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Representatives work at their desks at the State Capitol during debate, Wednesday, May 29, 2019.

Much work needs to be done in the final four days of Louisiana’s 2019 Regular Session of the Legislature, which so far has been defined by issues sidelined and anti-abortion.

A handful of bills appear primed for agreement, after weeks of haggling. Others – like whether teachers will get a pay raise and if so, what form it will take – are still being hammered out.

The debate over teacher pay raises and state aid for public schools revolves around two measures.

The House-passed $30 billion operating budget – House Bill 105 – includes money to boost teacher pay by $1,200 and $600 for support workers. Critics say the House-passed teacher raises amount to a one-year stipend, which House leadership disputes saying that even though the money is not earmarked for year-after-year payments, it’s unlikely that future legislators won’t renew the raises.

But the Senate changed the legislation to include recurring money for $1,000 teacher pay raises, $500 for support workers plus $39 million more in state aid for public schools

Senate Concurrent Resolution 3 includes $3.85 billion in spending for public schools – called the Minimum Foundation Program – that would ensure the pay raises remain year-after-year and add 1.375 percent more money to cover inflation on existing expenses that otherwise school districts would have to cover with dollars that pay for instruction and support.

The Senate plan is the one pushed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. House leaders argue that the additional dollars may not be available and don’t want to commit to $39 million additional funding to the MFP. The total difference between House Republicans’ teacher pay plan and the school funding plan outlined by BESE and the governor is about $20 million.

The House Education Committee has approved the Senate-passed resolution, and the House Appropriations Committee did so on Sunday.

The full House on Monday is set to vote on the measure – Senate Concurrent Resolution 3 – and approval is likely.

Differences in the operating budget bill, HB105, will be worked out behind closed doors in a conference committee of chosen senators and representatives. A deal both chambers can agree on must be reached and approved before 6 p.m. Thursday, when the Legislature adjourns. Otherwise, the Legislature will have to begin again in a specially called session to pass a state spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. 

But there are also several smaller distinctions between the two chambers, which also are trying to figure out where to spend a rare surplus. The state recently recognized an additional $119 million in state money.

Lawmakers appear poised to deliver more money to disability services and fully fund the politically popular TOPS, the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students pays college tuition for most academically qualified students.

But questions remain over how much money they will send to higher education, Office of Motor Vehicles locations and the Department of Children and Family Services. Those pots of money at issue are relatively small.

The most oft-heard rallying cry in the Legislature this session is finding money for early childhood education, which has been long approved but never funded.

The Senate proposes to spend $15.2 million in new state aid for children, as well as send another $4.8 million in existing Department of Education funds to early childhood education. 

It would trim the waiting list for services while low-income parents work or attend school by 1,450 children from birth to age 3 from a waiting list of about 5,500. The aid would also increase reimbursement rates for families in what they pay learning centers, which are so low that they have been criticized by federal officials.

Also, early childhood education is set to get $4 million per year if Harrah’s land casino in New Orleans reaches periodic revenue thresholds spelled out in a state license extension that won final approval last week. The $4 million may be used as matching dollars on local early childhood efforts.

The Senate package also includes $4 million to retain services for four-year-olds, which are now funded by a federal grant about to expire.

Perhaps it’s this fall’s elections – all 144 legislative seats are up – but lawmakers have ducked many controversial issues, like legalizing sports betting and rolling back the sales tax increase that is at the base of last year’s compromise to stabilize the state’s finances for six more years.

Minimum wage and equal pay for men and women were again debated and rejected despite Edwards’ unqualified support of both. This year lawmakers also refused to make Louisiana the last state necessary to go along with adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The legislation still sits on the Senate calendar for another vote and, if approved, would have to win the okay of the much more conservative Louisiana House.

Two bills that would reestablish sales tax holidays for hurricane protection, guns, school supplies and other purchases remain without a decision in a Senate committee that hasn’t scheduled another meeting.

Legislators also sidelined bills to abolish the death penalty and another measure to restart a capital punishment system that has executed only one convicted murderer, who volunteered, in 17 years. Essentially the system remains the same and death row populations are only reduced by natural deaths, court decisions and exonerations.

Legalizing sports betting in Louisiana, as more than 30 states have done or are doing since a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed the gambling game last year, likely will have to wait another year. The crush of supporters wanting a piece coupled with gambling opponents put the bill in a precarious posture.

Anti-abortion measures, which have bipartisan support in the Legislature, was one issue in which legislation progressed.

Edwards last week signed a so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill that represents one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans. The move upset national Democrats and provoked protests at the State Capitol.

But lawmakers are poised to put on the fall ballots a constitutional amendment to let voters declare the state does not support legalized procedures to end pregnancies, an effort supporters say would help defend anti-abortion laws in state courts should the U.S. Supreme Court overrule Roe v. Wade.

Several other hurdles for abortion providers are also nearing final passage.

House Bill 484 by state Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, would require clinics to keep records for much longer and is scheduled Monday for a vote in the Senate. House Bill 133 by Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, would change how the state regulates medically-induced abortions and is scheduled for a Senate vote on Wednesday.

A $690 million highway bill, including $125 million to build the La. Hwy. 415 connector in West Baton Rouge Parish, has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.

The legislation would redirect about $700 million in Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill settlement funds to 10 highway projects statewide. The legislation is House Bill 578.

The establishment of a hemp-producing industry, including how to sell the CBD byproducts, slogged through rancorous hearings in both chambers, barely clearing multiple committees until enough protections and oversight were placed on this previously illegal cousin of marijuana. Sometime over the next few days, the House will be asked to approve the negotiated settlement that the Senate approved on Saturday. 

If representatives do, and the governor signs the bill into law, the state would have to then submit the plan for assent by federal agricultural and food safety authorities. So, another couple of years will pass before farmers who want to grow hemp and stores that want to sell the CBD lotions can legally do so. The Senate sent a companion bill that legalized hemp to the governor's desk. 

Several measures that went to legalizing or decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana have been rejected.

The state Senate voted against a bill that would make some changes to the state’s medical marijuana program. Chief among them is allowing patients to inhale the drugs with inhalers, something pushed by advocates, but rejected by senators on Saturday.

Louisiana’s medical marijuana program was legalized years ago but has faced repeated delays and still does not have product available.

The House on Sunday night changed a Senate-passed measure that would set the floor on marriage at 16 years old. Currently, someone younger can get married with the permission of their parents and a court.

Sen. Yvonne Colomb, the Baton Rouge Democratic sponsor of Senate Bill 172, would have liked to ban anyone under 18 from getting married regardless of whose permission is received. But she said she compromised on 16 to find enough supporters to pass the measure.

Opponents to the idea argued that 15-year-olds who get pregnant should get married, stripped out the age limits and pretty returned to existing law. Baton Rouge Democratic Rep. Patricia Smith and New Orleans Republican Rep. Stephanie Hilferty said they could not support the changes made to SB172, but asked for votes, promising that the measure would be fixed back in conference committee later this week. 

Bloggers, radio talk show hosts, and online sites got a lot of mileage out of a pair farming bills that would forbid calling non-diary beverages “milk” – no more calling strained almond flesh almond milk – and keep products from infringing on the marketing of traditional commodities, such as veggie burgers. After much debate, the technical language would allow cauliflower rice to sell as “riced cauliflower” but that’s as opposed to minced Brassica oleracea.

It’s been worth a lot of yuks in the media, says Senate Agriculture committee Chair Francis Thompson, but it’s not a laughing matter to the struggling farmers in his economically depressed northeast Louisiana district. The new guys are cutting into the profits of farmers of traditional commodities, he said, pointing out that a state that a few years ago supported several thousand dairies now have fewer than a 100. Tyler Jameson, of Impossible Foods of Redwood City, Calif., pointed out that by calling his company’s plant-based patty a “burger” shortcuts a lot consumer questioning over how to cook it.

Senate Bill 39, on the labeling of milk, already has been approved and is on its way to the governor, but would not have any effect unless the federal government acts first. Senate Bill 152, on labeling of other commodities, awaits a House vote sometime this week. If approved without amendments, its next stop is the governor’s desk.

Two House-passed bills that would set up the regulatory and taxing mechanics of fantasy sports betting, and would tax the game at 15.5 percent. Should the legislation pass the Senate, the House would be asked to approve the changes.

Sam Karlin and Will Sentell of The Advocate Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.