Dig Baton Rouge

Healthcare, Wages and Prison, Oh My!

by Peter Jenkins

Louisiana officially has a new Governor. John Bel Edwards was sworn in on Jan. 11. While he has already started working on his agenda, for at least the next four years he will be facing big issues and he will be the one making the big decisions. Here are some of the top issues that he will face in the coming years.

  1. Medicaid Expansion – This is the biggest issue Gov. Edwards focused on throughout his two years running for the governorship. Currently, there are close to 300,000 working, poor Louisianians who will qualify for Medicaid once it is expanded, according to new Louisiana Health Secretary Rebekah Gee.
  1. Prison Reform – Louisiana imprisons more people per capita than anywhere else in the world. Iraq, North Korea, China — none of them put more of their people in prison than we do right here in Louisiana. But, Louisiana Sheriffs profit from these imprisonment rates and Gov. Edwards got the endorsement of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association. We’ll have to see if he is willing to say thank you for the endorsement, but that it’s also time to make the vital changes that are needed to end what has become a war on poor people across this state.
  1. Education Reform – Over the past eight years, education funding has been cut time after time. Gov. Edwards will have to define what his education policy is going to look like. Will he restore the funding that has been cut or will he continue punishing institutions of higher education thus making it harder for Louisiana students to obtain professional degrees and even harder to pay back their loans?
  1. Minimum Wage – According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a minimum wage worker in Louisiana needs to work 69 hours a week to afford the average one bedroom apartment and other bill that the average American faces. Gov. Edwards has proposed raising our state’s minimum wage to $8.50 over a four-year period. The general belief is that Edwards wanted to go with a larger number for this minimum wage raise, but that it was unlikely that the state legislature would approve anything more. So, in this instance it seems that the new governor has already compromised, which could turn out to be helpful with his other legislative goals.
  1. Ethics Reform – Near the beginning of Gov. Jindal’s tenure, he attempted to tackle ethics reform, but the changes that were instituted did not really improve anything according to many of the organizations that monitor ethics issues. Now, the controversial former warden of Angola, Burl Cain, is mired in an ethical scandal that again brings to light the fact that our state just can’t seem to properly handle ethical issues in an efficient or timely manner.
  1. Common Sense Gun Reform – Louisiana has some of the most protective laws regarding guns in the country, if you want one you can get one or a thousand. Gov. Edwards ran as a pro-gun Democrat but people can be both pro-gun and pro-common sense reform. One of the changes Gov. Edwards could champion is closing the gun show loophole, which allows people to purchase firearms at a gun show without undergoing a background check. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, says “every gun death is preventable. If we can save one life, it’s worth it.”
  1. Employment Non-Discrimination Act – Currently, it’s still legal to fire workers in Louisiana just for being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer. With the recent rights that LGBTQ Louisianians have gained in the past few years nationally, our governor is going to have to decide if he will fight to give this community the rest of their rights. To Gov. Edwards credit he has promised to issue an executive order protecting LGBTQ people who work for the state from being fired for who they are. Now, we just have to see if he will push for a bill that also prevents privately held businesses from doing the same thing.

Of course these aren’t the only issues that Gov. Edwards will face during his time in office, but if he faces these in a way that truly helps the people of our state, rather than other politicians and special interest groups, our state will be on track to improving our image around the country.

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