BATON ROUGE, La. — Lawmakers filed more than 900 bills for consideration in the legislative session that ended Thursday, with the heaviest debate focused on state spending and tax policy. But other measures dealing with criminal sentencing laws, public education, Confederate monuments and pay issues also drew debate time over the two months. Some of what passed and failed:
The House and Senate failed to reach an agreement on the state’s $28 billion-plus operating budget for the financial year that begins July 1, forcing the Legislature into a special session. At issue is whether to trust the state’s income forecast and spend all the money available or leave some unspent as a cushion in case the forecast is too optimistic. House Republican leaders want to spend less, saying that would keep them from making midyear budget cuts if the forecast isn’t met. The Senate, backed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and House Democrats, wants to spend all available dollars, saying otherwise lawmakers would have to make harmful cuts to services.
No deal was reached on taxes, despite months of talk about how lawmakers would focus on a tax overhaul to stabilize Louisiana’s finances and address a looming $1 billion budget gap that hits in mid-2018 when temporary taxes expire. The House — where most tax measures must start — blocked anything that could be considered a tax hike and scrapped nearly every bill recommended by a task force offering a roadmap for reform efforts. The Senate was stymied, unable to consider much without House cooperation. Senators rejected the few piecemeal bills the House sent over.
Edwards’ biggest victory was passage of a criminal justice revamp aimed at reducing Louisiana’s top-in-the-nation incarceration rate. The bills lessen sentences for nonviolent crimes, boost spending on programs aimed at helping people who leave prison so they don’t reoffend, and ease the financial burdens ex-offenders face when they are released. An effort to end Louisiana’s use of the death penalty, which wasn’t part of the criminal justice overhaul, failed. Lawmakers increased police training requirements and agreed to better track officers’ disciplinary records nearly a year after Alton Sterling, a black man, was fatally shot during a struggle with white Baton Rouge police officers.
Edwards’ proposal to put limits on the state’s voucher program stalled, along with his recommended changes to Louisiana’s system of evaluating teachers. His push to ban corporal punishment in public schools for students with disabilities easily won approval, though a broader proposal not pushed by the governor to prohibit all corporal punishment stalled. Students won’t need a doctor’s permission to bring sunblock to public schools, and college governing boards will continue to have the ability to raise student fees.
College students who receive tuition payments through the TOPS program won’t encounter new residency or repayment requirements. The nearly $300 million won’t face any substantive changes and will pay students’ full tuition charges in the 2017-18 school year. A study group will look at recommending future legislation, amid concerns about the program’s price tag.
The governor’s bid to raise Louisiana’s minimum wage from the $7.25-per-hour federal level to $8.50 and to enact an equal-pay bill requiring private businesses to pay the same wages to men and women who perform the same work failed to win support for a second year. Both stalled in the Senate, and a separate effort aimed at achieving equal pay by providing more wage transparency was killed in the House.
A proposal to add protections into Louisiana law against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity failed. Lawmakers agreed to make Louisiana the 49th state to allow same-sex couples to receive domestic-abuse protections.
Lawmakers toughened requirements for parental consent when a minor wants to get an abortion, mandating that the guardian provide proof of identity, including a government-issued identification card such as a driver’s license. But the issue of abortion drew less attention this year.
Decisions on the fate of Confederate monuments erected in towns and cities around Louisiana will be left to local governments. An effort to make it harder to remove the statues was backed in the House, prompting a walkout from black lawmakers. But the bill was spurned by senators.
OTHER ISSUES: Louisiana won’t hold a constitutional convention and won’t join 44 other states in creating statewide regulations governing ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. For the second consecutive year, senators jettisoned a proposal to penalize so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with immigration authorities. The House refused to shorten the waiting period for a divorce when the married couple has children under 18.
Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov