House Speaker Philip Gunn said Monday that the best accomplishments of the legislature this session included criminal justice reform, rural broadband, and human trafficking legislation.
He also doesn’t favor expanding Medicaid and also mentioned that the next legislature will have a tough task ahead when it redraws the state’s legislative districts after the 2020 U.S. Census.
Gunn made the remarks at the Stennis Capitol Press Forum about the session, which ended March 29.
Louisiana and Arkansas have expanded Medicaid for able-bodied adults under the Affordable Care Act, but Gunn said that such a decision should be left to the next legislature.
“I think under the current leadership, you’re not going to see any appetite for that,” Gunn said. “The big concern is the unknown. Once you give a benefit, you can’t take it back. The federal government can tomorrow, they withdraw their support and they can change the rules. More than that, I don’t think there is any appetite for that in the state.
“Until the taxpayers rise up and say we want this, there is not going to be an appetite for this.”
One example that wasn’t cited by Gunn was Louisiana. The Pelican State expanded Medicaid in 2016 under Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. Projections by Edwards’ administration said that 306,000 new people would enroll.
This year, those numbers have climbed to 505,503, an increase of 65.2 percent.
Gunn said he was pleased that the legislature was able to pass another criminal justice reform package. The new law passed this year has several important components, including allowing the expungement of non-violent felonies, expanding the definition of intervention courts, screening for mental health for offenders to keep them out of the criminal justice system, and ending the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for the non-payment of fines or non-appearance in court.
Gunn said that the broadband bill, which allows rural electric power associations, also known as co-ops, to offer this service to customers was designed to not favor either the EPAs or established service providers such as Comcast, CSpire, and AT&T.
He said one other debate was whether to allow the EPAs, which are non-profits with tax advantages, to be able to compete against established providers with no tax advantages in profitable service areas, such as suburbs. The law requires EPAs to only be able to provide broadband service within their certificated area.
He cited the pole attachment fee — which a broadband provider or telephone company pays to a utility to attach their lines to their power poles — as one way the law didn’t favor one side or the other. In the new law, EPAs are required to charge the same pole attachment fee for either their broadband affiliate or an outside operator.
Gunn said the human trafficking legislation was designed to run the practice out of the state and he said the next step is to help victims get back on the right path.
The new law, which was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, increases the definition for prostitution to age 18 and adds training for EMTs, firefighters, and others. He said this change to the prostitution law is to ensure that those ensnared in a ring can seek help from law enforcement without worrying about prosecution.