A state Legislature committee on Tuesday rejected a bill that would have limited the amount those incarcerated in state prisons are required to pay for health care by capping medical co-payments and restricting them. suppressing altogether for prisoners with fewer financial resources.
The 5-5 vote — short of the majority required to move the measure forward — by the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice means House Bill 175 will not come up for consideration of the whole House. Lawmakers rejected him despite a compromise reached between his sponsor, Rep. Mandie Landry, Democrat of New Orleans, criminal justice reform advocates working with Landry, and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections of New Orleans. Louisiana, which initially opposed the bill.
But despite the bill’s failure to make it through committee, it’s still possible that the changes Landry seeks could be implemented independently by the DOC through internal rule changes. Current law only allows co-payments – it does not require them. A ministry spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether or not corrections officials plan to make the regulatory changes.
Currently, the DOC requires inmates to co-pay for various medical treatments in state prisons. These cost between $3 for a sick call, $6 for an emergency visit and $2 for a prescription, according to a report by Loyola University, LSU and Voice of the Experienced. But because prisoners can earn as little as pennies an hour for the work they do while incarcerated, and some receive little or no outside financial support from families, advocates argue the co -payment can put barriers on who has access to healthcare while locked down. at the top.
Initially, Landry’s bill would have eliminated medical co-payments altogether for those incarcerated in state prisons. When it was first heard from earlier this month, however, Department of Corrections officials said that while they understood the issues with the co-payments, they feared eliminating them altogether could lead some inmates to abuse free access and overwhelm limited medical care. staff of public establishments.
But, in the following weeks, Landry and the department reached a compromise. They agreed that co-payments would be capped at $2, eliminated altogether for prescriptions, and waived payments for any inmate with less than $200 in their account.
During Tuesday’s committee hearing, DOC attorney Natalie Laborde said the compromise bill was something longtime DOC secretary James Leblanc supported. And the bill would apply only to those incarcerated under the direct supervision of the DOC. While about half of state prisoners are held in local jails across Louisiana, the legislation would only apply to state-run prisons.
“The DOC not only worked with us, but it was their suggestions to make the process fair,” Landry told the committee Tuesday. “And that would apply to their facilities. They know best and I respect their opinion on this.
According to the committee’s acting chairman, Rep. Tony Bacala, nineteen people present at the meeting submitted cards in support of the bill. There was no one in opposition and no lawmakers expressed concern about the legislation. But when it came time to move the bill favorably as amended, Representative Debbie Villio opposed it. When a vote was taken, there were five representatives in favor and five against, meaning the bill would not pass the House floor.
After the vote, Landry said in a statement that she was “shocked that the committee did not pass a common sense bill that was improved by the Department of Corrections.”
“It makes me wonder what’s going on with this committee,” she said.
The Criminal Justice Committee has recently been a source of contention in the Legislative Assembly. Throughout the session, it was operate without a designated president after the former president, Rep. Ted James, left the legislature to take up a position with the federal Small Business Administration. House Democrats say House Speaker Clay Schexnayder should nominate another Democrat to fill the position, in exchange for the votes he received for his leadership job, but he has yet to do so .
That means the acting president is Rep. Bacala, a former Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Deputy. And with the committee made up of ten Republicans, two Democrats and an independent, he has not been sympathetic to reform groups hoping to reduce the state’s reliance on incarceration. (Bacala, however, voted in favor of Landry’s co-payment bill on Tuesday.) But even so, some were surprised that the committee failed to even advance a bill that officials from prison were actually supporting.
Bruce Reilly, deputy director of Voice of the Experienced, said it was “surprising that five lawmakers would oppose a bill approved by the DOC and lawyers.”
“I’ve never seen that happen,” he said.
Medical co-pays are common in prison systems across the country. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Louisiana is one of 40 states that need it. But a number of criminal justice reform groups — including the PPI — say co-pays discourage inmates from getting needed preventive care and can end up worsening individual and public health outcomes.
Last year, a federal judge ruled that inadequate health care at the state’s largest prison, the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. In her view, Louisiana Intermediate District Judge Shelly Dick said the prisons policy of requiring co-payments was not in itself unconstitutional, she said they were “a contributing factor to a delivery system that is, in the view of the Court, woefully inadequate. .”