1. CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS REJECTS TRUMP'S REQUEST FOR MEETING
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), a group of 49 lawmakers led by New Orleans U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, last week formally rejected a 12-day-old meeting request from President Donald Trump. A story in POLITICO cited unnamed sources saying, "Members are worried the request for a caucus-wide meeting would amount to little more than a photo op that the president could use to bolster his standing among African-Americans."
In a three-page letter rebuffing Trump's request, Richmond cited "actions that cause legitimate alarm among members of this caucus and the millions of Americans we represent," including the administration's positions on "the failed war on drugs," mass incarceration and funding for historically black colleges and universities.
The CBC's leadership met with Trump in the Oval Office in March (pictured). In his letter rejecting the request for another meeting, Richmond cited eight letters from the CBC to the administration that he said went unanswered since the March meeting. The letters included concerns about the ongoing municipal water crisis in Flint, Michigan; hate-crime legislation; and "your efforts to sabotage our nation's health care system."
2. Quote of the week
"You know, in life, if you only wait for that which is exactly what you wish to have, you end up living on an island by yourself. I always say the Democrats keep complaining about, 'Oh, my gosh, it's not an open process'; if two or three Democrats walked into [Republican Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell's room and said, 'You have our vote for this,' it would have an incredible impact. But if you just wait until, 'Oh, we want an open process,' then you never get that. So at some point, you've got to play with the cards dealt to you, and that's true of almost everything in life." — Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, explaining to Vox.com why he wasn't in favor of the Senate health care bill being developed in secret, but emphasizing he wasn't going to register a formal objection or threaten to withhold support over the matter.
3. Senate health care plan unveiled; Louisiana leaders react
With the release of a 142-page draft early June 22, the Senate finally revealed its plan that could make good on the long-term Republican promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The bill's release offered the first opportunity for the public — and many senators — to view and critique the Senate's plan, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Before its reveal, the bill already had come under fire for a secretive drafting process featuring no public hearings and little debate on the Senate floor.
Within its text: higher premiums for older people, the elimination of the individual and employer mandates (you won't have to carry insurance, and employers don't have to provide it for you), a year-long freeze on Planned Parenthood funding, fewer subsidies to help people buy insurance and cuts to federal Medicaid dollars that support the working poor, 40 percent of American children and people with disabilities.
Throughout the state, a chorus of lawmakers, public health observers and activists have begun to speak out against this health care plan. But the power lies with Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Neely Kennedy, who now will turn their attentions to the legislation ahead of a potential vote next week.
A news release from Cassidy Thursday morning praised the bill for including aspects of his own Patient Freedom Act, including the elimination of the mandate for employers of a certain size to offer health insurance.
"I will study the bill to determine whether it fulfills President Trump's campaign promises to lower premiums, maintain coverage and protect those with pre-existing conditions," Cassidy vowed (pretty much the same thing he said on the Senate floor earlier this month). Kennedy also stuck to generalities. In social media posts, he said he'd look through the bill this weekend in hopes of "fix[ing] the unmitigated disaster that is Obamacare." (He did tell The New York Times he was encouraged by the bill's cuts to Medicaid funding.) He pledged to work through the holiday recess if necessary.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who joined a bipartisan coalition of six governors in a letter calling for a more transparent writing process, said the bill "specifically disadvantages" Louisiana. "The working poor, disabled and elderly appear to shoulder the burden in this latest version of Congress' health care rewrite. This is a step backwards for cost, coverage and care," he said in a statement. "Most notably, [the bill] dismantles Medicaid and will leave the 428,000 working poor in Louisiana who are covered under the expansion with nowhere to turn." (Edwards approved the ACA-connected Medicaid expansion in 2016.)
Mayor Mitch Landrieu echoed Edwards' sentiment and said the secretive bill-writing process should "scare every American." In a news release, he said 51,000 people in New Orleans, including parents and seniors, could be negatively impacted if the bill becomes law.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, who heads the Congressional Black Caucus, borrowed Trumpian language for his own statement.
"This bill is simply another bad deal for the American people," he said. "It is bad for families, it is bad for seniors, and it is bad for our economy. We cannot afford this heartless health care plan that is even more malicious than the proposal that the President himself described as 'mean.'"
4. Police monitor: NOPD 'use of force' increases
The rate of the New Orleans Police Department's (NOPD) use of force against African-Americans is significantly higher in proportion to the city's black population, according to the Independent Police Monitor's (IPM) annual report released last week. The report noted that African-Americans comprise 83 percent of people involved in incidents where police used force — whereas blacks make up roughly 61 percent of the city's population. Officials in NOPD and with the IPM said they aren't prepared to draw a conclusion based on the data, despite the disproportionate statistics.
Use of police force overall is increasing, according to IPM data. NOPD used force 1,563 times in 2016, compared to 1,071 times in 2015.
The office's 2016 reports are available at www.nolaipm.gov.
5. Child care assistance? Get on the waiting list
Louisiana's child care assistance program is opening a waiting list as the program braces for "overwhelming demand" with a limited budget. Eligible families must apply by June 30 to secure a slot, according to an announcement from the state Department of Education. On July 1, applicants will be added to a waiting list.
The federally funded Child Care Assistance program offers child care support for low-income parents who work or attend school. Recent eligibility changes reduced the required number of hours for job training, bumping the number of recipients to 18,000 as of last month. "If and when funding becomes available," the program will contact those on the wait list, the announcement said. After one year on the wait list, applicants will have to reapply. Wait-listed households will be given 30 days notice before the lists are purged.
The 2017 Kids Count report on child well-being placed Louisiana among the worst states in the U.S., with more than a quarter of Louisiana children living in poverty and more than 30 percent living in households that lack secure employment or have a high housing cost burden.
"Unfortunately, child care for working families remains a small priority in our state budget," Louisiana Education Superintendent John White said in a statement. "As a result, families will now have to either not go to work or find a non-education setting for their children."
Program information is available at www.louisianabelieves.com.
6. 'Spare some change?' officially legal in Slidell
A Slidell ordinance seeking to control panhandling in the city was ruled unconstitutional in U.S. District Court June 19 following a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Louisiana on behalf of three panhandlers. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk ruled that the law — which would require panhandlers to acquire a permit from police and display it when panhandling — had violated the First Amendment rights of people asking for money.
"This decision affirms that even unpopular speech is protected under the [U.S.] Constitution," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "The City of Slidell may not ban messages it doesn't like or punish people for asking for help. Instead it has an obligation to protect the rights of all people."
Slidell adopted the ordinance in 2015 but amended it earlier this year after the ACLU filed the lawsuit in late 2016.
7. FEMA gets new head
Many of President Donald Trump's nominees to high-profile positions have been controversial, but not that of his pick to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In April, Trump nominated Brock Long, the former director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, to be the new head of FEMA, and last week Long's appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a 95-4 vote. (All four nays were cast by Democrats.)
Craig Fugate, the FEMA head who helped right the agency after the widely panned performance of Michael "Brownie" Brown, had praise for the selection, saying, "Brock brings both state and FEMA experience to the job. He knows the programs and challenges he faces."
8. 'Scalise Strong' blood drive pays off
Local Democrats and Republicans alike turned out last week for a Metairie blood drive in honor of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was shot June 13 at a baseball practice in a Virginia suburb. Scalise remains hospitalized, but his condition continues to improve, according to doctors and visitors. "I didn't vote for him, but this shouldn't have happened to him," one woman said as she left the one-day "Scalise Strong" blood drive hosted by the real estate firm of Engel & Volkers in Metairie.
"We have had several donors say they were Democrats," said Joyce Delery, a co-owner of the firm.
Cathy Espenan, a real estate agent who organized the blood drive with The Blood Center of New Orleans, said. "This is not about politics. He was playing baseball, for God's sake."
Forty-eight pints of blood were collected in Metairie, and two blood drives were held in Washington D.C. last week in Scalise's honor. — ALLEN JOHNSON JR.
9. Nonprofit news site
Bayou Brief launches
Last week saw the debut of The Bayou Brief (www.bayoubrief.com), a new Louisiana politics and culture website described by founder Lamar White Jr. as a "non-profit, progressively-minded, online-only, and free source for news and commentary about the people and the politics of Louisiana." White, a native of central Louisiana, worked with Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy and founded the politics website CenLamar.com. The Bayou Brief's raft of original stories included one on New Orleans' Confederate monument supporters ("Monumental Task Farce") and another titled "Why Southern Democrats Struggle With the Politics of Abortion."
10. City hurricane prep site includes — martini?
New Orleans largely was spared by Tropical Storm Cindy, which was downgraded to a tropical depression as it made landfall early June 22. The city was ready, however, with politicians and other officials holding two press conferences last week detailing preparation and warnings to residents.
The city's official disaster website, NOLA Ready (www.nola.gov/ready) also was prepared — with booze. Its hurricane preparedness checklist included stocking up on water, prepping windows and making sure residents had enough food on hand — but the "Food" recommendation was illustrated by an icon of a martini glass, causing merriment on social media. Though it may have accurately reflected locals' favorite part of storm prep, the city website was later updated with a jug and bowl of food.