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Jeff Landry's first 100 days in office: Here's what the governor and lawmakers have prioritized

Gov. Jeff Landry shakes hands with representatives while entering the House chamber during the first day of a special session on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La. (Michael Johnson/The Advocate via AP, Pool)
Michael Johnson/AP
Pool The Advocate
Gov. Jeff Landry shakes hands with representatives while entering the House chamber during the first day of a special session on Jan. 15, 2024, in Baton Rouge, La.

Louisiana legislators are nearly halfway through this year’s regular session, the first with Republican Jeff Landry as governor. So far, lawmakers have advanced bills that would significantly change education and insurance in the state, as well as several bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community and dealing with reproductive health.

Today also marks Landry’s 100th day in office. In just a few months, his administration has already pushed through legislation that is reshaping the state.

Shortly after being sworn in on Jan. 8, Landry called lawmakers into two special sessions before the start of the regular session in March. One of those was a special redistricting session to redraw the state’s congressional map to include two majority-Black districts to comply with a federal court order.

Landry fulfilled a campaign promise by convening lawmakers a few weeks later for a special session on crime. Lawmakers passed laws that almost entirely eliminate parole, increase the length of many sentences, allow 17-year-olds to be prosecuted as adults, let most people carry concealed weapons without a permit and enable the state to execute people via gassing and electrocution.

With a Republican supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature, most of the bills Landry has advocated for have passed easily. He opened the regular session last month with a to-do list for lawmakers, with deregulating insurance and transforming education at the top.

“We all know too well the stories of those who leave this state for better opportunities,” Landry told lawmakers in March. “Like me, you rose to public service because you were frustrated and tired of those stories.”

Education savings accounts, other education policies gain traction

Among the education-related bills Landry supports is one that would give any parent, regardless of income, access to public money to send their children to private school and pay for other education expenses. Known as education savings accounts, or ESAs, the approach has taken off in recent years in Republican-led states.

The program would replace the state’s current voucher program, which provides assistance to low-income families zoned to schools with a C, D or F letter grade from the state.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, a nonprofit policy group, estimates the program could cost the state up to $520 million annually, while the Legislature’s own estimate is about half of that. PAR’s estimate found the bulk of the money, about $480 million, would likely go to families who already send their children to private schools.

Steven Procopio, PAR’s president, supports the idea of ESAs but thinks giving money to wealthier families isn’t a good use of the state’s limited funding.

“I do think this program is going to be stronger if it was actually focused on those that need it the most,” he said. “One, it’s gonna be relatively cheaper. So whatever impact you get, it’s going to be a bigger bang for the buck.”

The controversial proposal has received a lot of attention — and some traction — in the Legislature. The bill passed the House and is waiting in the Senate, where it could receive more scrutiny.

“Once you start these programs, it's very hard to pull them back,” Senate President Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said at the Baton Rouge Press Club last week. “We want to make sure that we don't give someone false hope and then have to take that back.”

Cameron said he wants to implement ESAs in a “very methodical way.” In other states, lawmakers have passed narrower policies first before expanding to wider and in some cases universal programs.

Lawmakers are also considering what critics refer to as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill modeled after legislation first passed in Florida. The bill bans discussion of sexual orientation in all public school classrooms in Louisiana. Another bill requires students to have parent permission to use pronouns that don’t correspond to their assigned sex at birth. The bill allows teachers to object to using certain pronouns on religious grounds even if a student gets parent permission.

The bills passed the House Education Committee last week with a 9-3 vote. Both proposals passed the full Legislature last year but were vetoed by former Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. Landry appears ready to sign them.

Other education bills include one from Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, that would require all classrooms to display the Ten Commandments. It passed the House with a 82-19 vote. A similar bill of Horton’s passed last year that requires all classrooms to display the words “In God We Trust.”

Other bills under consideration include one that would prohibit schools from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition for enrollment or attendance and another that would require schools to send parents vaccine exemption information when communicating about vaccine requirements.

Lawmakers look to deregulate insurance industry

Responding to Louisiana’s insurance crisis has also topped the list of legislative priorities this session. The state’s new Republican insurance commissioner, Tim Temple, is pushing for lawmakers to pass a package of bills to deregulate the industry.

About a dozen home insurers left Louisiana in the wake of hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta in 2020 and Ida in 2021.

As a result, the number of homeowners who have policies with Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state’s insurer of last resort, has ballooned to about 130,000. Louisiana Citizens policies, by law, must be priced at least 10% above the highest market rate in each parish.

Temple, a former insurance executive, has repeatedly said the market is overregulated and deters companies from doing business in the state. He’s pushing for several bills that would reduce regulations, a move he said will attract more providers, increase competition and lower rates.

“Companies, if they have choices — and they do have choices where they deploy their capital — they're going to pick and choose states that welcome them,” Temple said in an interview earlier this month.

The bills Temple supports include one that seeks to get rid of Louisiana’s three-year rule — a unique-to-Louisiana law that prevents providers from dropping customers who have had policies with them for at least three years.

Housing advocates warn that deregulation will leave consumers with fewer protections. Former insurance commissioner Jim Donelon, also a Republican, touted the three-year rule as a necessary protection in a state frequently hit by severe storms.

Temple also supports a bill that would allow insurance providers to raise rates without his prior approval, which is required under current law. Instead, rate changes would be automatically approved, and the commissioner would have 30 days to review the changes and respond.

“You want companies to have the ability to remain financially solvent, and that's what this is about,” Temple said, adding that consumers likely won’t see their rates change every month because most policies last for a year.

Landry pushes for constitution overhaul

Lawmakers are also considering a proposal to hold a constitutional convention starting in May at the urging of Gov. Jeff Landry.

Landry wants to overhaul the lengthy document and put a more “streamlined” version in front of voters in November. The state has one of the longest constitutions in the nation due to its large number of amendments.

Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, has called for a constitutional convention to begin on May 20. As outlined in his bill, the convention would include all members of the state House and Senate as well as 27 delegates appointed by Landry — who has already shared whom he intends to nominate.

The bill originally set a deadline of July 15 to end the convention. But after Senate President Cameron Henry said they need to wrap things up earlier, an amendment changed the deadline to June 3. That would give just two weeks to rewrite the constitution. Delegates could vote to extend the deadline if they need more time.

Henry also said the Senate needs more details about how the convention would work before voting on it. Lawmakers have raised concerns about the speed of the process and how the convention might overlap or interfere with the regular session, which is also set to end June 3.

Reproductive health, anti-LGBTQ+ bills advance

In addition to two repeat bills from last year that seek to restrict students from using alternative pronouns and ban discussion of sexual orientation in classrooms, lawmakers are also pushing a bill that would ban transgender people from using school bathrooms, domestic violence shelters and prison facilities that don’t match their assigned sex at birth.

Several reproductive health bills are also under consideration this session, including one that seeks to codify the right to contraception. The bill has stalled twice in the House due to a lack of clarity from Louisiana Right to Life, a powerful anti-abortion group, about whether they oppose the bill.

Lawmakers are looking to protect in vitro fertilization, or IVF, after a court ruling in Alabama jeopardized the fertility treatment in that state earlier this year. They have also advanced legislation to make it a crime to give a pregnant woman an abortion pill without her knowledge or consent.

Legislators will continue to debate these bills and hundreds of other items in the following weeks — and must also pass a state budget before the session ends on June 3.

Aubri Juhasz and Rosemary Westwood contributed reporting.

Molly Ryan is a political reporter and covers state politics from the Louisiana Capitol.