In what the chairman called something of a new Memorial Day tradition, a parade of people Saturday made their case for not cutting the state services on which they rely.
“Seems like this how I’ve been spending the Memorial Day holiday for the past few years,” said State Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, in greeting a witness he recognized from a previous “Public Testimony Day.”
For eight hours, the panel heard the often emotional stories of everyday individuals from all walks of life who depend on services that legislators are looking to eliminate or reduce dramatically. Most witnesses described their daily struggles from handling family members with disabilities, mental health problems and seniors – often passing back and forth a box of tissues placed on the testimony table by Senate staff.
Susan Smith, from Walker, detailed the problems trying to find supportive housing for her autistic son and, having found nothing in Louisiana, coming to grips with the possibility of having to move him to another state.
Candace Johnson wanted senators to restore funding cut from “Families Helping Families,” a program that helps the developmentally disabled like her son. “If ‘Families’ wasn’t there, he would be in one of your institutions, or he’d be on his way to Texas,” she said.
Terry LaFleur, of Ville Platte, heads a group of parents whose children are at Pinecrest Developmental Center and is not related to the chairman of the Finance Committee.
He worried that planned staffing increases at the facility of last resort for people with mental incapacities have been put in jeopardy in the current version of the state budget proposal. The new hires would bring patient-to-staff ratios back to a reasonable level and was part of a solution to a dramatic increase in violence earlier this year.
The state’s efforts to privatize and economize health care at the state’s remaining facility…
“It seems to be a matter of priorities in our state. It is unclear how our situation will turnout without support,” said April Young, of Vacherie.
“We need to make a few changes and hopefully we can take a few steps in the right direction when the budget is finalized,” Chairman LaFleur told the witnesses.
The Senate is vetting House Bill 1, which authorizes nearly $29 billion in public spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1. LaFleur said the state budget bill, which will clear the Senate Finance Committee later this week, will restore some of the spending cuts made by the House. The two chambers will have to agree on a final document by 6 p.m. June 8, the legislative session must end.
The proposal that passed the House would spend about 97.5 percent of the money that the state has projected to have in the coming year. GOP leaders said that the extra 2.5 percent left over – about $206 million unspent – would provide a cushion in case revenues don't meet expectations.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said that would force unnecessary, harmful cuts on health services, prisons and other programs.
Edwards had originally recommended a budget that boosted the Department of Health by an additional $235 million to fund optional and behavioral programs. The House shifted part of that health care money to fund the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, the scholarship program that covers much of the tuition for Louisiana students who attend college in state.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is threatening to veto Louisiana's state operating budget bill if it l…
“We shouldn’t have to pit one service against another or pit health care against education,” said state Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge.
Slidell Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt said “public testimony” was one of the most important days during the legislative session.
“It gives us a chance to put a name and face for the services that we’re contemplating cutting,” she told the dozens who arrived at the State Capitol to tell their stories. “We have more needs than we have funds … We’ll try to spread the money around the best that we can.”