By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers reached the midpoint of their annual regular session Tuesday with budget plans starting to take shape, but the fate of most bills still uncertain. Expectations remain intact that legislators will head home without a special session.
After seven special sessions across three years about finances, lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2018 brokered a seven-year tax deal that ended nearly a decade of fiscal instability. Budget disagreements continue this session, but the bickering is about spending new money coming into state coffers, rather than about where to slash spending.
Measures to add new restrictions on abortion are speeding through the Legislature, while the latest effort to raise the state’s minimum wage remains a long-shot. A ban on the death penalty again has failed, while legalization of sports betting continues to advance.
Here’s a look at where major issues stand at the halfway mark:
The biggest rift in debate about the $30 billion state operating budget scheduled for House debate Thursday centers on public education spending.
House Republicans crafted a budget for the financial year that begins July 1 that would spend more on school pay raises than the Democratic governor wants, but less on other expenses for school districts.
The budget bill would give teachers a $1,200 pay raise and an extra $600 to support workers, rather than the $1,000 and $500 in salary hikes suggested by Edwards. Instead of the larger pay raises, the governor and the state education board want a $39 million flexible block grant for school districts to help cover other increased costs.
Republican lawmakers seeking to rework or repeal the sales tax compromise passed last year seem unlikely to gain traction for the ideas in the Senate, where the tax committee shot down the first proposal to reach debate. The House tax committee refused to give local government the ability to lessen the homestead exemption, a property tax break for homeowners. But efforts to lessen the local government influence Edwards added to a lucrative property tax break program for manufacturers still is in play, with several proposals advancing in the Legislature.
The Legislature is advancing proposals aimed at curbing abortion access in Louisiana.
The Senate agreed to ban the procedure as early as five or six weeks of pregnancy, prohibiting abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected — if a federal appeals court upholds a similar law in Mississippi. The House backed legislation asking Louisiana voters to amend the state constitution to say it doesn’t protect abortion rights. If the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverses the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, legislation supporters say courts couldn’t cite the state constitution to keep Louisiana from banning or limiting the procedure.
A bid to stop Louisiana’s use of capital punishment, if voters agreed, was overwhelmingly defeated in the Senate. Meanwhile, an effort to restart lethal injections in the state by making secret information about anyone who provides drugs or medical equipment for executions is advancing in the House, awaiting debate on the House floor.
Louisiana held its last execution in 2010. The corrections department says it can’t get lethal injection drugs because companies don’t want their products associated with executions.
Lawmakers are considering whether to expand Louisiana’s “stand your ground” law to protect people who use deadly force in churches and whether to enact labeling restrictions to ban companies from classifying cauliflower rice as rice or almond milk as milk. They’re also deciding whether to legalize the growing and processing of industrial hemp in Louisiana.
But they’ve rejected efforts to restrict new highway billboards in Louisiana.
Senators agreed to legalize sports betting within the footprint of the state’s casinos and racetracks, with most of the tax dollars generated by the activity earmarked for early childhood education programs. The measure faces an uncertain fate in the House.
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