Louisiana Legislative Session Ending, As Another Begins – A Look At Where Things Stand

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Lawmakers are in the final hours of their regular legislative session, wrapping up a handful of outstanding disagreements over bills.

         But they'll get no reprieve when the session ends at 6:00 p.m. Monday.

         Instead, they'll get a half-hour break before they start another session, this one on taxes, called by Gov. John Bel Edwards in an effort to raise money to stave off budget cuts.

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         The House and Senate struck a compromise Sunday on the $26 million operating budget for next year. But the document is sort of a rough draft. Lawmakers will fill in holes with any revenue they raise.

         The three-month regular session began March 14. During the time, lawmakers enacted new abortion restrictions, but spurned Edwards' push for a minimum wage increase and expanded equal pay law.

         Lawmakers filed more than 1,600 bills for consideration in the legislative session, with the state's financial problems among the chief concerns. But other measures dealing with LGBT rights, and the state's TOPS college tuition program drew debate time over the three months.

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         Here's a look at some of what passed and failed during the session:


BUDGET: Louisiana lawmakers reached a deal on a $26 billion operating budget for next year that makes widespread cuts to close a $600 million shortfall. The TOPS college tuition program would be funded at 48 percent of what is needed to fully cover eligible students. Safety-net hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured would be short. College campuses and K-12 education would take hits. But the budget for the financial year that begins July 1 is only a first draft. Gov. John Bel Edwards is calling lawmakers into special session Monday evening to consider tax hikes to lessen the cuts.

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PAY ISSUES: The governor's bid to raise Louisiana's minimum wage from the $7.25 per hour federal level to $8.50 and to enact an equal pay bill requiring private businesses to pay the same wages to men and women who perform the same work both failed to gain traction. The equal pay bill won support from the Senate only to get rejected in the House, while the minimum wage proposal never won support of either chamber.


EDUCATION: Most of Edwards' proposals to put limits on charter school expansion and on the state's voucher program stalled. More than 50 New Orleans' public schools currently under state control will return to the oversight of the local school board as early as 2018. Lawmakers agreed to require Louisiana's public schools to teach cursive writing, starting in the 2017-18 school year. Voters will decide whether higher education management boards can set their own tuition and fee rates without needing legislative approval.


TOPS: Amid concerns about the ballooning cost of the TOPS college tuition program, lawmakers agreed to restrict the program's growth by locking in the payment rate at next year's tuition level, unless lawmakers vote to raise payments. The House and Senate also agreed that if TOPS isn't fully funded, every eligible student should at least get partial payment of tuition, with cuts divvied in equal share.


ABORTION: Several measures aimed at putting new restrictions on abortion have passed. Edwards has signed bills to triple the wait time for women seeking an abortion to 72 hours; to ban a second trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation unless it is necessary to prevent serious health risks to the mother; to strip taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood if its New Orleans clinic starts providing abortions; and to toughen criteria for doctors who perform abortions.


CRIME: Louisiana won't penalize "sanctuary cities" that don't enforce federal immigration law and won't create a pilot program allowing law enforcement to automatically scan motorists' license plates. Sex offenders won't be able to work in door-to-door sales. Penalties for possessing and using drug paraphernalia will drop. Underage drinkers won't face jail time when caught in possession of an alcoholic beverage. Hate-crime laws will now protect police, firefighters and emergency medical crews. State agencies will be prohibited from asking job applicants about their criminal histories before interviewing them.


CONFEDERATE MONUMENTS: Proposals aimed at protecting Confederate monuments around Louisiana from removal were rejected at their first stops.


LGBT RIGHTS: State senators refused to enact a new law declaring that pastors and churches don't have to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies or allow them in their facilities. A bid to add protections into Louisiana law against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity failed to win support.


REAL ID: Eight years after state lawmakers enacted a law banning compliance with the federal security act, drivers will soon be able to get a REAL ID-compliant license, ending questions about whether they'll have difficulty boarding domestic flights in a few years.


MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Lawmakers agreed to expand Louisiana's medical marijuana program and made regulatory changes aimed at speeding access to the therapeutic drug into patients' hands in the next couple of years.


ODDS AND ENDS: A bid to repeal Louisiana's mandatory motorcycle helmet law failed in the House. Senators rejected an effort to repeal an unconstitutional and unenforceable law that requires teaching creationism in public school science classes. Unpasteurized milk still isn't allowed for sale in Louisiana. Strip clubs won't be able to hire dancers under the age of 21. And hunters tired of wearing traditional bright orange clothing will instead be able to don items in "blaze pink."

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte

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