Just as U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise finished addressing the Louisiana Senate Monday afternoon protesters started loudly chanting: “This budget is immoral.”
“We want to wake up the Senate to the injustices of the state and of this budget,” said Ken Broussard, of Lafayette, one of the protesters who approached the rail of the Senate floor and disrupted proceedings for a few minutes.
Another member of the Louisiana Poor People's Campaign, Ben Zucker, of New Orleans, also yelled out criticism of the budget before being hustled out of the chamber as Scalise, Senate President John Alario and other lawmakers watched. From another part of the chamber, other protesters unfurled a banner.
Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp was heard asking who the "crazies" were.
The group of about 30 people from the Poor People's Campaign, all wearing similar t-shirts, were moved out of the Senate chambers by the sergeant-at-arms. They were escorted out of the State Capitol and told that they would be arrested if they tried to reenter.
Lue Russell, one of the three chairs of the Poor People's Campaign, said the faction of the group that acted out in the Senate chambers did so on their own. The group was at the Capitol to lobby senators on the state budget, which comes up for a vote by the full Senate on Tuesday.
"I understand it's supposed to be a false bill, a pretend budget. But if it passes, it becomes law and can be enforced," said Russell, of Hammond. "We are staunchly against this budget and the one the House passed because both of them would negatively impact the poor, the elderly and the children of this state."
The Senate Finance committee on Friday advanced a state budget that cut most state agencies by 25 percent.
Finance Committee Chair Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, referred to the proposal as the "craziest, most cockamamie budget we could pass." He’s expecting House Bill 1 to be rearranged once the Legislature commits to raising more revenues.
If the spending proposal is approved as is, food stamps would end, museums and state parks shut down, meat inspectors fired and government services across the board reduced.
But, as Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, told Louisiana Supreme Court justices who earlier Monday testified in a Senate committee – articulating pretty much the same sentiment as the protesters yelled in the Senate chambers – the budget bill sent to the full Senate Friday is not intended to pass as is.
“The end game is the special session,” Appel said and that’s the part of the process intended to raise enough revenues to balance the state spending plan with cuts that are not nearly as draconian.
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday afternoon called for a special session to begin March 22 that would focus replacing the expected $648 million shortfall due to temporary sales and other taxes expiring on June 30.