The Louisiana Legislature heads into Thursday with few high-profile items remaining to be finished before the session’s mandated end at 6 p.m.
Topping the agenda for the 2011 session’s final day is action on:
The state’s proposed $2.7 billion capital construction program that funds roads, state buildings as well as some local government projects.
A proposed constitutional amendment to both prop up TOPS funding and renew 4 cents of the state’s 36-cent cigarette tax.
Changes to the GRAD Act 2 to allow colleges more autonomy in areas, such as purchasing and contracts.
In addition, the Legislature is expected to resolve generally minor differences between the House and Senate versions of about three dozen bills, including one aimed at getting Louisiana more revenues from offshore oil and gas production.
“We are coming in for a soft landing,” House Speaker Jim Tucker said.
“We are going to work out most of the bills. I’m confident of that fact,” said Senate President Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan.
State Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, got senators to send the TOPS-cigarette tax proposition and a companion bill to a conference committee Wednesday to make what he called “technical” changes.
Alario said the Senate would go along with the House addition of the cigarette tax renewal to House Bills 52 and 53.
The proposed $2.7 billion state’s capital construction program has been awaiting House approval of Senate changes to it since Monday.
House Bill 2 funds “capital outlay” projects in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The state Senate loaded HB2 to the point that now there are $10 million more in projects than there is money available.
HB2 sponsor, state Rep. Hunter Greene, said Wednesday that he does not want to throw the legislation into a conference committee to iron out differences between the two chambers. “It’s not a huge amount that is over-appropriated,” said Greene, R-Baton Rouge.
The House sent the GRAD Act 2.0 legislation to a conference committee Wednesday after Tucker told the House that higher education officials had a problem with one of the Senate changes.
The amendment would put an emphasis on certain criteria, such as student retention rate targets.
The Jindal-backed legislation would give colleges more flexibility, including allowing the institutions to launch self-funded construction projects without state control and roll forward extra revenue from year-to-year.
Other House members complained about removal of an amendment by state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, that would have required universities to reach regional averages on the percentage of freshmen who remain in college after their first year.
State Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said college officials used their power to prompt the Senate change. “If we don’t hold our colleges to a higher standard, we’re never going to improve the state,” Schroder said.
Also Thursday, the Senate will decide whether to confirm about 380 of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s appointees. Included are everyone from Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater and health chief Bruce Greenstein to people who serve on college system, lottery, ethics and other state boards.
At least two Jindal appointees have quit after Senate confirmation committee grilling.
The Senate goes into Thursday waiting for word on whether its plan for redrawing 39 Senate election districts will get required U.S. Justice Department approval.
“It is my belief they are going to approve our plan just like they did the House’s,” Chaisson said. In that case, he said, it won’t make any difference when the Senate gets the OK.
A special session would be required to fix any problems Justice has, if word is received after lawmakers adjourn in order to get a plan approved before fall elections.
Justice notified the House on Monday that its 105 election district remap had been pre-cleared.
Election district lines must be redrawn every decade to adjust for population shifts documented by the U.S. Census. The House and Senate redrew its lines during a special legislative session that preceded the regular session.
Justice must “pre-clear” any changes in Louisiana election laws under the federal Voting Rights Act because of its history of racially discriminatory election practices.