BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Only days removed from a contentious, unsuccessful special session, Louisiana's lawmakers are returning for more Monday, kicking off a monthslong stretch of debates in the regular legislative session.
The list of topics will be more varied than the prior session's focus on finances. But the state's latest budget gap, estimated to sit around $700 million, will remain at the center of discussions and likely in the forefront of many legislators' thoughts.
The 85-day session begins Monday at noon. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, speaks to the majority-Republican House and Senate at 1 p.m, to outline his agenda and offer a state-of-the-state assessment of where things stand at the midpoint of his four-year term.
Taxes can't be considered to help bail Louisiana out of its budget problems. Otherwise, topics allowed for debate are wide open.
The session must end by 6 p.m. on June 4.
But efforts are underway among Edwards, Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Taylor Barras to end the session 10 to 20 days ahead of time, so lawmakers can convene another special session in mid-May to consider taxes to offset the budget hole.
FINANCES FRONT AND CENTER
For the past decade, Louisiana's financial problems have been the preoccupation of lawmakers for much of their annual regular session, and the upcoming gathering is shaping up to be more of the same.
A $994 million shortfall is driven by temporary taxes that expire when the new budget year begins July 1. A bump in income tax collections tied to federal tax changes is expected to lower the gap to $692 million.
Edwards wanted lawmakers to pass replacement taxes, but the House deadlocked on all tax measures in the just-ended, 15-day special session.
Lawmakers will have to work on a budget for next year with nearly $700 million less in state financing. TOPS college tuition awards, education programs, safety-net health services and public safety spending could be on the chopping block.
Legislative leaders question if their members will agree to pass a spending plan — or will punt budget-writing into the second special session.
Beyond finances, Edwards will return with efforts to boost Louisiana's minimum wage and enact an equal pay law.
He's seeking to enact a state government-wide policy banning sexual harassment that includes detailed procedures for reporting and investigating complaints and that requires annual anti-harassment training. The proposal is recommended by a task force that Edwards convened after one of his top aides resigned in November amid sexual harassment allegations.
The governor wants to lessen the number of careers that require occupational licenses from the state, saying Louisiana is out of step with the rest of the nation. He's also promoting legislation aimed at adding new protections against abuse of the elderly, tweaking public school teacher evaluations and prohibiting schools from punishing students who owe lunch money.
GUN RIGHTS VS. GUN CONTROL
Last month's school shooting in Florida, in which a gunman killed 17 people, is sparking debate in Louisiana, just like it has in Congress and statehouses across the nation, about whether to widen gun laws or curb them in an effort to protect people.
Several Republican legislators are suggesting laws to allow concealed handguns at schools and the arming of teachers or other school officials. Democrats, meanwhile, are proposing bans on assault weapons and other gun restrictions.
One proposal would allow students to bring bulletproof backpacks to class.
Lawmakers will consider proposals to add new restrictions for abortion in Louisiana, including one measure that would ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
They'll decide whether to toughen the state's laws against hazing, after the recent death of an LSU student in what authorities describe as a hazing ritual. Proposals to ban the death penalty will again be debated, along with other criminal sentencing law changes.
A bid to rewrite riverboat casino laws for the first time in nearly two decades, to move the casinos to land and redefine limits on gambling space, is up for deliberation, along with proposals to legalize sports betting in Louisiana.
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Posted on Sun, March 11, 2018
by By MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press