Louisiana lawmakers return for short, election year session
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The brokering of a hard-fought tax deal to stabilize the budget hasn’t ended Louisiana’s financial feuds as lawmakers return Monday for their annual regular legislative session, facing new fights over spending.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and House Republican leaders are again at odds over budget proposals — though the $1,000 teacher pay raise sought by the governor seems to have found widespread support.
Spending decisions aren’t the only items on the agenda. Legislators filed more than 800 bills ahead of the session’s start, with debates planned on taxes, the death penalty, marijuana, abortion, and a long list of hot-button issues.
Here are five things to know about the regular session:
The 60-day session opens at noon Monday, with Edwards outlining his goals to a joint gathering of the House and Senate an hour later.
The session is shorter than those in even-numbered years and is primarily designed to deal with budget and tax matters. Lawmakers are limited to introducing no more than five nonfinancial bills that carry statewide impact. Those proposals had to be prefiled ahead of time.
Lawmakers must wrap up work by 6 p.m. on June 6. The new budget year begins July 1.
ANOTHER BUDGET DISPUTE
After 10 legislative sessions across three years, the governor and majority-Republican Legislature struck a seven-year tax deal in 2018 aimed at ending years of repeated budget gaps. But new financial disputes are raging between Edwards and House GOP leaders, who have repeatedly clashed with the governor.
Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras has blocked economists’ recommendations to increase Louisiana’s income forecast and make more money available for spending next year. Edwards backs the increase.
A GOP-filed budget proposal for next year includes $134 million less in general tax revenue than the governor proposes to spend, though both proposals contain the teacher pay raise. Another forecasting meeting is set for April 10 to see if Barras will vote to raise income projections.
MORE TAX DEBATES
Last year’s tax deal isn’t stifling some interest in tinkering with Louisiana tax laws.
Some lawmakers want to bring back suspended sales tax holidays, others want to eliminate or lessen taxes and some want to tweak tax breaks. A few lawmakers have more sweeping tax changes in mind, despite previous refusals from the House to enact the sort of tax overhaul recommended by a panel of economists, tax experts, and other finance specialists.
A Baton Rouge-based effort to boost Louisiana’s gas tax to pay for a backlog of road projects aimed at lessening traffic congestion is again filed for debate.
Most any tax measures seem likely to face a rough road to passage in an election year.
MARIJUANA AND HEMP
Lawmakers agreed nearly four years ago to a framework for dispensing medical marijuana, but patients still don’t have access amid regulatory hurdles and friction between one of the two state-sanctioned growers and the agriculture department.
As the availability of therapeutic cannabis appears to draw near, some lawmakers are proposing to loosen program restrictions, while others are proposing to legalize recreational marijuana use or at least lessen penalties for it. Edwards supports medical marijuana, but opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Meanwhile, other lawmakers working with Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain are seeking to legalize the production and sale of industrial hemp in Louisiana, in line with the authorization granted in the federal Farm Bill approved by Congress.
While the legislative session is short, lawmakers have packed in several contentious topics.
Legislators will consider whether to follow several other conservative states that are trying to ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is typically around the sixth week of pregnancy.
They’ll debate whether to end Louisiana’s use of the death penalty, or whether to make secret any information about the person or company that manufactures or supplies drugs for an execution in an effort to restart long-stalled lethal injections in the state.
Edwards is again proposing to raise Louisiana’s minimum wage and enact new equal pay laws, efforts that have failed three years in a row.
And lawmakers will decide whether to legalize sports betting in the state.
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