Public gets its turn to discuss Louisiana budget

Cable median barriers urged

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Two women whose daughters were killed in traffic accidents pleaded with lawmakers Monday to spend more on cable median barriers that could have prevented the fatal collisions.
Tammy Willson and Kelly Hatfield, two mothers from northwest Louisiana, spoke to the House Appropriations Committee, which was hearing spending requests from the general public after weeks of getting information from state agencies.
The women want more money in the transportation department budget steered to construction of barriers along interstates and highways across Louisiana.
"They are proven to save lives. We need them anywhere we can get them," Hatfield said.
Willson said fatal accidents like the one in December that killed her daughter, 28-year-old Casey Colley, dropped by 90 percent in places where the barriers have been put up. Wearing a T-shirt bearing her daughter's picture, Willson described her loss.
"It is a darkness that I cannot begin to describe. I hope you never know it. I hope you never know my pain. I am hollowed out on the inside," she told lawmakers.
The Appropriations Committee held public testimony day, letting people talk about what they like or don't like about Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget recommendations for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins July 1.
Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, warned that while the state's financial picture appeared to be improving, finding money for programs remains difficult.
"We're still struggling. We're not over the hump yet," he told people packed into the crowded committee room.
Supporters of rural hospitals praised Jindal's budget, while representatives of other community hospitals said the governor's spending plans would cut their Medicaid funding.
The Jindal administration has described changes in payments to hospitals for emergency room care as efficiencies identified by an outside consultant. But the Louisiana Hospital Association says the rate changes amount to about $6 million in cuts.
Charles Tate, chairman of the board for the Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network, or LATAN, asked lawmakers to provide money for the program that works with disabled people to find technology that can help them work, study or handle daily life.
"The services we provide are not provided by any state, local or private agency. We're it," Tate said.
Tate said $500,000 would serve 150,000 people throughout the state.
Lawmakers have been sympathetic to the LATAN request in prior years, but have seen resistance from Jindal. Last year, the governor vetoed $250,000 that lawmakers had included for the program, and he didn't propose any funding this year.
Committee members said they wanted to find dollars for the technology assistance.
"Requesting $500,000 and serving 150,000 is definitely doing more with less," said Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas.
Most of the requests to lawmakers involved health care, including a yearly push to expand home- and community-based care for the disabled.
Jindal's budget would add $26 million to give assistance to nearly 2,500 people on waiting lists.
Parents whose children are waiting and some who receive services though the state urged lawmakers to keep those dollars in place — and to add new money to other programs, including one that helps families navigate the resources available.
"These services allow me to be more independent and be more involved in my community," said Brittany Quebedeaux, of Krotz Springs, who was paralyzed from the neck down in an accident and relies on a Medicaid program called the New Opportunity Waiver.

MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press

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