CONTINUING COVERAGE: The latest on Louisiana's legislative session

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Latest on Louisiana's legislative session (all times local):

Source: MGN

2:11

With tensions still simmering from a failed special session, Gov. John Bel Edwards asked Louisiana's lawmakers to move on Monday as their annual regular legislative gathering began, rather than get mired in the same standoffs that stalled action on taxes.

"I hope that in the past week you've had time to rest and refocus on the work that we have ahead of us," the Democratic governor told the House and Senate. "And especially I do not want the roadblocks of the special session to hamper us from what's most important - making life better for the people of this great state."

Lawmakers will resume their debates on the unsettled budget mess, the culmination of a decade's worth of state financial troubles, as well as hot-button proposals on guns, gambling and sexual harassment.

An estimated $700 million shortfall looms when the new budget year begins July 1, caused by the expiration of temporary taxes.

Partisan gridlock in the House blocked every tax bill proposed in the two-week special session called by Edwards to close the hole, and lawmakers abruptly ended the session early, unable to break the logjam. Anger and frustration is expected to spill into the regular session, as lawmakers try to determine where they'll shave away spending. The Legislature can't consider taxes in the regular session.

Education programs and safety net health services for the poor and disabled remain most vulnerable to cuts.

"I think that many of you will find that it's much harder than it seems because when you cut funding, you cut services that many people in this state rely upon," Edwards said. But he told GOP lawmakers: "To those that say we can cut our way out of this, it's your time to step up to the plate."

Beyond finances, lawmakers have pre-filed more than 1,100 bills on a wide list of subjects.

Proposals would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, restructure the TOPS college tuition program, end Louisiana's use of the death penalty, expand the state's private school voucher program, loosen riverboat casino and video poker laws and legalize sports betting. The frustration over finances has heightened calls for a constitutional convention. House Republicans are proposing cost-sharing requirements for Medicaid patients and a tighter state spending cap.

Among his agenda items, Edwards wants to reduce the list of careers requiring state occupational licenses, add new protections against elderly abuse, rewrite teacher tenure laws and prohibit schools from punishing students who owe lunch money. He'll again push to boost Louisiana's minimum wage and enact an equal pay law, proposals that have repeatedly failed to gain legislative support.

Lawmakers in the majority-GOP House and Senate will consider whether to strengthen laws against hazing, after the recent death of an LSU student. Keying in on national debates, lawmakers will decide if they want to enact a uniform sexual harassment prevention policy for all state agencies.

Republicans and Democrats differ in their response to the Florida school shooting that killed 17 people, with Democrats seeking new gun restrictions and GOP lawmakers proposing to allow concealed handguns and armed teachers inside schools. One lawmaker wants students to be able to wear bullet-proof backpacks.

Edwards dodged taking a position on the gun measures. He referenced a "national conversation happening" and urged lawmakers to "drown out the political noise" and bring in varied voices for the debate.

"Our priority is public safety for our children, and I know that we can have a constructive dialogue here in Louisiana over the course of this session and advance this cause," the governor said.

The regular session is expected to end ahead of its June 4 deadline.

Edwards, Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Taylor Barras are working on a plan to finish 10 to 20 days early. That would allow for a second special session to be held on taxes, in order to keep the entire budget gap from being closed with cuts.

They've questioned whether a budget proposing deep reductions can even win passage in the regular session.

1:40 p.m.

Gov. John Bel Edwards outlined a broad legislative agenda to lawmakers that includes scaling back some business regulations, tweaking teacher evaluations and making new attempts at raising Louisiana's minimum wage.

The governor spoke Monday to the House and Senate as they opened their annual regular legislative session.

More than 1,100 bills have been pre-filed for consideration.

Edwards steered clear on one major topic: Guns.

He acknowledged there's a "national conversation happening" about how to protect schoolchildren after the recent Florida school massacre. But Edwards didn't say whether he supports gun control measures filed by his fellow Democrats or the approach favored by Republicans to arm school teachers and other school officials.

Edwards also says he'll seek to require anti-sexual harassment training for all public employees, after one of his top aides resigned amid harassment allegations.

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1:15 p.m.

Louisiana's governor asked lawmakers to "refocus" on their work and move past the gridlock of the tax special session that failed to raise a single dollar to help close the budget gap.

Gov. John Bel Edwards spoke Monday to the House and Senate, as the Legislature opened its annual, months-long regular session.

The Democratic governor told lawmakers he was disappointed at how the special session ended last week. Partisan disagreements in the House stalled all tax measures to help close a shortfall estimated around $700 million.

But Edwards says he doesn't want that session's collapse to "hamper us from what's most important - making life better for the people of this great state."

Lawmakers can't consider taxes this session. They'll be charged with suggesting cuts to balance next year's budget.

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12:20 p.m.

Louisiana lawmakers have opened their annual regular session, staring at another round of financial woes and struggle over how to balance the budget.

The House and Senate returned Monday. Frustrations are still simmering from the recent special session aimed at passing taxes to replace the expiring taxes that are causing the budget gap. That special session bogged down in House partisan gridlock. No revenue was raised.

In the regular session, lawmakers are charged with balancing next year's budget with an estimated $700 million less in state financing. Education programs and health services could be on the chopping block.

But finances won't be the only item on the agenda.

Lawmakers have pre-filed more than 1,100 bills on topics ranging from abortion and gun control to criminal sentencing laws, hazing and gambling.

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11:40 a.m.

Gov. John Bel Edwards' special guests for his legislative session speech highlight two of his priorities: Louisiana's Medicaid expansion and adoption programs.

The Democratic governor is including in the audience Monday a mental health technician who gets health services through the Medicaid expansion, including treatment for an opioid addiction. Khadija Lamraoui has been sober for nearly a year with the treatment.

Edwards also invited Dawn and David Moss, who have three biological children and five adopted children. The Moss family is attending the speech with the Department of Children and Family Services employee who has handled their case, Judy Batiste.

Other guests of the governor include three people who helped run the Alexandria Mega Shelter last year, when it opened its doors to Houston-area resident fleeing Hurricane Harvey.

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6 a.m.

Louisiana lawmakers begin their regular session at noon on Monday amid high tensions after a failed special session on finances.

The state's financial troubles remain in focus, with an estimated $700 million budget shortfall threatening TOPS college tuition awards, education programs and safety-net health services.

Lawmakers have pre-filed more than 1,100 bills on a wide list of topics. Proposals would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, end Louisiana's use of the death penalty, rewrite hazing laws and legalize sports betting.

Republicans and Democrats differ in their response to the recent Florida school shooting, with GOP lawmakers proposing to allow armed teachers at schools and Democrats seeking new gun restrictions. One lawmaker wants students to be able to wear bullet-proof backpacks.

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Fresh from a failed special session on finances, Louisiana lawmakers are resuming their debates on the unsettled budget mess as well as hot-button proposals on guns, gambling, sexual harassment and abortion.

The regular legislative session opens at noon, with a decade's worth of state financial troubles again taking much of the focus. Gov. John Bel Edwards is to address the House and Senate an hour after the session's start.

Tensions are simmering as Louisiana lawmakers face an estimated $700 million shortfall when the new budget year begins July 1, caused by the expiration of temporary taxes. Education programs and safety-net health services for the poor and disabled remain most vulnerable to cuts.

Partisan gridlock in the House blocked every tax bill proposed in the two-week special session to close the hole, and lawmakers abruptly ended the session early, unable to break the logjam. The collapse of negotiations provoked anger and frustration that is expected to spill into the regular session, as lawmakers try to determine where they'd like to shave away spending.

"It's almost scary to think of lawmakers tackling any kind of really substantive policy matters in the current environment," said the nonpartisan Council For A Better Louisiana. "Will they be voting on the policies or providing political payback for what did or didn't happen in the special session? As cynical as that sounds, it's a legitimate concern."

Lawmakers have pre-filed more than 1,100 bills on a wide list of subjects.

Proposals would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, restructure the TOPS college tuition program, end Louisiana's use of the death penalty, redesign criminal sentencing laws, expand the state's private school voucher program and change teacher tenure rules.

Among his agenda items, Edwards wants to reduce the list of careers requiring state occupational licenses, add new protections against elderly abuse and prohibit schools from punishing students who owe lunch money.

"No child should have to choose between going hungry and being made to feel less than simply because they cannot afford the price of a school lunch that day," the Democratic governor said in a statement.

Lawmakers in the majority-GOP House and Senate are to consider whether to strengthen laws against hazing, after the recent death of a Louisiana State University student. They'll decide whether to rewrite riverboat casino laws and whether to legalize sports betting. They'll again debate whether to raise Louisiana's minimum wage or restore voting rights for some convicted felons.

Keying in on national debates, lawmakers will decide if they want to enact a uniform sexual harassment prevention policy for all state agencies.

Republicans and Democrats differ in their response to the Florida school shooting that killed 17 people, with Democrats seeking new gun restrictions and GOP lawmakers proposing to allow concealed handguns and armed teachers inside schools. One lawmaker wants students to be able to wear bullet-proof backpacks.

The frustration over finances has heightened calls for a constitutional convention. House Republicans are proposing new cost-sharing requirements for Medicaid patients and tightening of the state spending cap.

The regular session is expected to end ahead of its June 4 deadline.

Edwards, Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Taylor Barras are working on a plan to finish 10 to 20 days early. That would allow for a second special session to be held on taxes, in order to keep the entire budget gap from being closed with cuts.

They've questioned whether a budget proposing deep reductions can even win passage.

"I'm assuming that would be difficult to do, but maybe not impossible," Barras said.



 
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