Dig Baton Rouge

Statesmen & Snollygosters

By Nick BeJeaux

The Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council is yet again set to vote on a fairness ordinance, and yet again media and opposition groups are touting this as a “gay issue.” This is not a “gay” issue – this is a community issue.

This ordinance provides local level protections against discrimination based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, and age. Because these protections do not exist, victims of discrimination have to prove their case in federal court proceedings, which often end in unreconciled settlements because they can’t afford to hold on to an attorney. This law protects everyone, not just LGBT folks, but short-sighted bigots and cowards looking for votes in all the wrong places can’t see past the words “sexual orientation.”

Three Metro Council members have outright stated they will not vote to implement the ordinance, with the remaining four sitting squarely on the fence. It’s unlikely the measure will pass the vote next week but, honestly, the opinions of the Metro Council are not the interesting part of this story; the opinions of the people of Baton Rouge are.

According to research conducted by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, 62 percent of BR’s people are in favor of setting up these local protections against discrimination in housing and employment. Also, you don’t have to look far to find a Facebook page or a non-profit group supporting these protections; they far outnumber the opposition.

While this indicates that the ordinance will eventually succeed (good news), it points to an upsetting disconnect between the general public and elected leaders (bad news). Hopefully, that disconnect will resolve itself in time. In an optimistic perspective, this predicament is due to a rapid evolution of common sense, which is good, if not frustrating.

Besides catching up to a modern understanding of human rights, Louisiana is also struggling to adapt to the U.S.’s changing health care system. Despite how you feel about President Barack Obama or his signature healthcare law, the fact is that the Affordable Care Act is not working as intended in Louisiana and 26 other states because, apparently, politics are more important than the health of citizens.

When Governor Jindal rejected billions from the federal government to expand Medicaid, he screwed LA taxpayers to add “I stood up to Obama” to his still-impotent political résumé.  The irony here is that Louisiana residents, along with residents from the other states that rejected the expansion, will still pay for the ACA’s implementation in other states, only now it will be more expensive and they will benefit less.

Jindal argued late last year that even though the feds are picking up 90 percent of the bill, expanding Medicaid is still too expensive and that doing so would be an inefficient way to improve health care costs. Conveniently, he neglected to mention that his decision will cost the state nearly $2 billion in federal funding by 2022. According to a study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund, if Louisiana had accepted the funds for expansion the state would be spending only $280 million in 2022 to maintain the expansion, compared to the slated $2.2 billion to attract private insurance companies to the state. Hopefully, Jindal’s 2016 successor will be wiser and less selfish than him – though it’s hard to imagine there is a person anywhere with less wisdom and more self-interest than Jindal.

If political grandstanders like Jindal (who is so out of touch his office might as well be on the dark side of the moon) would stop needlessly interfering with the ACA, it may actually succeed, and there are numbers to prove it. Another study by the Commonwealth Fund (which came out this month) shows that low-income uninsured rates in states that did not adopt Medicaid expansion hover around 36 percent. In states that did accept the expansion, that rate is around 17 percent. If you need more convincing, the same study found that 74 percent of newly-insured Republicans are happy with their coverage plans. Even 77 percent of the people (including Republicans) who were insured before the ACA and lost their plans are happy with their new coverage.

The biggest problem in our state’s political system is politics – there never will be a more frustrating conundrum than this. Still, as a new generation takes center stage, there is a marked increase in an appreciation for compromise and common sense and that gives some hope for the future. Until then, there will be plenty of foolishness to write about.

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