Louisiana is the worst state in the nation for working moms. But state lawmakers have an opportunity on Thursday – via Rep. Aimee Freeman’s House Bill 596 –  to make the state a better place to live and work by providing comprehensive paid family medical leave benefits. Phyllis Hutton Raabe, in a letter to Nola.com, urges lawmakers to follow the lead of nearly a dozen states that have created programs to allow workers to take paid leave from their jobs after a birth or adoption, or to care for themselves or a sick family member. 

A majority of new mothers here now lack yet need paid parental leave after giving birth. And mothers — and others — need paid leave to care for seriously ill family members, including elderly parents. Having paid leave promotes better family relations and lessens health care costs, important goals for our state. Eleven states and Washington, D.C., already have adopted paid family leave insurance programs, and the Louisiana House of Representatives is currently considering a well-developed House Bill 596, the Louisiana Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, to do so here. I urge all of our legislators to support this bill to implement paid family leave insurance.

ICYMI: Community leaders and policy advocates rallied on the Louisiana Capitol steps Wednesday in support of landmark legislation that seeks to create a comprehensive paid family medical leave benefit for Louisiana workers. HB 596 will be heard in the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on Thursday . 

Reading scores improve in Gulf South states
For decades, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama’s low reading scores were seen by other states as the low bar they needed to stay above. But that has changed in recent years. Mississippi catapulted to 21st for 4th grade reading scores in 2022, while Louisiana and Alabama were among only three states that saw improved reading scores on last year’s “nation’s report card.” As the AP’s Sharon Lurye explains, there’s no secret to the success that these three Gulf Coast states are using to improve literacy.

We know how to teach reading,” [Barksdale Institute’s CEO, Kelly Butler] she said. “We just have to do it everywhere.” All three states have trained thousands of teachers in the so-called science of reading, which refers to the most proven, research-backed methods of teaching reading. They’ve dispatched literacy coaches to help teachers implement that training, especially in low-performing schools. They also aim to catch problems early. That means screening for signs of reading deficiencies or dyslexia as early as kindergarten, informing parents if a problem is found and giving those kids extra support. The states have consequences in place if schools don’t teach kids how to read, but also offer help to keep kids on track.

Is Washington-style politics the new ‘Louisiana Way?’
The rise of hyper-partisan politics in Congress has infiltrated statehouses across the country, including in Louisiana. While most of the state GOP’s early focus was to claw away power from the governor’s office, lawmakers are now receiving the same marching orders on culture war issues as their Republican brethren in other states. The Advocate columnists Lanny Keller, Stephanie Grace and Clancy DuBos sat down to discuss the changing dynamics in the state Legislature. 

Keller: It also came at a time when the Republican Party was not your grandfather’s GOP — that of the gentlemanly days of George H.W. Bush. The party is more ideological than it has been in many years. That influences state politics, too. Grace: I think it’s one of the reasons we have bills going through our Legislature that are the same bills going through other conservative legislatures. There is this nationalized agenda, even on local issues, like libraries. I mean, what’s more local than libraries? Except, what’s happening in Lafayette is happening in other counties and towns across the country. DuBos: It’s a cookie-cutter approach to legislating. We’re seeing bills in Louisiana that very much resemble those in Florida, Texas, and other states that are embarking on these culture wars, whether it’s libraries and books, anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans rights, what teachers can say in classrooms.

The columnists also break down the budget debate dominating the Capitol:

Keller: And one of the lessons of this budget debate has been if you’re going to reject the governor’s proposals, then come forward with a coherent plan — and the numbers need to add up. Because this governor in particular has a very capable budget chief in Jay Dardenne. There’s some question as to whether the House numbers add up.  I think the point of that lesson is that it’s not pure ideology that gets you somewhere in a legislative body. It’s knowing the details. We’re now at the midpoint, where the details have become very, very important to this debate. I think maybe we will look back at this session as one in which the aggressive new Republican majority in the House may have overreached because it failed to nail all the numbers.

Hypocrisy in debt-ceiling cut demands
Republicans on Capitol Hill are demanding massive cuts to federal spending as a condition of lifting the national debt limit. But many of those Republicans hail from districts in dire need of the programs that this money supports. Reuters’ Andy Sullivan flew to Lake Charles, still recovering from two major hurricanes in 2020, to see how Rep. Clay Higgins is navigating the needs of his constituents and the demands of his party’s politics: 

The cowboy-hat wearing conservative regularly highlights federal funding for hospitals, bridges and ports in his district, while voting against the spending bills that include them as “unsustainable” and “socialist garbage.” … For some local residents, Higgins’ push for spending cuts in the face of so much need remains incomprehensible. Diana Reynolds’ home has been uninhabitable since Hurricane Laura, with black mold crawling up exposed wall studs. She would have liked to sell her house to the government under a federally funded plan that buys up houses to create a green space to soak up flood waters — but she said was told the funding has run out. “It’s almost like we’ve been forgotten about by the system. The government has failed us,” she said.

Number of the Day
47.9% – Percentage of Louisiana residents that are obese. (Source: NORC via Axios New Orleans)