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The state House Chamber, seen June 28 during action in the special session of the Louisiana Legislature.

The Louisiana Legislature will begin its second special session of the year at 6 p.m. on Sept. 28, legislative leaders said Monday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said he has concerns about the timing and scope of the session.

The gathering, which is being called by lawmakers, can last up to 30 days, and legislators have to adjourn by Oct. 27 at 6 p.m.

Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said one reason for the timing is to avoid finishing too close to the general election, which is Nov. 3.

One of the key topics for the special session is the state's unemployment trust fund, which has plummeted from more than $800 million to less than $100 million. State law requires that when the trust fund dips below that level, a surtax paid by employers must be imposed on payroll – up to 30% for some businesses.

The coronavirus pandemic, and resulting jobs losses, has sparked the deep dive in the fund. 

"That is a big issue we have to solve," said Cortez. "Otherwise, you are going have an assessment put on all the businesses as well as a decrease in the benefits."

In a statement, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales said the meeting will focus on three topics: Hurricane Laura disaster relief and recovery efforts, ongoing issues with the pandemic and the state's Unemployment Trust Fund.

"No one could have predicted or planned for the health, economic and natural disaster devastation that 2020 has brought to our state and citizens," Schexnayder said.

"A special session is needed to address unforeseen problems related to the in-person education of our children and their return to extracurricular activities, the survival of our economy and the opening up of business, and the recovery of the areas of our state devastated by Hurricane Laura," Schexnayder added.

But the first three items on the legislative call involve a potentially contentious topic: Edwards' orders on the reopening of Louisiana's economy.

Some Republican House members have argued that Edwards has been too slow to reopen businesses, restaurants and other areas. Republicans hold substantial majorities in both the Senate and the House.

"A significant number of House members have also asked to address the continued proclamations issued by the governor during the pandemic and what many see as an imbalance of power," Schexnayder said. "This special session will not end without a solution to this problem."

In a statement, Democrat Edwards said state efforts to combat the coronavirus are paying dividends.

"Put simply, the measures we have taken in Louisiana are working and we are making significant progress," he said.

"However, to abandon these efforts in defiance of the unanimous advice of the public health experts and the Trump administration would seriously jeopardize the lives of our people and the gains we have made," according to the statement.

The governor has said previously his orders are designed to reopen parts of the economy without sparking a third surge in coronavirus cases.

Lawmakers have to round up support from a majority of both chambers – 20 in the Senate and 53 in the House – to call themselves into special session.

Cortez said 29 senators and roughly 70 House members had signed onto the effort by Monday at 3 p.m.

The special session call will allow lawmakers to file bills on 70 subjects.

Cortez said House and Senate leaders intentionally made the gathering a broad one to avoid missing key topics.

He said some lawmakers have pressed for a chance to win approval for bills that were buried during the regular and special sessions earlier this year when the pandemic dominated debates. 

"Whether those issues get through I don't know," Cortez said. "It is an expansive call. I just don't know if we will get to all the issues."

Cortez said capital outlay issues were added to the list of debatable items in case federal officials offered some form of aid that required state dollars.

The governor said the session will take place "at a time when the public will again be restricted in their access to the State Capitol and their ability to give needed public input."

Unemployment has been one of the key problems triggered by the pandemic.

Many of those who lost jobs initially collected $600 in weekly federal benefits on top of the state aid, which at a maximum of $247 per week is near the bottom nationally.

But those $600 benefits ended weeks ago, and congressional agreement on a new package is considered unlikely before the election amid partisan bickering.

Some of those unemployed here had been collecting $300 in federal benefits as a stopgap measure on top of the state unemployment benefits but that too is ending.

The dwindling state fund could force borrowing from the federal government or other steps.

The Legislature's first special session ended just ahead of the start of the current financial year, which began July 1.

It was called to finish work on the state operating budget and other issues after the regular session was interrupted by the early stages of the pandemic.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.