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Reports on Louisiana politics, government and the people shaping state policy.

Lawmakers to take on education, insurance and more in regular session

Louisiana State Capitol in April 2022.
Kezia Setyawan
The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge in April 2022.

Gov. Jeff Landry opened Louisiana’s regular legislative session Monday with a to-do list for lawmakers. Among the items, make it easier for parents to send their kids to private schools and fix the state’s insurance market.

Lawmakers must also pass a state budget, while facing a projected deficit, before the session ends on June 3.

Republicans hold a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature. And for the first time since 2016, Louisiana has a Republican governor, too. That means the one major obstacle conservative policies have faced over the last eight years — Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto pen — is no longer an issue.

Louisiana has already seen consequential changes since Landry took office, including bills passed during a recent special session that undo many of the state’s 2017 criminal justice reforms.

'Parents' rights'

Among the more than 1,000 bills filed for this session, many are directed at the state’s public schools.

“Louisiana is failing our students,” Landry told lawmakers Monday. “The statistics could not be more alarming.”

Landry appeared to reference the state’s most recent ranking on the Nation’s Report Card, which found more than 70% of fourth graders were behind in reading and 80% of eighth graders were behind in math.

While Louisiana ranked 46 out of 51 states, it did show the greatest improvement in reading. State officials point to recent policy decisions focused on improving literacy, including training teachers in the science of reading.

Landry didn’t highlight those gains though, and instead framed the solution as giving parents more power.

“We cannot continue to be tone deaf to the moms and dads who are working two jobs to pay for a decent education for their child,” Landry said.

“Put parents back in control," he later added. "And let the money follow the child.”

Proposed bills would do that by creating voucher-like programs, called education savings accounts, that provide families with public funds for private- and homeschool options.

One bill is specifically for families with children who have a disability. Another is for children bullied in public schools. Louisiana lawmakers previously proposed a universal program that would be open to all families, and they are expected to again this session.

Republican-led states have rapidly expanded what is often referred to as “school choice.” Arizona was the first state to offer universal savings accounts in 2022, and Florida joined them last year.

Supporters argue parents deserve a real choice between public and private schools, and that savings accounts make it possible for low- and middle-income families to afford tuition.

But research shows vouchers don't always cover tuition in full, leaving a gap some families can't fill, and many who have applied for existing programs already sent their children to private school.

As a result, opponents frame vouchers as a subsidy for wealthier families and a gift to private schools. They point to concerns of ballooning budgets and the leaching of money from public schools.

Landry's other education priority also falls under the umbrella of what advocates refer to as "parents' rights." He called on lawmakers to stop public schools from "indoctrinating" students with the latest “social radical cause,” a claim that hasn’t been substantiated.

One bill would require parent permission for students to use pronouns that don’t match the gender they were assigned at birth. Another, referred to by critics as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would ban classroom discussion of sexual orientation through high school. Both of those bills passed last year but were vetoed by Edwards.

Insurance crisis

Landry also told lawmakers to address Louisiana’s ongoing insurance crisis.

The state has some of the highest auto insurance rates in the country, but the bigger concern is property.

A dozen homeowners insurance companies left the state after record-breaking hurricane seasons in 2020 and 2021. That’s forced an increasing number of Louisianans to rely on Louisiana Citizens, the state’s insurer of last resort.

By law, Citizens’ policies must be priced at least 10% above the highest market insurance rate in each parish. The number of homeowners holding policies with the company has tripled since Hurricane Laura hit in 2020.

“The storms have overwhelmed the insurance industry,” Landry said, adding that delayed claims have driven up lawsuits in the state.

“Many insurance companies have now left us,” he said. “Those companies still writing insurance have raised rates to cover those losses.”

Tim Temple, the state’s insurance commissioner, has said he plans to bring down rates by reducing regulations on insurance companies, a move he argues will attract more providers and increase competition.

Less regulation comes at the cost of consumer protections, and critics worry people will lose policies in the wake of severe storms. Despite pushback, Temple has remained firm that less regulation will ultimately help consumers.

Landry agrees with Temple’s approach and encouraged lawmakers Monday to consider other proposals aimed at lowering rates.

Constitutional reform

In his speech, Landry also asked lawmakers to reshape Louisiana’s constitution, calling the current document “bloated,” “outdated and antiquated.”

The state's constitution is more than 72,000 words, making it the fourth longest in the nation, according to the Public Affairs Research Council, a nonpartisan policy watchdog group. Landry said he wants a “streamlined” document that lays out fundamental principles.

Among the litany of other bills is one that would provide exceptions for rape and incest to Louisiana’s near-total abortion ban, as well as a bill that would codify the right to contraception.

Lawmakers will also consider whether to increase the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour, as well as hundreds of other bills.

The session continues with committee meetings in both chambers throughout the week and can end no later than 6 p.m. on June 3.

Molly Ryan is a political reporter and covers state politics from the Louisiana Capitol.
Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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