services from requesting those waivers. The Lens’ Nick Chrastil explains how Miguez’s proposal is part of a slew of bills targeting public benefits and their recipients. 

To some advocates, the flurry of pending legislation to restrict benefits feels mean-spirited. “These bills are punitive,” said Christina LeBlanc of Invest in Louisiana. “They weaken our state social-safety net, which needs to be strengthened. They just put a lot of burdens on Louisiana families that are completely unnecessary. And they are all costly.”

Work requirements are ineffective at increasing employment, but effective at increasing hunger and hardship. 

When families lose food assistance, their household still needs to eat, [the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ Ed] Bolen said. So they spend time waiting in line at food pantries; they ask for help from friends or relatives, or they make tough decisions to pay for car repairs instead of food, because they also still need to get to work, to jobs where hours don’t reliably total 80 hours by month’s end. “It just puts them in a more precarious position over time,” he said.

The Louisiana House approved legislation last week that would eventually give at least $5,190 a year, per student, for private or online school to any family, regardless of income. But the debate on House Bill 745 lasted more than three hours and received scrutiny from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who questioned the accountability and admission standards of private schools receiving public tax dollars and the huge cost of the program. Douglas N. Harris, Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at Tulane University, writing in a guest column for the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, lays out six serious questions that so-called education savings accounts raise: 

Just a few years after its passage, the Arizona program is spending more than 10 times what the legislature had estimated — now almost $1 billion per year. The budget projections I have seen for the Louisiana program are similarly naive. It’s also clear that the Louisiana Legislature would not raise taxes to pay for the costs. Instead, to make the budget balance, they will have to cut in other areas, perhaps including college funding, health care and law enforcement. … The current policy proposal requires private schools to give some type of academic test, but they can choose any test they wish, so the results will not be comparable to public schools or even to other private schools. 

Legislative leaders are pushing back against Gov. Jeff Landry’s callous decision to reject federal funding for extra food assistance for low-income children during the summer months. Leaders of the House, Senate and Democratic Caucus all expressed support for Louisiana’s participation in the Summer EBT program last week at the Public Affairs Research Council’s annual luncheon. Lawmakers could circumvent the governor and appropriate $3.5 million for state administrative costs, which would bring down $71 million to help low-income families afford food. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Stephanie Grace explains there’s still time – and political cover – for Landry to do the right thing: 

The PAR event revealed an encouraging development: That despite [Department of Children and Family Services Secretary David] Matlock’s ideologically loaded language — self-sufficiency for children and federal aid coming with too many strings — Republican lawmakers and their constituents get what’s really going on here and care about it. … Should the governor have a change of heart, though, he’d have plenty of cover. [Rep. Phillip] DeVillier and [Sen. Cameron] Henry are conservative Republicans just like him. And another red state governor, Nebraska’s Jim Pillen, changed course in February, after meeting with low-income children who described what it’s like going hungry. Seems like a little listening can go a long way — for those who are willing.

Verite’s Khalil Gillon explains how advocates and families are preparing for the loss of the summer EBT program: 

[Raynata Lockett]  said her children are breakfast lovers and that her household goes through a gallon of milk in a week. That money, Lockett says, could’ve been used to buy her kids’ school uniforms if the Summer EBT program were still in effect. Lockett said she doesn’t understand why there is so much debate around providing benefits for families to feed themselves. “I served my country, and I went overseas, and we fed so many kids,” Lockett said. “But then I have to come home and justify why we have to feed our own children. It’s not right.”

19 million – Estimated number of tax filers that will request an automatic six-month extension for filing their federal income taxes before today’s deadline. (Source: IRS)