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Louisiana lawmakers debated high-profile issues this session

June 7, 2019
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Sens. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, left, and Fred Mills, R-Parks, look at legislation in the final hours of the regular session, on Thursday, June 6, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers filed more than 860 bills in the legislative session that ended Thursday. The 60-day fiscal session was supposed to center on the budget and taxes, but other measures dealing with abortion, the death penalty, medical marijuana and gambling drew debate time.

Some of what passed and failed:

BUDGET

Lawmakers passed a $30 billion state operating budget for the financial year that begins July 1 that boosts spending on public schools, colleges, health services, foster care and public safety programs. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ push to increase spending on public elementary and secondary schools by $140 million won legislative support. Teachers will get a $1,000 pay raise, support workers will see their annual salaries grow by $500, and districts will get an extra $39 million in discretionary money.

More than $400 million in unspent cash from Louisiana’s better-than-expected tax collections will pay for roadwork, coastal protection and public college programs, among a long list of approved spending plans.

ABORTION

Lawmakers banned abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks of pregnancy. Edwards quickly signed the bill , making Louisiana the fifth state to enact such a prohibition, though Louisiana’s law only takes effect if Mississippi’s similar law is upheld by a federal appeals court.

In addition, the House and Senate lengthened the time clinics must retain patient records, required women seeking an abortion to receive lengthy background information about the doctor performing the procedure and decided that abortions done via medication could be performed only at Louisiana’s three licensed abortion clinics. Legislators are asking voters on the November 2020 ballot to rewrite the state constitution to ensure it offers no protections for abortion rights.

MARIJUANA

An effort to legalize recreational marijuana was rejected, but legislators legalized the production and growing of industrial hemp in Louisiana. They passed a regulatory framework for selling CBD products. Lawmakers agreed to let medical marijuana patients use an inhaler, and they excluded therapeutic cannabis from state and local sales taxes.

FOOD LABELING

Cauliflower rice and soy milk were in lawmakers’ crosshairs. They sought to protect Louisiana’s farmers by adding new limits on how food products can be labeled. Labeling restrictions on milk will only take effect if the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration uses such standards nationally. Limits on what can be marketed as meat, seafood, rice and sugar will take effect in October 2020.

OIL SPILL MONEY

Nearly $700 million in Gulf oil spill recovery money , given to the state by BP to account for economic damages caused by the spill, will pay for a list of road, bridge and infrastructure projects.

TAX BREAKS

Lawmakers proposed a slew of tax breaks this election season, but none with high price tags reached final passage. House Republicans’ efforts to undo parts of the 2018 tax compromise stalled in the Senate. Industry-backed bids to roll back changes Edwards made to a property tax break for manufacturers failed to win support.

GAMBLING

Lawmakers refused to legalize sports betting . Although Louisiana voters in 47 parishes agreed in November to legalize online fantasy sports contests for cash prizes, efforts failed to pass the tax and regulatory provisions required to start the betting.

MARRIAGE AGE

Sixteen will be set as the minimum age for someone to marry in Louisiana, with those under 18 needing parental and judicial permission. Lawmakers also agreed to prohibit anyone 16 or 17 years old from marrying anyone who is three years or more older.

DEATH PENALTY

The Senate voted down a proposal to end capital punishment , and the sponsor of a similar House measure shelved it. Senators narrowly scrapped a measure to shield the identity of drug suppliers for executions, an effort aimed at restarting long-stalled lethal injections.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Lawmakers passed a measure aimed at making state officials pay a share of their sexual harassment settlements , rather than relying entirely on taxpayer dollars. They barred state employees from including nondisclosure clauses in sexual misconduct settlements that involve public funds.

PAY ISSUES

Edwards again failed to win support for a minimum wage hike and equal pay protections. A proposal to give municipalities the authority to set their own minimum wage rates stalled. Lawmakers gave pay raises to judges, sheriffs, district attorneys and assistant district attorneys.

OTHER BILLS

Louisiana will join 44 other states in creating statewide regulations for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, aimed at expanding availability. Lawmakers enacted new penalties for parents who harass referees at their children’s sporting events.

Louisiana won’t raise its legal smoking age from 18 to 21. The state won’t restrict new highway billboards. Louisiana’s gun laws won’t be strengthened or loosened. Hank Williams’ iconic “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” won’t become an official state song.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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