The Senate Education Committee on Thursday shut down opposition to a bill that would limit access to content about gender and sexuality in libraries, before passing it unanimously. While the committee allowed proponents of Senate Bill 7 to testify in support, Chairman Cleo Fields granted Sen. Bodi White’s motion to abruptly end testimony before opponents had a chance to speak.  The Advocate’s James Finn explains why this was possible and the predictable misrepresentation that occurs when only one side is allowed to tell a story. 

Senate rules allow for an abrupt end to public debate over bills if a motion is offered and approved to do so, regardless of how many people are waiting to be heard. … Two people who testified in favor of the bill on Thursday specifically mentioned books that contain LGBTQ+ content — “The Gay BCs,” “My Princess Boy,” and “Gender Queer.” One of the speakers claimed that “Gender Queer” sits in youth sections of libraries. [Mary] Stein, the East Baton Rouge librarian who opposed the bill, said that had she been allowed to testify, she would have corrected that speaker. At least in East Baton Rouge, “Gender Queer” is in the adult section, Stein said.

Teaching with associate degrees
The Louisiana Legislature’s latest attempt to address the state’s teacher shortage involves lowering the standards for entering the profession. People with two-year associate’s degrees would be able to teach in public schools under legislation that advanced out of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday. Sen. Patrick McMath’s Senate Bill 81 has support from State Education Superintendent Cade Brumley, but others view it as a short-term fix to a long-term problem. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose reports: 

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, there were 1,203 teaching jobs available at K-12 public schools at the start of the 2022-23 academic year. “It seems like we’re going to pay someone to teach temporarily until they figure out what they really want to do,” Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said. Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, initially sounded opposed to the bill until she got McMath to agree to provide more frequent data for lawmakers to analyze what he described as a pilot program. His proposal included a sunset date of Dec. 31, 2033.  “I’m really sad we’ve gotta do this. I’m really sad we’re lowering the bar,” Mizell said.

A better way to attract more qualified candidates to the classroom would be to pay teachers better. But conservatives are blocking efforts by Gov. John Bel Edwards to provide teachers a modest $3,000 raise, which would not be enough to cover increases in the cost of living over the past year. 

Supermajorities threaten Black voting rights 
Republican lawmakers have supermajorities in at least one chamber in every former-Confederate state except Georgia, Texas and Virginia. After the 2020 Census, these large margins allowed lawmakers in several Southern states, including in Louisiana, to dilute the voting power of Black citizens by drawing maps that didn’t accurately reflect the demographics of the state. The Washington Post’s Emmanuel Felton and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff explain how these GOP supermajorities are threatening Black voting rights. 

“They do what they do because they can. Not because there’s a policy or a rule or even a reason, but just because they can,” [State Rep. Yvonne] Hinson said of the Republican supermajority that runs the Florida state house. “I watched every development of the expulsions in Tennessee. I saw the parallels to what happened to us last year instantly. Every civil right accomplished in the ’60s is under attack. Every one.” … “When you get up to that level of supermajority, people don’t feel like they even have to pretend to follow any kind of a semblance of a democratic process,” [Cliff Albright, a founder of Black Voters Matter] he said. “At the end of the day, it’s harmful to the Black community in particular, and Black representation, but also the entire state.”

Louisiana needs long-term economic view
The prospects of a future recession are increasing as federal pandemic aid and increased tax revenue that supercharged the U.S. economy dwindles. For months record jobs numbers made it difficult to label the slowing economic activity a recession, but those are finally starting to slow. While the economy isn’t currently in recession, economists predict one as soon as this quarter. An Advocate editorial urges leaders to take a long-term look at how Louisiana can prosper after the post-Covid economic boom has passed. 

Louisiana, too, isn’t where we want it to be, with economic and educational challenges — the two are inextricably linked — putting the state far behind many of its peers in the South. Yes, governor, more people are working, but workforce participation still lags behind the national average, one of the troublesome signs pointed out in a new survey of the state’s performance commissioned by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. it’s good that more people are working, in our glass-half-full economy, but the celebration should be tempered with determination to do more for Louisiana’s long-term progress.

Number of the Day
5.1% – Percentage increase in wages and salary for private-sector U.S. workers from this time last year. (Source: U.S. Labor Department via the New York Times)