The heap of failed bills is growing larger as the Legislature’s session reaches its final month.
Medical marijuana still won’t be dispensed in Louisiana. Motorcycle riders still will need a helmet when they’re on their bikes. Statewide elected officials won’t face term limits. Tiny towns that generate most of their revenue off speeding tickets won’t be branded speed traps. And three convictions for marijuana possession still can get you a prison sentence of 20 years.
Lawmakers have rejected proposals to make changes in each of those areas and dismissed dozens of other ideas, from the arcane to the sweeping law rewrites.
Two high-profile issues pushed by Democrats have been resoundingly defeated: proposals to expand Louisiana’s Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care law and to raise the state’s minimum wage beyond the federal hourly rate of $7.25.
Both initiatives are agenda items for President Barack Obama, so it seemed unlikely they’d get much traction in a majority-Republican Legislature and in a state where the Democratic president is not popular.
The Medicaid expansion is part of the Obama-backed health care law, and that law is both unpopular in Louisiana and the subject of a heated Senate race between Democrat incumbent Mary Landrieu and her three GOP challengers. So, the bill was destined for defeat.
The minimum wage hike has been rejected in multiple forms and several times, in both the House and Senate labor committees, vehemently opposed by business lobbying groups.
Gay rights organizations pushed expansive proposals seeking to extend new protections in state law against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but those measures went nowhere. The Legislature is strongly conservative and regularly aligned with the business and conservative groups that opposed the anti-discrimination proposals.
The marijuana debate finally arrived at the Louisiana Capitol, but sheriffs and district attorneys successfully stonewalled efforts to lessen penalties for simple marijuana possession and to allow medical marijuana to get into the hands of people with serious illnesses.
Meanwhile, a coalition of groups advocating for low-income residents appears likely to lose its fight with the payday lending industry over efforts to add tougher regulations on the storefront lenders.
Proposals to cap the number of loans a borrower can take out each year or to limit the fees that can be charged have been rejected in the House and Senate, with an army of lobbyists arguing the case of the payday lenders.
Even measures seeking to simply strike unconstitutional laws from Louisiana’s books have been rebuffed.
Louisiana will remain one of a dozen states with an anti-sodomy law 10 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled they are unconstitutional. House lawmakers sided with religious and conservative groups in overwhelmingly refusing a bid by Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, to repeal the law.
Similar opposition helped killed a measure by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, that would have removed a law requiring public schools to give balanced treatment in science classes and textbooks to evolution and creationism.
The creationism law was found unconstitutional in 1987 by the U.S. Supreme Court, so it can’t be enforced. But the Senate resoundingly defeated Claitor’s effort to strip it from the books earlier this session.
Some bills that get thumped live on in other ways.
Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, couldn’t persuade his colleagues to let lawmakers carry concealed handguns in the Louisiana Capitol. So, he decided he doesn’t want anybody else to have guns there either.
After senators rejected his proposal, Allain rewrote the concealed carry bill to instead remove existing law that allows judges, district attorneys, constables, coroners and justices of the peace to carry in the Capitol.
That rewritten measure awaits debate in the House.
Dozens more high- and low-profile bills likely await defeat at some stop of the legislative process. Really, the only items lawmakers must pass before the session ends on June 2 are the bills to finance state government operations for next year and to rebalance this year’s budget.
But rejected bills don’t necessarily stop the debates. Many of the ideas jettisoned this session are sure to reappear again next year.
Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.