Louisiana Legislature

Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras, left, and Senate President John Alario, open the annual state legislative session in Baton Rouge.

This session of the Louisiana Legislature will be remembered more for the carcasses left than the policies addressed.

True, the 2019 Legislature passed a law that, depending on what the courts say, could in the future ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected in the fetus. But here, the legislators just joined the national red wave.

Apart from a handful of measures, lawmakers have spent the last two months sidelining a wide range of policy ideas. Last week alone saw the demise of legalized wagering on sporting events and the practical end of any effort to either start enforcing the death penalty or get rid of it.

That said, nothing will truly die until the gavel comes down 6 p.m. Thursday adjourning the 2019 Session of the Louisiana Legislature.

Though some issues remain to be decided, such as whether teachers will get their pay raises, much of the debate over a policy’s worthiness is transitioning to the Senate President and the House Speaker sorting through parliamentary tricks, like whether the language of a moribund proposal can added to another bill.

Supporters of sports betting, for instance, are looking for legislation that can be used to attach legalization language. About the only available instrument is House Bill 459, which would set up the taxes and regulation of fantasy sports games. Unlike sports betting, in which a person wagers the outcome of a game, fantasy sports players put up money to assemble a team that pays prizes based on performances of real-life individual athletes. Voters in 47 parishes approved betting on fantasy sports games in 2018. This year’s bill sets up the regulatory mechanics and is close to final approval. But backers of fantasy sports fear that allowing sports betting language onto their bill would upset in the final steps of a smooth trip to the governor’s desk.

Supporters of the Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2019, which the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry called the most important legislation of the session, also are looking around.

The business community claims the sweeping changes to the state’s legal system could lower Louisiana’s second-highest-in-the-nation auto insurance rates. But many in the legal community said the legislation amounted to a tort reform bucket list that would change how courts handle the lawsuits filed by those injured in car wrecks to favor insurance companies.

Senate Judiciary A on May 14 effectively ended that campaign for this legislative session.

Or so it might seem.

On the Senate floor, Slidell Republican state Sen. Sharon Hewitt tried to add the omnibus language to a bill that would allow a way for a jury to hear if the victim of car wrecks was wearing a seat belt. It’s something the business community has wanted for years.

When Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, ruled Hewitt’s proposal was germane, Republican state Sen. Rick Ward, the Port Allen Republican who sponsored the underlying seat belt measure, withdrew his bill from consideration, causing Democratic state Sen. JP Morrell, of New Orleans, to opine the business community essentially had sacrificed a bird in hand for one in the bush.

The next day in the House Insurance Committee, the omnibus language was attached to a Senate-passed bill aimed at requiring insurers of commercial vehicles to annually disclose their rates. Chairman Kirk Talbot, who authored the defeated omnibus legislation, ruled the amendment germane over the objections of Democratic members of his committee.

Whether the newly amended Senate Bill 212 gets a vote on the House floor, however, depends on whether House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, agrees.

The rules governing whether something is germane are found in Section 402 of the 700-plus-page Mason’s Rules of Legislative Procedure.

Basically, the speaker must determine if an amendment is “relevant, appropriate, and in natural and logical sequence to the subject matter of the original proposal.” For example, a bill renaming a community college can’t be repurposed at the last minute to raise tuition at higher education institutions.

The rules of germaneness are not self-executing. A legislator must ask the speaker for a ruling. Otherwise, the bill with its new language can be voted on by the full chamber.

The omnibus effort is but one example of what will likely define the final days of this session as lawmakers try to stave off a final death of cherished legislation. Otherwise, their proposed policies, come Thursday evening, will wait in their graves for the resurrection next year.


Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.