Regular session starts
Louisiana’s 2018 Regular Session got off to a quick start last week. For the first time in quite a while, bills—some innocuous, some bad—started moving from committee to the floor in each chamber during week one. The sense of urgency this year stems from the desire of many legislators as well as the governor to hold yet another special session sooner rather than later. The twist this go around entails adjourning the regular session a couple weeks early and moving into special session during the time in which legislators were already scheduled to be in Baton Rouge—ostensibly to “save tax dollars.”
As a reminder, the current regular session is “general” in nature and tax increasing or decreasing matters are prohibited from introduction. Therefore, according to the governor and several legislators, another special session must be called to make changes to tax policies aimed at addressing the anticipated revenue shortfall (a.k.a. the fiscal cliff) of roughly $600 million-plus.
Gov. John Bel Edwards this week attempted to force legislative leadership’s hand in calling the special session during a specific time-frame. Speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, have indicated they support the expedited regular session and plans for a second special session. According to news reports the Senate sent over to the House a proposed tightened schedule, but Speaker Barras expressed concerns with putting a specific regular session early-adjournment date in writing. Barras said, “I hesitate with a date certain just in case we get to a point where we may not make that date.” He went on this week to say, “I might feel better about that in a few days, but I’m not feeling certain about that now.” With more than 1,100 bills filed, Barras said he’s concerned about giving everyone enough time to have hearings and get their bills through the House and Senate. This sentiment will likely set a potentially combative tone over the next few weeks.
Of course, before a special session happens a serious battle is expected to take place in the legislature over cuts to the budget. Key leadership in the House believes greater budget scrutiny and cuts can help mitigate the “fiscal cliff” by a significant number.
Constitutional Convention talk heats up
One of the bigger issues of the session is the issue of whether a constitutional convention should be held in the near future. This topic has come up many times over the past few years but real traction appears to be developing now. Many lawmakers as well as the general public seem to be expressing more interest in such a convention, but the details will be the biggest obstacle. If I were forced to bet on the issue now I’d say something along the lines of a limited constitutional convention to deal with fiscal matters is the likeliest direction this will head; delegates could likely be elected from Senate districts across the state along with a mix of appointees from varying authorities. Much of Louisiana’s budget and spending issues come from the legislature being handcuffed on a range of constitutionally protected items (many of which have been considered sacred cows…but that could be changing soon). Property taxes, homestead exemption, sales taxes, funding of local government, and so much more…everything could be on the table. Right now it’s probably worth keeping an eye on
by Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, but there are several other vehicles that could gain steam.