The Louisiana Legislature returns to Baton Rouge Monday — just days after the frenzied end to a heated special session on budget issues — and is expected to spend the next three months debating a variety of issues, including education, criminal justice and health care issues.
Last week marked the deadline for prefiling legislation that will be taken up during the regular session that runs through June 6, and more than 1,200 measures have been drafted already. Lawmakers will have a limited opportunity to file additional proposals in the coming weeks.
The state budget will loom large over the legislative session, with lawmakers failing to pass legislation to cover an estimated $800 million shortfall in the coming year.
The Legislature still has to draft a budget to begin July 1, and without additional revenue, deep cuts could be coming to state agencies.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who took office Jan. 11, is expected to push several proposals, including a minimum wage hike and gender-pay equality bills that he made key to his campaign. But Edwards’ office said he’ll also be pushing a package aimed at education, including local control of schools, teacher evaluations, school vouchers and the state’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, scholarship.
Edwards, a former state representative from Amite, will give a session-opening speech Monday afternoon and is expected to touch on those topics.
But it’s unclear how much pull Edwards will have in the upcoming session. With Republicans in control of both chambers of the Legislature, Edwards’ plan for fixing the budget hole was met with resistance, and the Louisiana House bucked tradition earlier this year when it rejected Edwards’ pick for House speaker.
Edwards openly backed House Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger, a New Orleans Democrat, for the post, but House Republicans instead installed Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia.
On the campaign trail, Edwards expressed his support for increasing the minimum wage in Louisiana beyond the $7.25 federal level. He also supported legislation that would require equal pay for women.
A 2014 report based on census data found that Louisiana had the nation’s largest gender pay gap, with women making an average of about two-thirds of what men make.
Several attention-grabbing proposals already have been filed that could gain traction — or raise eyebrows — at the State Capitol.
Multiple bills have been filed that would put restrictions on convicted felons who want to run for office.
The state law that barred felons from seeking public office for 15 years after their sentences ended has been thrown out on a technical issue, following a challenge from a former state legislator who served two years in prison on public corruption charges.
Re-establishing that law will require a constitutional amendment and a vote of the people.
Bills also have been filed to target illegal immigration. Rep. Valerie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, has proposed a measure that would outlaw so-called “sanctuary cities” in Louisiana, where immigrants aren’t prosecuted for being in the country illegally. New Orleans is considered a “sanctuary city” in Louisiana based on its policies regarding undocumented immigrants.
Other measures seek to bar the state from contracting with companies that hire undocumented workers.
Medicaid and social services
Edwards made Medicaid expansion a priority on the campaign trail and signed an executive order expanding the health care program for the poor to more people shortly after taking office. The expansion is expected to kick in July 1, but several legislators have filed proposals that could create hurdles, if passed.
Several bills already filed seek to require co-payments for Medicaid patients.
Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, has filed a bill that would block the state Department of Health and Hospitals from adding more people to Louisiana’s Medicaid rolls without approval from the Legislature.
Rep. Beryl Amedee, meanwhile, has proposed legislation that seeks to stop the governor from applying for work-requirement waivers for food stamps in Louisiana.
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal drew attention to the waiver issue late last year when he decided not to seek one from the federal government after the state had received special permission for 19 years. Without the waiver, adults would have to work at least 20 hours a week or be enrolled in a federally approved job training program to receive food stamps. When Edwards took office, he applied for, and was granted, another one-year waiver for the state.
Several gun-related bills have been filed — both to regulate the use of firearms and expand access.
State Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, has filed a bill that would outlaw guns in movie theaters. Last year, a deadly shooting took place at a theater in Lafayette. Three people, including the gunman, were killed and nine others were injured.
Norton’s bill would prohibit the possession of guns and other dangerous weapons in movie theaters and establish a penalty of up to two years in prison.
Other proposals that have been filed seek to expand access to concealed weapons.
During last year’s legislative session, the “Marriage and Conscience” bill drew significant attention before it was ultimately rejected by a House panel. Jindal then signed an executive order that had little impact, but signaled his commitment to the cause.
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, is back with the “Pastor Protection Act,” which seeks to carve out exceptions for religious organizations and clergy who opposed same-sex marriage.
Groups that support same-sex marriage already have begun sounding alarms over Johnson’s latest bill, warning that such measures could hurt businesses and tourism.
There are several other bills that Louisiana voters might want to watch for during the session.
Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, filed a bill that would allow for the use of nonhuman primates as service animals, but he has said he’s reconsidering the proposal.
Rep. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, has filed a bill that could help rein in the costs of the state’s Percent for Art Program. State Treasurer John Kennedy, during the special session, repeatedly pointed out that the new University Hospital in New Orleans has a pricey sculpture on its grounds because the art program requires that state agencies dedicate 1 percent of state funds for construction and renovation projects that cost at least $2 million to install works of art. Under his proposal, that amount would be capped at $100,000 per project or 1 percent of state money, whichever is less.