Many Issues Decided At Louisiana Regular Session Midpoint



Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry speaks about the House-passed budget proposal, on Thursday, April 19, 2018, in Baton Rouge, La. Henry said the proposal, which contains deep cuts, spends money responsibly.

AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte

 

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers have reached the midpoint of their regular session mired in sharp disagreements over the budget, with most gun proposals stalled, the governor's legislative agenda struggling and efforts to end early questionable.

Many hot-button topics have been resolved, largely because the measures have been shelved. Efforts to ban the death penalty and restructure the TOPS college tuition program have been rejected. The list of proposed gambling law changes has been whittled down.

Still advancing are bids to toughen Louisiana's laws against hazing, strengthen government policies against sexual harassment and broaden the medical marijuana program.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed three bills into law so far out of more than 1,400 introduced by lawmakers. A bid to end the session before its June 4 deadline — to hold a special session on taxes to help balance the budget — is uncertain, with House Republican leaders not committed to a timeline.

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FINANCES UNSETTLED

House Republicans backed a $27 billion operating budget for the financial year beginning July 1 that would steeply reduce spending on health services for the poor, elderly and people with disabilities to close a budget gap. TOPS would cover only 80 percent of tuition costs.

Louisiana's expected to take in $648 million less in general state tax dollars next year than the state received this year because of the expiration of temporary taxes.

Edwards wants lawmakers to replace some expiring taxes, but a special session earlier this year ended in stalemate. The Democratic governor wants another special session, with a final budget crafted then. His administration is urging senators to stall the budget until that special session, but senators are split on whether they should advance something now.

House GOP leaders called the budget proposal responsible because it only spends available dollars. They said it shows gaps that could be filled with taxes during a special session.

Nearly all House Democrats voted against the bill, calling it devastating to the state.

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EDWARDS AGENDA

Significant portions of Edwards' agenda have failed to gain traction in the majority-Republican House and Senate.

Education measures seeking to reverse changes made by former Gov. Bobby Jindal to public school laws have been spurned. Edwards' push to prohibit public schools from penalizing students because they have unpaid lunch debts was scrapped.

For a third year, Edwards-backed proposals to raise Louisiana's minimum wage and to enact new laws aimed at reducing the pay gap between men and women have failed to win support.

Also, the House jettisoned a measure that would ban employers from requiring workers to sign contracts that keep them from filing sexual harassment lawsuits in civil court.

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GUNS AND SCHOOL SAFETY

Gun debates spurred by the massacre at a Florida high school have largely ended with little change planned to laws on the books.

Proposals by Democrats to enact gun-control provisions and measures by Republicans to loosen firearm provisions were rejected. Bills that sought to let armed civilians act as campus security guards and allow teachers to carry guns at school were shelved.

One of the only measures prompted by the Florida shooting still moving in the Legislature would let students wear bulletproof backpacks on school grounds.

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OTHER PROPOSALS

A proposal to ban abortion after 15 weeks is pending in the Senate. A measure to redesign the pension plan for future rank-and-file state workers stalled amid opposition from the governor. The House refused to restructure Louisiana's recreational hunting and fishing licenses because of objections to price hikes, and the chamber wouldn't restore voting rights to some convicted felons on probation or parole.

Among the few bills signed by Edwards was a measure that calls for erecting a monument near the Louisiana Capitol to honor people who lost family members serving in the military.

- by Melinda Deslatte, AP reporter

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