Legislative Briefs: Joint legislative committee to discuss pandemic aid for businesses and local governments Monday

(The Center Square) — The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Monday will discuss Act 311, which lays out legislative intent regarding $811 million in federal CARES Act pandemic relief.

As it stands now, $511 million is supposed to be used to replace money local governments spent fighting the pandemic, while $300 million will pay for grants to small businesses hurt by the pandemic and the government response. The joint budget committee has the authority to shift money from one purpose to the other, and a bill pending in this month’s special session would carve out $50 million to send $250 “hazard” payments to “essential” workers.

The committee meets at 10 a.m. Monday in the House chamber, and the meeting can be watched online at the legislature’s website.

New Medicaid oversight committee meets

A new standing legislative committee focused on Medicaid oversight met for the first time last week. Legislators established the committee during the regular session that ended June 1.

“This has been several years in the making,” Baton Rouge Republican Rep. Rick Edmonds said.

Edmonds, who had tried and failed to establish the committee in previous sessions, was elected chairman during the brief meeting. The committee includes members of the state House and Senate and is meant to bring more focused oversight to the complex program that provides taxpayer-funded health insurance to about 35 percent of the state’s population.

Louisiana launches pilot programs to improve early childhood education

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week approved 13 additional communities to pilot local strategies to increase access to and improve the quality of publicly funded early childhood care and education. The programs can now be found in 26 communities statewide, the Department of Education says.

Participants will spend two years developing new local governance structures, assessing local demand for early care and education, providing resources and training to teachers to improve classroom quality, implementing fundraising strategies, and sharing their findings with state leaders to inform future policymaking, officials said.

“Early childhood is the greatest educational challenge we face as a nation,” newly hired State Superintendent Cade Brumley said. “I applaud our BESE members for helping ensure more children enter school kindergarten ready.”

Early voting under way

Early voting for the presidential preference primary and local elections began Saturday and continues through July 4, excluding Sundays.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin is encouraging residents to vote during the early voting period, which was extended by six days as part of an emergency plan to mitigate risks associated with COVID-19. Polling commissioners will wear personal protective equipment and regularly sanitize designated areas and wipe down voting machines, he said. Hand sanitizer will be provided to voters and masks are recommended but not required.

Election day for the primary has been pushed back twice because of public health concerns and is now scheduled for July 11. While the major-party nominations for president have been settled, 24 parishes are holding the first round of voting for local elections.

Voters can find early voting locations and sample ballots at the secretary of state’s website and on the GeauxVote mobile app.