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Groups studying Louisiana's religious freedom act want to match Indiana version sparking intense gay rights protests

Thousands of opponents of Indiana Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, gathered on the lawn of the Indiana State House to rally against that legislation Saturday, March 28, 2015. Indiana's law has been widely criticized by businesses and organizations around the country. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Religious organizations are studying Louisiana’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act to see how it can be updated to match the Indiana and Arkansas versions that have provoked intense gay rights protests in those two states. But election year politics, and a shorter legislative session that deals primarily with fiscal issues, may postpone any bills until… Continue reading →

Right-leaning think tank: Louisiana will be the first state to reach ‘Tax Freedom Day’ in 2015

Advocate staff photo by CHRISTINE MORGAN -- Ron Rindone, a volunteer tax preparer, completes George 'Joe' Morrison's tax returns Thursday, March 12, 2015,  at the Denham Springs Library. Co-sponsored by Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and the Internal Revenue Service, the free program prepares tax documents for people who qualify.

This year, Louisiana will be the first state to reach “Tax Freedom Day,” the day when the state’s taxpayers collectively have earned enough money to pay federal, state and local taxes for the year, according to the Tax Foundation, a right-leaning think tank based in Washington D.C. Louisiana will reach that milestone on April 2 for 2015,… Continue reading →

Baton Rouge legislators: Not enough done to protect residents' 'health, safety and welfare' with Mid City emergency room closing

Seven Baton Rouge Democratic legislators continued to decry the loss of Baton Rouge General Mid City’s emergency room on the eve of its Tuesday shutdown. The Mid City ER closes at 7 a.m. Tuesday - a victim of what its operators said is growing red ink caused by an influx of uninsured patients. In a joint… Continue reading →

'Those patients have to go somewhere': Ripple effect expected when Baton Rouge Mid City emergency room closes today

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Baton Rouge General's mid-city campus.

At 7 a.m. Tuesday, Baton Rouge General Medical Center’s Mid City emergency room will close, pulling the plug on what hospital officials call a financial money pit that threatened hospital operations. It’s the second emergency room shutdown within two years in the urban environs of Louisiana’s capital city. The first came as LSU’s charity hospital… Continue reading →

Louisiana roads called 'axle-breaking insults' as state struggles to meet basic transportation needs

Louisiana’s roads and bridges are beset by dwindling dollars, pressing needs and the lack of any sweeping solutions on the horizon. Even amid a $12.3 billion backlog of transportation infrastructure projects, nearly $91 million — roughly equal to 3 cents of the state’s 20-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax — is set to be diverted to the State Police… Continue reading →

Crawfish 'emergency': How an immigration kerfuffle could affect your étouffée, bisque

Advocate staff photo by BRAD BOWIE -- Immigrant laborers peel boiled crawfish to be packaged and sold by the pound on Thursday morning at Riceland Crawfish in Eunice. Labor issues are making it difficult for many processors to find enough peelers to clean the amount of crawfish needed.

Going into what is supposed to be the biggest sales week of the crawfish season, processor Dexter Guillory, of Eunice, says he is nothing but worried. One month into the peak season, during which the crawfish industry makes most of its money, an immigration kerfuffle has kept Guillory and most of the owners of the state’s dozen… Continue reading →

Senate leaders offer bill to control TOPS costs, with support this time from Taylor Foundation and the Board of Regents

Senator Jack Donahue

Legislation aimed at reining in the costs of TOPS, the state’s popular college tuition-paying program, was filed Friday. But unlike previous years, when similar measures have gone down to defeat, state Sen. Jack Donahue is more optimistic, saying the legislation has the backing of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, which founded the scholarship, and… Continue reading →

Oil spill money targeted for La. colleges, under proposal

Higher education leaders are eyeing Gulf oil spill recovery money as a possible long-term financing source for Louisiana’s college campuses. The Board of Regents on Wednesday supported a proposal to be sponsored by state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, that could steer to public colleges some of the money Louisiana is expected to receive from BP to… Continue reading →

Our Lady of the Lake adds free valet parking for ER patients, visitors

Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center announced Thursday it has begun offering free valet parking services to emergency room patients and visitors. The idea is to get ER patients in for treatment faster. “When a patient is distressed and focused on seeking medical care, the last thing they should worry about is finding a… Continue reading →

Voters back tax incentives for business, draw line at credits where Louisiana writes a check, survey says

LSU 2015 Louisiana Survey -- Third Report on Tax Incentives

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series about findings from the 2015 Louisiana Survey. Incentives that attract business but cost the state revenues are at the center of this year’s budget controversies and are generally supported by adults in Louisiana, according to the latest installment of LSU’s 2015 Louisiana Survey. But… Continue reading →

Why Jindal administration's attempt to privatize Louisiana's charity hospitals is running into financial trouble

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal talks about his plan for national education reform at a policy breakfast on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. If he runs for president, Jindal is expected to make education a central part of his message with a focus on his opposition to Common Core.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Jindal administration’s experiment in privatizing Louisiana’s charity hospitals is running into some troubled financial waters. The House Appropriations Committee learned Wednesday that $332 million of the funding to keep the hospitals operating at a stand-still level relies on the uncertain legislative approval of some tax law changes. Committee chairman Rep. Jim Fannin said there… Continue reading →

Louisiana lawmaker proposes increasing cigarette tax fourfold to help close massive budget gap

Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa,. (AP Photo/The Baton Rouge Advocate, Adam Lau)

State Rep. Harold Ritchie is proposing a more than fourfold increase in Louisiana’s cigarette tax to help generate dollars to close a $1.6 billion state budget hole. The tax is 36 cents per pack — the third-lowest in the nation. Ritchie has prefiled two bills: One would change the constitution and the other would change a state… Continue reading →

Diversion of transportation funds to total $418 million

Despite a massive backlog of road and bridge projects, the state will have soon diverted $418 million from its key transportation fund to State Police since 2005, officials said Tuesday. Louisiana has a $12.3 billion backlog of transportation work, which state Transportation Secretary Sherri LeBas said will be “almost impossible” to eliminate amid an always… Continue reading →

Louisiana's state Capitol security upgrade costs rise again; will it be ready in time for the upcoming session?

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Construction work continues at the State Capitol on a major security upgrade project as the April 13 start of the 2015 legislative session approaches.

Costs of the State Capitol security upgrade project keep growing — approaching $400,000 more than the original bid. And three weeks before the April 13 start of the 2015 session of the Louisiana Legislature, those unexpected problems have led to construction delays, pushing back the project’s completion closer and closer to when all those legislators arrive.… Continue reading →

Lots of 'ifs' in Bobby Jindal's health care budget plan, and that has some people nervous

The Jindal administration’s proposed health care budget relies on more than $500 million in funding that is contingent on several things happening first — and that’s making people in the health care community nervous. “We have great concerns that it’s really not achievable,” said Paul Salles, who heads the Louisiana Hospital Association, the professional group representing… Continue reading →

Questions raised about military spouse law

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Nancy Grade, of DeRidder, after receiving permission Friday to practice as a mental health counselor in Louisiana. Her husband, U.S. Air Force Major Erich Grade, was transferred to Fort Polk from Texas and the Licensed Professional Counselors Board of Examiners initially refused to grant her a license in this state. Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David LaCerte, right, helped Mrs. Grade appeal the decision, arguing that she should have been licensed under a recent state law that allows reciprocity for military spouses.

It took five months after her husband transferred to Fort Polk, but Louisiana agreed Friday to issue a license and allow her to work in this state. “I lost five months of my career,” said Nancy Grade, a mental health counselor who now lives in DeRidder. “I never thought this would happen when I moved to Louisiana.”… Continue reading →

Group Benefits contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield expanded

The Legislature’s money panels agreed Friday to a series of changes in the state’s $1.1 billion annual contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana to administer state government’s health insurance program. Three changes in the pact will increase the firm’s responsibilities but won’t add to contract costs, Group Benefits Chief Executive Officer Susan West assured… Continue reading →

Louisiana Board of Ethics fines ex-state employee $1,000 for violation

A former Louisiana Workforce Commission employee will pay a $1,000 fine related to use of an agency credit card for personal purchases. The fine is part of a settlement agreement Loretta Britt signed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics, in which she admits violating state ethics law. The ethics agency worked out a payment plan with… Continue reading →

Kink in plan to sell tobacco settlement

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne on Thursday threw a crimp into the Jindal administration’s plan to sell the remaining portion of the tobacco settlement monies by recalling that the state’s voters nine years ago overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that would send a significant portion of the dollars to coastal restoration projects. The administration hopes to raise about… Continue reading →

Bobby Jindal adviser suggests reining in 'very expensive' film tax credit program

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret suggested there’s a need for changes in the way the state doles out incentives to lure the movie-making industry here. Moret stopped short of calling for an outright cap or offering any specific suggestions for reining in film tax credits during a budget hearing Thursday, but the topic dominated… Continue reading →

Diverting dedicated tourism funds hurts budget more than it helps. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne says

Associated Press photo by Melinda Deslatte -- Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a Republican, speaks to the Press Club of Baton Rouge about his campaign in this September 2014 file photo.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne asked Thursday for restoration of $2.1 million in dedicated tourism dollars that the Jindal administration says can be used to fill other budget holes. State law does not allow the dollars to be spent on anything but tourism-related activities, Dardenne said. And he said stripping the dollars would hurt the overall budget because… Continue reading →

LSU Survey: Grumpiness fades among Louisiana residents: ‘People no longer think things are getting worse’

The Louisiana State Capitol building in Baton Rouge.

Despite an uptick in unemployment and fretting about the state government’s fiscal problems, Louisiana residents are more optimistic about the state’s future for the first time in years, according to LSU’s annual survey. The change in perception is not huge — still below a majority — but the numbers show a shift, with more residents willing to… Continue reading →

Is Louisiana Lottery for sale?

Treasurer John Kennedy speaks to members of the House Appropriations Committee about Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget recommendations for next year, on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Baton Rouge, La. Kennedy has been critical of some of the financing maneuvers Jindal proposes. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

State Treasurer John N. Kennedy on Wednesday told a Louisiana House panel that plans are afoot to sell the state’s lottery, which the Jindal administration denies. Kennedy points to two recent presentations by investment banks that outline a deal that could quickly raise almost a half billion dollars for state government. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols… Continue reading →

Louisiana Secretary of State: No presidential preference primary here unless Gov. Bobby Jindal funds it

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- First Assistant Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, right, and Secretary of State Tom Schedler discuss proposed cuts to the agency's budget Wednesday before the House Appropriations Committee. Schedler says he will have to reduce the number of days museums are open and he won't be able to hold a presidential primary election in Louisiana next year.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is considering a run for president, didn’t fund a presidential preference primary for Louisiana and Secretary of State Tom Schedler said Wednesday he won’t hold one. “I want to have a presidential preference primary as long as you pay for it,” Schedler told the Louisiana House Appropriations Committee during the panel’s department-by-department… Continue reading →

Spending cap to wine, dine legislators again rising for Louisiana lobbyists

How much lobbyists can spend wining and dining legislators and others they seek to influence is increasing again this year.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics is scheduled Friday to start the legal process to allow $60 to be spent per occasion effective July 1.

The current per event limit is $58.

The amount has been steadily rising since the Legislature implemented… Continue reading →

Louisiana legislator: State budget way different this year, is 'kind of like having a skunk by the tail'

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- The House Appropriations Committee begins the task of taking up the state's budget for the next fiscal year. Members, including chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, center under monitor, listen to Administration Commissioner Kristy Nichols, foreground back to camera, make her presentation.

After weeks of questions and concerns, worried Louisiana legislators got their first crack Tuesday at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget. Perhaps nervous about how they are being asked to fill a $1.6 billion deficit — or be forced to make deeps cuts in services during an election year — legislators started their department-by-department review of… Continue reading →

Tobacco board votes 12-1 to sell remainder of cigarette settlement

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Treasurer John N. Kennedy opposed Tuesday the sale of what remains in the 1998 settlement tobacco companies made with the state for health problems caused by cigarette smoking.

A board — with a new majority recently chosen by Gov. Bobby Jindal — voted Tuesday to start the process of selling the remainder of the multibillion-dollar settlement from cigarette manufacturers in hopes of raising about $750 million. The Jindal administration hopes the money could be used to provide funding for TOPS, a popular college tuition-paying… Continue reading →

James Carville’s apology for ‘pond scum’ comment comes with a twist

Advcoate staff file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Political commentator James Carville.

Louisiana native and well-known political strategist and pundit James Carville created a bit of a stir this week when he called anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist “the human equivalent of pond scum” but also “the most powerful person in our state,” in a letter to the editor of LSU’s student newspaper. On Thursday, Carville engaged in… Continue reading →

Together Baton Rouge activist: Mid City ER closure spells trouble, means more residents will die

More Baton Rouge area residents will die as a result of the March 31 closure of the emergency room at Baton Rouge General Medical Center’s Mid City campus, a leader in the Together Baton Rouge movement said Tuesday. The Jindal administration tells people there is sufficient emergency room capacity for the area and not to worry, Broderick… Continue reading →

Economists tell Louisiana Legislators to raise cigarette tax, cut inventory tax

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Leah Ellsworth of WAFB-TV prepares a report while a panel of economists - charged by the Louisiana Legislature to analyze the state's tax system - testify on Tuesday.

A team of economists that has been studying the state’s taxing structure said Tuesday Louisiana legislators could raise $800 million immediately by raising the tax on cigarettes, partially rolling back inventory taxes, and stopping the practice of allowing taxpayers to write off their federal deductions on state returns. But the authors of the Louisiana Tax… Continue reading →

Opening of new University Medical Center in New Orleans delayed

Advocate staff file photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- The $2 billion investment in constructing the University Medical Center and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center will result in thousands of jobs, but establishing New Orleans as center of excellence in some field of medical research could stimulate more development, the head of GNO Inc. said Tuesday.

The planned May opening of the new University Medical Center at New Orleans has been put on hold, until Aug. 1, while local lawmakers suggest the delay stems, at least in part, to concerns that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget provides less money than hospital administrators say they need. No specific reasons were given as the private… Continue reading →

If you need a new car or truck...Louisiana's state government to auction off vehicles in Baton Rouge on Saturday

Photo from the Surplus Property Auction website  --  Here are pictures of some of the aproximaley 220 vehicles that will be quctioned off theis Saturday march 14th.

Louisiana will put 217 “underutilized” vehicles up for auction Saturday in Baton Rouge. The vehicles include two- and four-door passenger cars, small trucks and vans, as well as heavy-duty trucks. Among them are a 2006 Jeep Liberty, 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe and 2012 Ford Fusion. The vehicles are from 2 to 30… Continue reading →

Baton Rouge legislator to pitch amendment to give schools like LSU, UL-Lafayette more control over fees

Louisiana state Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, is proposing a constitutional amendment to give colleges and universities more control over raising fees. In a statement Monday, Foil said that the goal is “to give our colleges more stability and control over their budgets.” Autonomy is among the top priorities for higher education… Continue reading →

Bobby Jindal tells a national audience that Louisiana’s economy is ‘stronger than ever’

Gov. Bobby Jindal

In an opinion piece over the weekend in USA Today, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal touts Louisiana’s economy, which he says is “stronger than ever.” “It’s true that fiscal responsibility isn’t easy. But it works,” Jindal says. “In Louisiana, I am proud to say the economy is bigger, the government is smaller and our state is stronger than… Continue reading →

Single Audit of federal funds recaps Louisiana faults in federal programs

Three of the 31 major federally funded programs administered by the state failed to comply with federal program requirements and were given qualified opinions in the annual Single Audit of federal funds, according to a report issued Friday by Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera. The state is required to annually inform the agencies overseeing 31 major federal… Continue reading →