Analysis: Edwards Agenda Takes A Beating In LA Legislature
BATON ROUGE (AP) — It would be kind to say Gov. John Bel Edwards' legislative agenda is struggling in the Louisiana Legislature. It might be more direct to say much of that agenda is in tatters.
The governor's equal pay bill has been killed, his minimum wage proposal is stalled and much of his education package never even got out of its first committee hearings.
A Democratic governor was always certain to have troubles with a majority Republican House and Senate. But GOP lawmakers have made it clear the traditional deference that the Louisiana Legislature once showed a governor is ending.
Edwards' most recent defeat came Thursday when the House labor committee voted 10-5 against the governor's Senate-backed measure requiring private businesses to pay the same wages to men and women who perform the same work.
Supporters of the equal pay proposal — sponsored by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans — pointed to Louisiana's dead-last ranking of having the largest pay gap in the nation, with women earning 65 cents on average for every dollar a man earns. Opponents worried about frivolous lawsuits that could hit businesses with hefty costs to defend against the litigation.
In the end, all Edwards could do was send out a statement lamenting the loss and calling it a "true disservice to the women of our state."
"This disparity prevents our wives, daughters, sisters, and other women from earning equal pay for equal work, and that directly impacts children and families who many in the legislative body espouse they value," he said.
While the equal pay bill at least got support from one full chamber of the Legislature, Edwards' bid to boost Louisiana's minimum wage from the $7.25 per hour federal level to $8.50 by 2018 remains stalled in the Senate, its chamber of origin.
The proposal — sponsored by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans — narrowly won support in the Senate Labor Committee, but was sent to the Finance Committee because it would raise the pay of some state workers. It's been sitting there since April 5 awaiting a hearing as the governor continues trying to win support.
"We are still working with a group of members on our minimum wage bill, and we'll hopefully have some announcements on that soon," Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said.
Time's running short. Only two weeks remain in the legislative session.
On education, several Edwards-backed measures to put new limits on charter schools and vouchers have gone nowhere.
The governor can claim victories on some bills listed on his legislative agenda.
A reorganization of the Department of Children and Family Services has become law. A proposal to create a farm-to-school program is nearing final legislative passage. And a bill aimed at giving more information to people who care for patients when they are discharged from hospitals is only steps from his desk.
But those aren't the issues on which Edwards ran for office.
His most significant campaign pledge fulfilled so far is the planned expansion of Louisiana's Medicaid program to offer government-financed insurance coverage to the working poor. Coverage begins July 1.
Though Medicaid expansion was done by executive order, Edwards can claim a victory of sorts in the Legislature. Despite being led by Republicans, the House and Senate haven't attempted to slow the plans down. With a budget proposal assuming more than $180 million in savings from the Medicaid expansion, lawmakers could ill-afford to give up the money, it appears.
Edwards also has won widespread backing on an issue where there's little dispute among Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature, abortion. He backed a 72-hour wait time for women to get an abortion in Louisiana, a bill he signed into law Thursday. His proposal to strip Medicaid financing from Planned Parenthood if the organization starts performing abortions at its New Orleans clinic is near final passage.
Of course, the governor's largest achievement could be digging Louisiana out of its budget mess. Lawmakers have taken some steps with Edwards toward that goal, but that remains a work in progress. That's more than can be said about other parts of his legislative agenda.
– by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte