Louisiana lawmakers are projected to have millions of extra dollars at their disposal during next year’s budget debate after the state finished the current budget cycle with a $330 million surplus. Louisiana’s constitution requires Gov.-elect Jeff Landry and legislators to direct half the money to the state’s rainy day fund and to pay down retirement debt, and the remaining amount must go to one-time projects. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue explains how the current budget largesse won’t last. 

Louisiana’s fiscal outlook is expected to stay sunny until the 2025-2026 budget year, when the state is projected to start running a $470 million-plus deficit.The shortfall is expected to be caused by an automatic cut in the state sales tax rate and increase in sales tax exemptions that kick in that year. More money will also be siphoned off from Louisiana’s general fund for transportation projects in that year as well, which could potentially cause a deficit of support for other government programs. 

Note: Some legislators want to eliminate Louisiana’s personal and corporate income tax, which would deepen the fiscal morass. 

Helping pregnant women overcome addiction
Louisiana’s maternal and infant mortality crisis is being exacerbated by the opioid epidemic. The number of newborns exposed to illegal drugs has increased significantly in recent years and accidental overdoses are the top cause for deaths among new mothers in the state. Unfortunately, many pregnant women who are addicted to drugs don’t have access to the crucial services needed to overcome their struggles and ensure a healthy pregnancy. The Times-Picayune |Baton Rouge Advocate’s Andrea Gallo tells the story of Rachel Hernandez, a new mother who did receive help and the consequences for thousands of others who don’t. 

The program in Bogalusa is a rarity as many rural parts of the state lack obstetricians, let alone specialized pregnancy care combined with addiction treatment. It’s particularly hard to find such treatment in north Louisiana, where maternity care deserts are more prevalent. “We don’t always truly understand the day-to-day struggles that often these patients are dealing with,” [Dr. Ronak] Shah said. “These patients are always so grateful, they’re so thankful, oftentimes, they feel like they’re not given the chance to have adequate care because they live in rural Louisiana.”

Louisiana’s festering mental health care system
Members of the House Subcommittee on Mental Health took aim at the managed care organizations, or MCOs, the state uses to provide mental health treatment to people enrolled in Medicaid. As the Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose explains, critics focused on the unreliable and inconsistent practices of MCOs in treating mental health in Louisiana. 

Although they [MCOs] are supposed to honor one another’s prior authorizations for treatment, experts who testified said that’s often not the case. For example, a patient who has approval for multiple health care visits typically sees that number reduced if they have to switch MCOs. In addition, Medicaid patients also face long wait lists for mental health providers no matter the organization. “Medicaid recipients and providers have really paid the cost moving from what we used to what we have now because the care is so fragmented,” Katie Corkern, executive director of the Louisiana Rural Mental Health Alliance, told the subcommittee.

Verite News’ Drew Costley explains how the devastating – and increasingly frequent – effects of climate change are adding to the mental health crisis in New Orleans. 

Steep drop in Louisiana paroles
Louisiana witnessed one of the sharpest declines in the number of people granted parole and early release from prison since 2019, according to a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative. The number of prisoners granted parole in Louisiana from 2019 through 2022 fell by 59%, the fifth largest decrease in the nation. Verite News’ Richard A. Webster explains one factor that’s driving the downturn:

Louisiana’s decrease can be explained, in part, by a comprehensive package of criminal justice reforms, passed in 2017, that made a large number of people parole eligible who weren’t previously, such as those given life sentences when they were juveniles, said Andrew Hundley, executive director of the Louisiana Parole Project. Many of those hearings were held in 2019, after which the numbers fell off a cliff.  “It’s not a function of the parole board,” Hundley said. “There just aren’t as many people eligible. There’s a smaller pool.”

The numbers are expected to dip further because of new leadership.

(Gov. -elect Jeff) Landry’s campaign was built largely on a tough-on-crime platform, and the expectation is that he will appoint new members to the parole board who will make it difficult, if not impossible, for inmates to secure parole and an early release from prison. Hundley pointed to Landry’s recent, successful effort to stop the pardon board from even considering the clemency applications of death row inmates as a precursor of what is to come. 

Number of the Day
$250 million – Amount of federal funding Louisiana is slated to receive from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to build ‘resilience hubs’ for power outages during storms. (Source: U.S. Department of Energy via the Louisiana Illuminator