IN SESSION: La. lawmakers return amid safety, budget concerns

Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has many Louisianians in their houses, Louisiana lawmakers are back in a different kind of house.

State House and Senate members returned to the State Capitol Monday to resume their annual legislative session, on hold since mid-March. Chief among their priorities: passing a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, even as lawmakers remain unsure how much — or how little — revenue they’ll have on hand.

“We have work to do,” Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales) told House members, noting their constitutional duty to pass a budget by June 30 before midnight. “We can’t wait any longer.”

Safety matters also drew concern. More than two dozen state House members did not wear masks inside the legislative chamber Monday. Few stayed six feet from their fellow lawmakers, despite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plexiglass walls against lawmakers’ desks did little to promote social distancing, with many legislators spending the better part of Monday morning standing elsewhere in the room. It was enough to inspire remarks from one lawmaker too familiar with COVID-19.

“If nothing else, out of respect for your other members here, put your mask on when you want to engage people,” said Rep. Rodney Lyons (D-Harvey), who fought the virus earlier this spring. “You may not feel it, or you may not be affected, but you want to respect someone else’s space in doing so.”

Masks or not, lawmakers will spend plenty of time together over the next few weeks. Their regular legislative session must end June 1. Failure to pass a budget by then would require a special session to meet their end-of-June deadline.

The pandemic has already cost Louisiana sizable tourism and oil dollars. State economists remain unsure how long the losses will last — and how deep the losses are or will be.

“This is the strangest situation I’ve ever seen,” said legislative economist Greg Albrecht. “Our state really isn’t going to recover until the U.S. and the world recover.”

The state’s four-member Revenue Estimating Conference will meet next Monday to lodge its first income projection since the pandemic reached the United States.

Two notable state lawmakers were absent Monday: Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge), who fought COVID-19 earlier this spring, has suggested it’s still too soon for the Legislature to reconvene. Rep. Reggie Bagala (R-Cut Off) died of the virus in April.

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