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La. lawmakers move budget bills, brace for ‘special’ movement in June

Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — Louisiana House members sent their $30 billion-plus state budget proposal to the state Senate with little debate Tuesday.

The spending bills, as endorsed by the lower chamber, would use more than $1 billion in federal funds to fill gaps left after the COVID-19 pandemic slowed tax collections. The tentative plan would cut some funds to state agencies, but it would keep funds to TOPS college tuition, K-12, prisons and social services as is, in the budget year starting July 1.

But lawmakers don’t plan on sending a budget to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk before their regular legislative session ends June 1 at 6 p.m. They’re already mapping out talking points for a special session, to start June 1 at 6:01 p.m.

This will only mark the second time Louisiana lawmakers call themselves into an extraordinary session; that’s typically a governor’s role. Members of the Legislature’s Republican majority argue that holding a 30-day session would give them more time to discuss budgetary specifics, after the coronavirus pandemic paused their regular session by six weeks.

“We haven’t gotten to have all the committee hearings and hear from the agencies,” said state Rep. Jerome Zeringue, the Houma Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. “We have so many interests we need to address, and that just made it all the more challenging.”

“These are big decisions,” said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, who leads the Senate’s GOP delegation. “We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The June special session won’t just be about the budget. The Legislature’s agenda outlines 41 items, including tort reform, licensing changes, tax breaks and higher education fees.

Edwards and prominent Democrats have suggested the agenda is too long for a month-long session, which typically costs $50,000 to $60,000 a day to run. Spending a full month in a special session could cost taxpayers nearly $2 million.

“I just want to make sure the public is aware that we’re going to spend approximately $1.8 to $2 million doing what we’ve been doing,” state Rep. Malinda White (D-Bogalusa) told lawmakers last week.

But the Republican architects of the special session call are defending their variety in legislation, as the state continues responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s not just about the budget,” Zeringue said. “It’s also about getting the economy back again, ensuring we get people back to work and helping business.”

Legislators are already hinting at another special session this fall to address more side effects of the coronavirus.

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