BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's lawmakers wrapped up their regular legislative session Monday, unable to break a stalemate on the state's multibillion-dollar construction budget. But they're not going anywhere.
Instead, they got a half-hour break before they started another session, this one on taxes, called by Gov. John Bel Edwards in an effort to raise money to stave off budget cuts.
They begin that session still bristling, after House leaders stalled a $4 billion bill to finance state construction projects, including roadwork, state park improvements and building repairs. The House and Senate disagree on how to pare spending to account for the state's current cash crunch.
House Speaker Taylor Barras and other Republican House leaders blocked efforts to bring the measure up for a vote, saying the Senate's changes to the bill put it in such disarray that it couldn't be cleaned up easily. Instead, Barras asked lawmakers to wait until the special session to draft a new construction budget bill, adding that to the list of financial items to tackle by June 23.
"We have the luxury, if you will, of a special session to make some corrections," said Barras, R-New Iberia.
Rep. Walt Leger, the No. 2-ranking member of the House and a Democrat, criticized House inaction. He said the Legislature hadn't failed to pass a construction budget, known as the capital outlay bill, in the regular session since the 1970s.
"It seems irresponsible to me," said Leger, D-New Orleans.
Senators said the House refused to negotiate over the bill, with Senate leaders accusing House members of shirking their elected duties. Edwards described it as a "breakdown" of leadership in the House, where he was a member until January.
"We don't deal with disagreements by hiding. I'm disappointed some members of the House did not do everything they could to move this bill," Edwards said.
On the state's operating budget, the House and Senate struck a compromise Sunday on the $26 billion spending plan for the financial year that begins July 1, making widespread cuts to close a $600 million shortfall.
"I think in very difficult times, we produced a balanced budget based on the revenues that were available to us," said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.
The document is a rough draft of a spending plan for state government agencies, however. Lawmakers will fill in holes with any revenue they raise in the special session.
During the three-month regular session that began March 14, lawmakers passed new restrictions on abortion, became the first state to expand hate-crime laws to cover police and firefighters, placed cost controls on the TOPS college tuition program and made regulatory changes aimed at speeding the start of Louisiana's medical marijuana program.
Outside of the budget, many of Edwards' top agenda items stalled in the majority-Republican Legislature. Lawmakers spurned the Democratic governor's push for a minimum-wage increase and expanded equal pay law, and his effort to put new limits on charter schools and the voucher program failed.
Edwards said continued haggling over the budget "severely limited some of the things we'd like to do."
But he touted passage of bills to raise the adult prosecution age in Louisiana by one year, to include 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile justice system, and to allow drivers to get a REAL ID-compliant license, amid concerns that people will have difficulty boarding domestic flights in a few years without one.
The House and Senate split on many of their own issues.
Senators rejected House-backed legislation to penalize "sanctuary cities" that don't enforce federal immigration law and to enact a new law declaring that pastors and churches don't have to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. The Senate didn't even hold a hearing on a House proposal requiring students in certain public school grades to recite the Declaration of Independence daily.
Lawmakers also refused to add protections into Louisiana law against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or to meddle in local government decisions about removing Confederate monuments.
But they passed several measures to place new limits on abortion. Edwards has signed bills requiring women seeking an abortion to wait 72 hours and banning a second-trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation unless it is necessary to prevent serious health risks to the mother.
The session was largely consumed with worry about budget cuts and their implications. In an earlier special session, lawmakers raised more than $1.2 billion in taxes for next year's budget, but it wasn't enough to fill all gaps.
Including the first special session, the Louisiana Legislature has been in session every week since Feb. 14.
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Posted on Thu, June 9, 2016
by MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press