Gov. Jeff Landry’s plan to make Louisiana’s elections more partisan and less inclusive faced a backlash on Thursday from a state Senate committee, which stripped key provisions from a closed-primary bill and delayed its implementation. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Finn and Meghan Friedmann report

A Senate panel bucked Landry, a Republican, by slashing all but state Supreme Court and federal races from a measure to overhaul the state’s “jungle primary” system, and delaying by two years when the legislation, House Bill 17, would take effect. The bill, which Landry supports, seeks to implement closed party primaries in place of the current open primary elections.

The amended version of House Bill 17 pushes back the start date of closed primary elections to 2026, requires candidates to secure a majority of the vote and limits the new system to only congressional and state Supreme Court races. As The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate notes in an editorial, Landry’s closed-primary scheme is an expensive, unpopular move that is motivated by partisan politics and would disenfranchise 800,000 Louisianans who have no party affiliation. 

Lawmakers also tinkered with Landry’s preferred map for Louisiana’s congressional district. The amended version of Senate Bill 8 includes a second-majority Black district, but carves up East Baton Rouge Parish between three members of Congress. 

Under the amended map, a sliver of the parish – including an area encompassing LSU’s two precincts—would become part of U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins’ district. “You want to make (Calcasieu Parish) whole, and you want to split us three ways?” [Rep. Denise] Marcelle asked [Rep. Les] Farnum. “I’m not voting for any map that has Baton Rouge split three ways because that’s insane. It’s insane.”

The eight-day special session could end as early as Friday. 

WIC funding left out of shutdown deal
Congress approved a stopgap spending bill on Thursday that will keep the federal government operating until March. While the deal avoids the immediate, nationwide disruptions of a government shutdown, it does not include additional funding for two critical programs that help low-income Americans. Route Fifty’s Kery Murakami reports

Because the continuing resolution will leave spending at the same levels, the Affordable Connectivity Program will not get the additional funding it needs to avoid running out of funding in April. … People hoping to sign up for the program will be turned away starting Feb. 7. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, will continue to face a billion-dollar shortfall. With the Agriculture Department estimating that WIC will run out of funding in August, concerns are rising that states may have to start putting low-income women seeking help on waiting lists. 

Earlier this week the New York Times’ Madeleine Ngo explained how a shortfall would affect the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which finances healthy foods and other support for pregnant and postpartum women and their children. 

Taxpayers foot bill for wrongful convictions
Louisiana taxpayers have paid millions of dollars in compensation for wrongful convictions over the past 30 years, according to a new study by High Rise Financial. The findings from the pre-settlement legal funding company show the state ranked ninth in the nation for compensation paid to people who were wrongly incarcerated. KTAL’s Marlo Lacen reports

Those eligible for this compensation have, in most cases, been exonerated through DNA evidence. These are not simply convicted people who are released after completing their prison or who had convictions overturned. These were people who’s innocence was proven and had years of their lives stolen by wrongful convictions. … In Louisiana exonerated people in the state have received $14,060,602.00. In a state with a population of 4,657,757 that cost amounts to $3.02 per citizen.

New deal for Calcasieu River Bridge
Gov. Jeff Landry announced a new financing plan for a new Calcasieu River bridge that reduces tolls for local drivers. State lawmakers recently rejected a plan for the new bridge because of its reliance on tolls. But the pushback largely came from trucking companies, which have influence at the Legislature. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose has the details:  

As for tolls, Landry said they will be reduced 26% across the board. He also indicated 60% of drivers paying them will be from outside the state. Landry noted differences between his proposal and former Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to pay for the bridge. For example, the toll for a large pickup truck under the original proposal would have been $3.82. Landry wants to set the same vehicle toll at 25 cents. 

Number of the Day
$0.98 – Price that a gallon of gas would need to be in Louisiana for it to be as cheap as charging an electric vehicle. Louisiana was tied with Washington for the cheapest state to charge an EV. (Source: Canary Media)