Budget’s done but other issues await lawmakers in final week
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s Legislature is heading into its final week after a Memorial Day weekend break, with major budget work completed and a debate that divided opponents settled.
Other issues remain unresolved as the session nears its deadline for adjournment, June 6 at 6 p.m.
Historically, budget battles in the Louisiana Legislature are usually down-to-the-wire affairs. Not this year. Work was wrapped up on the state’s $39 billion on May 19. The bill includes a $1,500 annual raise for teachers, $500 less than Gov. John Bel Edwards was pushing for. It also would direct $300 million toward a proposed new Mississippi River Bridge in the Baton Rouge area — less than Edwards was pushing for but more than legislative leaders originally wanted to commit.
An analysis of the budget by the nonpartisan watchdog group Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana in The Advocate notes that the bill steers $100 million toward the “local initiatives, municipal agencies and nongovernment organizations that arguably shouldn’t be included in a state spending plan.” And some lawmakers complained that the bill was passed without enough opportunity for lawmakers to digest all that’s in it.
Edwards, a Democrat, can veto individual line-items within the budget. The early adoption by the Republican-led House and Senate this year means those bodies will likely have an opportunity to override any line-item vetoes.
A House-passed bill doing away with the need for a permit to carry a concealed weapon awaits action in the Senate — as the national gun debate has been renewed after the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting that killed 19 children. Edwards vetoed similar legislation last year after it passed despite opposition from many in law enforcement. It’s one of several bills filed by gun-control opponents awaiting action in the final days.
Lawmakers awaited Edwards’ decision on whether he would veto a bill to keep transgender women and girls in Louisiana from competing on college and K-12 women’s and girls’ athletic teams. He vetoed a similar bill last year and an override effort fell two votes short in the House.
Backers of the bill say transgender women have an unfair genetic advantage in competitive athletics. Edwards says the bill is unnecessary in a state where there are no known instances of transgender women athletes competing in girls or women’s school or college events.
Opponents of legal abortion found themselves divided over an anti-abortion bill that would have made women who get abortions subject to murder charges, while purportedly giving the state the power to overrule court decisions allowing abortion. Edwards, an anti-abortion Democrat, said the bill was blatantly unconstitutional and vowed to veto it. Major anti-abortion organizations came out strongly against the bill, which conflicted with their oft-repeated stand that women shouldn’t be prosecuted for abortion. The measure was effectively killed with an amendment on the House floor and pulled by its sponsor.
A state Senate committee narrowly defeated a bill that would have kept state or local governments from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry into public places or private businesses. But other legislation that could limit government’s ability to limit access to or require vaccines for entry into public buildings is pending.
Awaiting Senate debate is a House-passed bill spelling out how either chamber of the Legislature, with petitions signed by a majority of its members, could end public health emergency declarations by future governors. It’s a fine-tuning of existing law that has been challenged in court by opponents who say it is unconstitutional to grant a single legislative body such power.
A law passed in 2017 that ended the practice of routinely treating 17-year-old criminal suspects as adults could be repealed under Senate-passed legislation pending in the House. Some prosecutors say the practice has contributed to a rise in violent crime and proponents of the repeal also point to violence in the state’s youth lockups as a reason to again treat 17 year olds as adults. Opponents question whether the law is behind increased violent crime and worry about the harm that could come to some 17 year olds in adult lockups.
Lawmakers had hoped to provide a path to possible freedom for people convicted of felonies by juries that were not unanimous — a practice outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020 but not retroactively. But the proposal was shelved after negotiators couldn’t agree on whether a new board it would have established to make decisions on parole eligibility should have to decide unanimously.
Lawmakers suspended the 2022 regular session to convene a “veto session,” where they overrode Edwards’ veto of a new congressional district map adopted earlier in a February special session. Edwards had objected to the lack of a second majority-Black district. The map is now the subject of court battles.