The first day of the 2015 Louisiana legislative session is two weeks away, and things are already starting to heat up at the Capitol. As the Appropriations Committee continues to meet and discuss the state budget, we’ll continue to advocate for responsible, common sense policy solutions and programs that have the potential to make a big impact on the lives they touch. Five policy areas in particular deserve your attention this legislative session are:
HIV/AIDS prevention and care
Louisiana currently provides few state dollars directly for HIV/ AIDS prevention or to client care and services. Federal monies for HIV prevention and services are equally minimal. The impact of this underfunding has been an extreme balancing act by HIV/AIDS organizations, particularly those who provide direct services as well as prevention programming. Two of our cities, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, are consistently ranked Top 5 in the US for people living with HIV and AIDS. Louisiana must find funding to support new and existing medically-sound methods of HIV prevention and treatment services.
Highways, bridges, infrastructure
With a $12 million backlog in transportation infrastructure projects, it can sometimes feel as though our state is literally crumbling to the ground. Part of the problem is that our governor has made a habit out of diverting money from the fund for these projects to the state police. It’s well past time to stop moving money away from infrastructure projects and start rebuilding our highways and bridges. Ultimately, it’s citizens that pay the high price of this $12 billion backlog. The conditions of our roads greatly influence our auto insurance rates, which are among the highest in the country.
Youth violence prevention and community intervention
Louisiana’s legislature should fund evidence-based, locally controlled youth and gang violence prevention and intervention practices. Instead of continuing to funnel youth into the criminal justice system, communities should be given the resources and support they need to address youth violence and to give every young person the opportunity to meet their potential. Given the current budget challenges facing us, we have a responsibility to find new ways to save money and maximize the effectiveness of every dollar spent. Expanding community intervention, support, mentoring, and education have the potential to save our state millions of dollars and to save hundreds of lives.
Access to healthcare for the working poor
Over 242,000 working Louisianians who earn too little to qualify for a federal health care subsidy and too much to qualify for Medicaid in our state have been left out of the ACA’s affordable health care coverage. This gap in health care coverage results in over-reliance on emergency rooms and hospitals for primary care, and the Department of Health and Hospitals is facing a $15 million budget cut. The Baton Rouge General Mid City Hospital’s Emergency Room is closing its doors later this week, and more closures are sure to come if our state doesn’t do something to save healthcare. The 2015 Jindal budget also drops funding for a network of health clinics in the Greater New Orleans area that serves 60,000. The solution to all of these problems is simple: approve Medicaid expansion.
Don’t think we’ve forgotten this one! Our colleges and universities have been facing funding shortfalls for the better part of a decade now, and panic over higher education funding has escalated with the approach of the 2015 legislative session. Cutting $600 million from the budget for higher education, as Governor Bobby Jindal has threatened to do, is just not an option that Louisiana’s students can afford. And while much of the focus of the conversation has been on the LSU system so far, these cuts would likely have a more dramatic impact on our community colleges and smaller universities.