The Louisiana House, with many political newcomers, has offered mostly unquestioning support for Gov. Jeff Landry’s political agenda. But the more seasoned Senate has shown flashes of independence under President Cameron Henry, and its actions will be closely watched as the legislative session passes the halfway point. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Tyler Bridges reports on the upper chamber’s pivotal role over the next five weeks. 

The biggest question mark surrounds the governor’s stepped-up effort to have lawmakers convene a special convention on May 20 to rewrite the state constitution for the first time in 50 years. Landry pitched the proposal to senators during an unpublicized hour-long meeting Wednesday night, but several members said afterward that they have not yet fully warmed to the idea. … Other measures in play in the coming weeks would allow Landry to expand his reach beyond the already considerable powers of the governor, shield vast amounts of government records from public view, fund a summer lunch program for poor children and provide a one-time pay raise for teachers that they say is inadequate.

Legislative leaders are getting serious about participating in a federal program that provides extra food assistance to low-income children during summer. Last week the House advanced a budget proposal that restores funding for the Summer EBT program, which Gov. Jeff Landry’s administration did not fund in its budget recommendations. House Appropriations chair Jack McFarland and Senate President Cameron Henry are expected to meet with officials this week to push for the state to allocate $3.6 million to participate. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports

In exchange for those few million dollars of state money, Louisiana could receive as much as $71 million in federal assistance to help feed 594,000 children through Summer EBT, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. … The money would not only benefit low-income families but also Louisiana grocery stores because people would have more money to spend on food. “It feeds kids and it brings money to local businesses,” said Henry, when asked why Louisiana should join the initiative.

The Landry administration’s decision to reject the federal dollars likely means Louisiana’s program won’t be ready to help families when summer vacation begins next month. Department of Children and Family Services Secretary David Matlock and state Education Superintendent Cade Brumley angered lawmakers last week as they pointed fingers at each other over whose department was responsible for the debacle. 

McFarland and Henry said they will insist on cooperation from Matlock, Brumley and others in state government. “We have the ability to tell the agencies where they are going to spend that money, how they are going to spend that money and when they are going to spend that money,” McFarland told the Louisiana House last week.  “For an agency to come up here and tell me they can’t work together … hogwash,” he said. 

Bills moving through the Legislature seek to replace Louisiana’s current school voucher system for low-income families with a new program for “Education Savings Accounts” that would eventually be available to all families, regardless of income. Most of the demand for ESAs in other states have come from families, many affluent, whose children were already in private schools. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s editorial board explains the numerous questions that arise when delving into the details of this harmful idea: 

(I)f the goal is to help underserved students, why open the program to private schools with rigorous entrance requirements? And shouldn’t participating schools have to meet the same standards — and use the same standardized tests — as public schools? What about rural school districts, which have less fiscal flexibility if students take state dollars elsewhere? Students with special needs, who would be eligible for larger stipends, still find that private schools often do not offer specialized programs that public schools are required to offer — and that help them thrive. And let’s not ignore the biggest, most pervasive problem faced by other states that have implemented ESAs — runaway costs.

For more on this issue, read Invest in Louisiana’s recent guest column for The Advocate | The Times Picayune and issue brief.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Congress is not going to address America’s maternal mortality crisis anytime soon. That means it’s up to states to take this important step of bringing immediate and long-lasting benefits to new mothers. The 19th’s Darreonna Davis explains how state lawmaker, mostly female, are leading the charge: 

“State legislators play a critical role in advancing and protecting reproductive rights. While often, folks look at Congress or the administration or the courts, what we know, especially in 2024, that all of those are really kind of stalled,” Driver said. “Because of the makeup of the Congress, and the way that politics has just been so polarized, very little legislation passes. And so there’s only so much that Congress can do, whereas on the contrast, state legislators are on the front lines of this work. So much legislation moves faster.”

$259,000 – Average wealth for Americans under the age of 40. The average household wealth for this age group is up 49% compared to pre-pandemic levels. (Source:  Center for American Progress analysis of Fed data via Axios)