The Louisiana Legislature ended its regular session Monday — 30 minutes before going into a special session — with a bit of last-minute drama that frayed nerves and saw a rare vote against the speaker of the House.
At stake was whether the House would vote on the Senate’s version of House Bill 2, which includes hundreds of state-funded construction projects throughout Louisiana.
In the end, the House never voted on the measure, which the Legislature normally approves every year, and now it will have to be passed sometime during the 18-day special session.
The final day of a legislative session is often hectic with important votes going down to the wire, as happened during the first special session in March. That didn’t happen on Monday. In part, that was because the Legislature approved the most important bill, the budget, on Sunday night.
But it was also because state Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, kept the Legislature waiting on whether he would allow the House to decide whether to approve the Senate’s version of HB2 since he was the original sponsor and, under the rules, had to request the vote. Abramson was nowhere in sight for most of the day. This forced the House and Senate to take repeated 15-minute to 30-minute breaks.
Those who favored the Senate’s version said voting on it was the only way to get the measure passed before the regular session ended — and they didn’t want to take their chances it would happen during the special session. They believed they had the support for the Senate version but that Abramson had pulled a disappearing act to prevent a vote. Abramson had said several days earlier that the House’s version — which he crafted — was far superior to the Senate’s version because the Senate had stuffed the bill with projects that couldn’t be funded.
As the day wore on, legislators turned testy at Abramson’s absence.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, turned to humor in a series of tweets.
At 2:19 p.m., during one break, Claitor tweeted a photograph of himself from the observatory tower in the State Capitol, saying he had gone there looking for Abramson.
In short order, Claitor sent out more tweets with photos, saying he couldn’t find Abramson’s car in the Capitol parking lot or the lawmaker in a Capitol stairwell, at a shoe-shine stand on the ground floor, in the Senate balcony, in a men’s room or where Huey Long was assassinated on the first floor.
When Abramson finally appeared a few minutes later in the House chamber, state Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, playfully shot a photo of him and notified Claitor via Twitter. The senator rushed over to the House, and Landry shot a photo of the two men posing together.
In the meantime, though, legislators had been getting antsy to have the Legislature approve HB2 since it contained projects — roads, sewers, bridges, building repairs — that win plaudits from local government officials and constituents back home.
Finally, at about 3:15 p.m., less than three hours before the regular session ended, Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, took the unusual step of addressing the House. He told a hushed chamber that the version approved by the Senate had technical and legal problems and asked the House to reject it.
State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, then took the microphone.
Leger told his colleagues they could fix any technical problems during the special session and then asked them to rebuff Barras and Abramson and allow for a vote on the bill. Leger’s move added a sub-plot of drama because he had finished as the runner-up to Barras in the vote to elect the speaker in January.
In a parliamentary move, the House voted 52-49 with Leger to ask Abramson to bring up the bill.
“That’s a vote snubbing the position of the House speaker and the Ways and Means chairman,” tweeted the Associated Press’ Capitol reporter, Melinda Deslatte.
A half hour later, Abramson addressed his colleagues.
“The legal and technical issues could mess up projects and mess up our bonds,” Abramson said, asking them to reject the Senate version.
The next vote was not on the bill itself but on whether the House could vote on it.
To compel a vote required at least 70 votes, or two-thirds of the 105-member House. The vote was 55-44, meaning the majority voted against Abramson and Barras for a second time, but it was 15 short of what was needed.
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.