A week after abruptly ending a special session without passing any major legislation, state lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday for the start of the 2018 regular session.
Members of the House were still simmering over the embarrassing implosion of the special session, with one Republican announcing that he would no longer serve as a committee chairman due to his frustrations with the chamber's leadership.
Other members whispered rumors of a brewing effort to overthrow House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, to reset the chamber's direction. Barras acknowledged reporters waiting to interview him after the House adjourned its first day, but he slipped out of the chamber without addressing them.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, chided legislators for the collapse of the special session and urged them to come together to address the state's issues.
"I know that your constituents – our constituents – want us to do better," Edwards said.
The Louisiana Legislature, fresh off a week-long break after the collapse of its recent special session, is heading back to the State Capitol …
Tensions have mounted in the House during increasingly chaotic sessions.
"I think folks are still extremely frustrated," said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge. "It just seems like we are kind of floating."
The special session that ended last week was the fifth since February – all to address the state's repeated fiscal crises.
Negotiations broke down in the House with no action taken toward bridging the gap the state faces when temporary tax measures expire June 30.
Lawmakers must end the regular session by June 4, and they cannot take up most revenue measures during the current session.
Edwards and others have suggested that the Legislature could end its regular session early and then have another limited special session to address the "fiscal cliff."
One of the major credit ratings agencies has offered a dire assessment of the state's financial outlook, just days after lawmakers abruptly en…
"I remain of the opinion that we need to end this session in mid-May, as (Senate) President (John) Alario, Speaker Barras and I have discussed, so that we can enter another special session at no additional expense to taxpayers," Edwards said in his session-opening address Monday. "And no, it will not be easy. I never said that it would be, but I believe it will be necessary."
The Senate spent the recent special session in limbo awaiting legislation from the House, which repeatedly rejected revenue-raising proposals. The Senate held unusual first-day committee hearings to expedite legislation.
House committees will begin hearings Tuesday morning, including a review of state agencies' budgets in the Appropriations Committee.
Edwards also outlined a broad agenda for the Legislature.
"I am teaming up with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike. We are building on an incredible wave of momentum," he said. "Soliciting ideas from all across the state – the business community, small business owners, seniors, students, parents and law enforcement, the legislative agenda I am proposing to you today is as bold and diverse as the people of our great state."
Efforts to loosen business regulations, including occupational licensing requirements, won Edwards bipartisan praise.
Edwards said he has directed his cabinet to review all regulations, especially related to small businesses, and identify areas where the state can provide relief. He also has called for an occupational licensing review.
"First up - repealing licensing requirements for florists, which we are the only state in the nation to require," he said.
Edwards is trying for the third time to convince lawmakers to set a minimum wage on the state level that is higher than the federal government's $7.25 an hour. Edwards campaigned on the issue but has so far been unable to usher a bill through the Legislature.
Edwards has repeatedly said that he doesn't believe that the Legislature will pass a budget during its regular session because the fiscal cliff would require deep cuts to higher education and health care.
"I think what many of you will find is that it is much harder than it seems because when you cut funding you cut a service that someone in this state relies on," he said in his speech. "But, if that’s what you truly believe, now is your opportunity. To those that say we can cut our way out of this, it’s your time to step up to the plate and make the specific cuts that you insist can be made."
Frustrated with mounting distrust in the Louisiana House, Rep. Kenny Havard, a St. Francisville Republican, resigned from his committee chairmanship. Havard had spent the past two years as chairman of the House Transportation Committee but said he no longer thinks that he can offer 100 percent loyalty to Barras.
The pomp of the 2018 regular legislative session's opening felt a little perfunctory this time. All the players at the state Capitol went thro…
"Today is the day I want to get back to doing the people's work and vote my conscience," he said. "It's our time to put people above politics and party."
He said he also believes that the Legislature will not pass a budget before having another special session. "It's such unrealistic cuts that would have to be made," Havard said.
Barras maintained a low profile in the House until his surprise election as speaker in 2016 – a compromise Republicans arranged to prevent Edwards from having a hand-picked House speaker and Democrat in that position.
He has faced repeated criticism from Edwards and others during negotiations over budget issues.
"There's no clear direction around here," James said.