By: James A. Smith, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE–The group that projects the state’s revenue finally recognized a brighter outlook after months of partisan infighting.
The state’s Revenue Estimating Conference on Wednesday reached the unanimous vote needed to increase this year’s state general fund forecast by $110 million and next year’s forecast by $119 million.
Now that the forecast is approved, lawmakers are tasked with deciding what to do with the extra revenue.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed spending it on a pay raise for teachers and other state programs. But before the new forecast was approved, legislators had begun debating cuts in some programs since they cannot pass a budget that is not balanced.
The legislative session just started Monday. So approval of the new forecast now could make it easier for Democrats and Republicans to agree on a budget with less rancor than has been the case in recent years.
By: Sheridan Wall, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Department of Health acknowledged Tuesday that 1,672 people had received Medicaid coverage even though they earned at least $100,000 in 2017. Department officials said nearly all of them had since been stripped from the rolls.
An additional 8,474 people were enrolled in Medicaid even though the Louisiana Department of Revenue later found that they had reported incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 on their 2017 tax returns.
Jen Steele, the state Medicaid director, said that 3,550 of those people are no longer enrolled, and 540 have supplied wage data supporting their current eligibility. She said the other 4,384 cases remain under review.
The data about these cases came to light at a House Appropriations Committee hearing as Republican legislators renewed their attacks on how the administration of Gov. John Bel Edwards has managed the program.
Edwards, a Democrat who is running for re-election this year, has cited his support for the basic Medicaid program and his expansion of it to include nearly 500,000 residents making more than poverty-level wages as among his most significant achievements.
Republicans have questioned the cost of the expansion, and state auditors have said the program had been managed too loosely. The Health Department has since beefed up computer systems to check eligibility and recently kicked 30,000 people off the rolls.
Even though Republicans dominate Louisiana politics, only one GOP woman, Suzanne Terrell, has ever held statewide elected office. Her term as elections commissioner ended in 2004.
Terrell and three Republican women serving in the Legislature say their party could be doing more to recruit women to run for office.
“You don’t know if someone is good because they aren’t in office yet,” Terrell said. “I’m not saying to vote for a candidate just because they’re a woman, but the Republicans don’t know all the capable people out there because the party hasn’t tried.”
While female Democrats saw record-breaking success nationally in 2018, Republican women have had much more limited success in running for office. In Louisiana, some say they have struggled to find a place in the state’s traditional “boys’ club” political structure.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, an engineer and manager at Shell Oil for nearly 35 years, had chaired a parish recreation board when she started her first campaign for the state Senate in 2015. She said she was openly discouraged from seeking office.
Hewitt said the campaign manager of her Republican opponent, Pete Schneider, called her and said that “the powers that be met in Slidell and decided that it was my opponent’s seat.”
By: Sheridan Wall and Lauren Heffker, LSU Manship School News Service
A growing number of Louisiana politicos, from pundits to donors, believe that the 2019 race for governor will be one of the most expensive ever waged on Louisiana soil.
But how much will all that money matter?
It matters a lot, said consultant Roy Fletcher. It’s not just the total dollar amount that will be important, but how the cash ebbs and flows in the campaigns, he added.
Analysts say money is most critical for increasing name recognition, and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has an advantage there. For Congressman Ralph Abraham and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, the first priority is establishing their GOP image to voters.
Edwards’ campaign announced it has raised a total of $8.4 million so far, while Rispone pledged to use $5 million of his personal cash and has raised an additional $554,000. Abraham has not yet reported donations or spending for this race.
The fundraising game will be crucial early on as challengers need to simultaneously build name recognition and define their messages to voters before Edwards has the opportunity to do it for them, Fletcher said. “So, the fight isn’t just over name recognition,” he said, “but it’s over definition.”
But the election also could be determined by party affiliation in a red state, as Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, takes on challengers who will automatically win support from some GOP voters. And given Louisiana’s off-kilter election schedule as one of only three states with governor’s races this year, most experts expect money to pour into the state from outside groups in both parties.
By: Claire Bermudez, Caroline Fenton and Payton Ibos, LSU Manship School News Service
Following the #MeToo movement and the hearings on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, more women are coming forward on Louisiana college campuses with complaints of sexual assault and relationship violence.
LSU’s Lighthouse counseling program received 91 requests for support last year, up from 53 in 2016. During the September showdown between Kavanaugh and a woman who accused him of having assaulted her when they were teenagers, requests by LSU students for counseling increased to two a day.
Students can go to Lighthouse for support following rape, domestic violence, stalking or attempted sexual assaults.
Since assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men set off the #MeToo movement late last year, the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LaFASA) also has seen a spike in reports.
“When the #MeToo initially came out, a lot of our accredited sexual assault centers throughout Louisiana did see a surge in hotline calls,” Josef Canaria, LaFASA’s campus sexual violence coordinator, said. “Statewide, our rape crisis centers phone lines were off the hook.”
By: Britt Lofaso and Kennedi Walker, LSU Manship School News Service
Mari Dehrab was waiting to cross a busy street on the LSU campus when everything went black. A car had careened onto the sidewalk and hit her and three others before slamming into a light pole.
Dehrab, 23, suffered a brain tear, causing memory loss so severe that, at one point, she could not remember some of her family members. One of her ankles was broken and the other sprained, confining her to wheelchair for six weeks. She had to drop out of school this semester, ending her hope of graduating in the spring with a degree in mass communication.
“I went through such a big depression, and I still have depression,” she said. “My life has been put on pause because of this accident.”
Dehrab is one of 41 pedestrians hit by cars on LSU’s main campus over the last five years. At least four suffered incapacitating injuries, including a woman placed in a medically induced coma for two weeks after a spinal injury. Ten other pedestrians suffered injuries the LSU Police Department described as “moderate,” without giving details, and 15 more complained of possible injuries. The rest were not injured.
Dehrab, of New Iberia, was hurt Aug. 24, five days into the semester, while she was on her way to class. One car knocked another one onto a sidewalk at Nicholson and Skip Bertman drives. Two other students suffered concussions, with one suffering a broken pelvis and sacrum and some brain bleeding. The other pedestrian had moderate injuries, but police didn’t provide specifics.