Voting along party lines, a House committee took the first step Wednesday in authorizing a two-week convention to overhaul Louisiana’s constitution. House Bill 800 heads to the House floor, where it needs two-thirds support, even though its supporters have provided no clarity about what they actually want to change in the constitution. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports

Baton Rouge talk show host Jim Engster asked [Gov. Jeff] Landry on Tuesday whether he favors removing from the constitution the $75,000 homestead exemption or the MFP funding formula for K-12 schools. The governor did not say. Landry did say he wants a freer hand in tax and budget policy next year when the state is facing a projected $530 million deficit, unless lawmakers renew a .45-cent sales tax that expires in mid-2025.

Gov. Jeff Landry has not disclosed the membership of a transition advisory team that worked on the issue, and has provided bare-bones details about the team’s recommendations. The secrecy is frustrating to some lawmakers:

Rep. Delisha Boyd, D-New Orleans, said Landry and the Republican majority ought to take their ideas for changing the constitution on a road show throughout the state to fully engage the public and then call a convention on March 1. “We’re not privileged to what the transition team is intending to do,” said Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge. She was referring to Landry’s transition team, which appears to be formulating the specific ideas to be included in the proposed constitutional convention. The governor’s office has declined to provide a list of the transition team’s members.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Landry said the convention needs to be rushed so the constitutional overhaul can take effect before the 2025 “fiscal” session of the Legislature and give lawmakers more flexibility to deal with a looming budget shortfall. Among other things, the constitution protects the state’s sales tax exemption on groceries, prescription drugs and home utilities.  

For more on the constitutional convention, visit Invest in Louisiana’s website

Wednesday was a bad day at the Legislature for workers, as the House advanced bills that would eliminate mandatory lunch breaks for child workers and reduce injury compensation and unemployment benefits. Rep. Troy Romero’s House Bill 119 would reduce the amount of time people can collect unemployment benefits – from 26 weeks to as little as 12 weeks – and ties the duration of benefits to the state unemployment rate, with benefits decreasing as the unemployment rate increases. Invest in Louisiana’s Christina LeBlanc explains why this legislation is a bad deal for workers:

Louisiana is a diverse state with different economic drivers, and the unemployment rate can vary widely among different communities and regions. … Unemployment insurance is a crucial financial protection for Louisiana workers when they fall on hard times through no fault of their own, and the benefits that people receive support businesses in every Louisiana community. Instead of cutting benefits, the Legislature should look for ways to strengthen our unemployment insurance system so it is there when Louisianans need help. 

The Senate Labor Committee on Wednesday rejected, along party lines, a proposal (Senate Bill 173) to establish a state minimum wage that would gradually rise to $14 an hour by 2029. The $7.25 federal  minimum wage has lost more than 30% of its value over the last 15 years as the cost of living has continued to rise. But the issue remains a non-starter in Louisiana, which remains one of only five states without a minimum wage law. The Shreveport Times’ Greg Hilburn reports

About one in five Louisianians live in poverty. Louisiana women in particular face bleak circumstances on nearly every front from poverty to life expectancy to education, according to a study released earlier this year. The WalletHub study ranked Louisiana 50th among states and the District of Columbia as best places for women, ahead of only Oklahoma. Last spring a WalletHub study ranked Louisiana as the worst state in America for working mothers with data showing moms here are shortchanged on everything from pay to childcare.

A recent issue brief from Invest in Louisiana explains how 1-in-6 Louisiana workers – 308,300 – would get a pay raise by 2029 if the minimum wage was set at $14 per hour, as SB 173 would require. Low-income, Black, and women workers would benefit disproportionately from a higher minimum wage. 

Paperwork issues are creating a roadblock for legislative pet projects. Nearly two-thirds of the more than $400 million in state funding that lawmakers have allocated for pet projects since 2020 is being held up because entities have failed to fill out the proper paperwork. But some feel this problem is of legislators’ own doing: The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue explains:

“This is what happens when lawmakers insert millions of dollars of taxpayer-financed pet projects into the budget with no public discussion about how the money will be spent,” said Steven Procopio, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, a think tank that examines state budget practices. Pet projects are defined as those that benefit local governments and nonprofit entities, but haven’t been vetted through public discussion and don’t reflect state budget priorities. 

Lawmakers have traditionally been able to add their projects to the state budget anonymously, which created confusion when the state treasurer’s office tried to resolve questions. But that practice is changing this year. 

At the request of the treasurer’s office, lawmakers putting pet projects into the budget in this session will have to fill out a form signing their name to the project. They also have to provide contact information for the entity that’s supposed to receive the money. For the first time, lawmakers will have to reveal, on a document, that they are making a pet project request.

$670 million – Estimated loss of economic activity in Texas resulting from legislation that banned local municipalities from contracting with banks that restrict funding to oil and  gas companies or refuse to do business with firearms companies. A proposal working its way through the Louisiana Legislature would force companies to include a “pro-gun” clause in contracts with the state. (Source: TXP, Inc)