10 May 2006

Committee action, May 10: SB 537, HB 1340

SB 537 by Sen. Sharon Weston Broome would make the state shift any funds saved from closing developmentally disabled centers to funding community-based health care services. Actually, it’s a substitute bill which would create a fund to increase the waiver slots that the state would fund, currently with 14,768 people on the waiting list for the biggest program, NOW, who are there now on average about 11 years with about 1,500 in centers.

Chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Joe McPherson asked whether those in centers could be moved onto the waiver program. They could be, but probably not many. Those on the list are presumptively eligible, so most probably would qualify for the program. However, maybe 1,000 are in private facilities.

Broome said her bill would allow the assets saved from any closures would stay in the system for the disabled. McPherson asked whether existing, aging homes should be phased out, with occupants moving into the community or private facilities. Broome noted in large part studies supported this rationale. McPherson pointed out that there needed to be data collected to be able to make these determinations of what all people in the system need.

McPherson broached an amendment that for flexibility purposes would remove the language creating waiver slots, because he argued that sale of assets was nonrecurring money. Broome resisted the idea, saying the money could be put into a fund interest generated from which could fund some slots. However, the bill was not that explicit, so she offered to add that language for floor consideration.

Various supporters testified, sometimes emotionally, noting only 491 slots only had been created in the past five years, that many on the list will not survive the wait, that choice was maximized, that existing income eligibility levels made it difficult to otherwise get aid even as care expenses overwhelmed existing assets of families. Kay Marcel, director of Louisiana Citizens for Action Now, said these funds would be just a drop in the bucket and that the state should do so much more, but at least it would be a start. New money, reform of then long-term care system, and protecting current funds all were needed; at least the latter could be done with this bill.

Sen. Lydia Jackson, however, said the bill offered false hope because of the non-recurring vs. recurring cost argument; no recurring revenue was planned to enter the fund. Broome said this was a necessary first step to bring about system transformation, even as it would be just a small part.

Sen. Tom Schedler noted this was progress to set up such a fund, but now the Legislature had to commit funding and reduce the state facilities, and this fund was the vehicle to make this first step happen through the appropriations process. The current system “is a public embarrassment,” he noted. “Other states handle this much better than Louisiana does.” Schedler also asked the state to do a better job in getting the needs assessment done, even as he understood the limited resources available. “A governor needs to make this whole issue a priority.”

Other senators said they agreed with everything that had been said, that it was shameful and was taking too long to solve for this. McPherson all read off about 50 names of supporters as well. In response to testimony, he also reminded that developmental facilities always will be needed, but that more information was needed to know what resources should be shifted to community-based care. He still argued that a better use of the money from any closure of a current facility would be to plow money into a fixed asset, and wanted to discuss this with Broome for floor amendments.

The committee reported the bill favorably without objection.

HB 1340 would extend early voting through satellite centers as a reaction to a declaration of emergency after Apr. 30, 2007. House and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman Charlie Lancaster and Rep. Peppi Bruneau both argued various parts of the bill were too vague; for example, what was a “significant” amount and what would determine where the satellite centers would be? In response, author Rep. Cheryl Gray moved to take out the language and leave these decisions in the hand of the Secretary of State. Amendments were passed, and the substitute bill was reported favorably without objection.

THURSDAY: SB 689 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee; SB 347 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee; SB 544 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee.

If you could just help your neighbor Sen. [Nick] Gautreaux on his speech so he can slow down and be understood …
McPherson, to a witness who testified using a mechanical voice.

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