New Legislative Session Opens, With Same Budget Problems

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's lawmakers kick off a new legislative session Monday, with the same financial problems that have kept the state staggering from one budget crisis to the next.

         The House and Senate were unable to fully dig out of the budget gaps in a contentious special session on taxes that ended only days earlier, so they start the three-month regular session staring down an $800 million shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

         With taxes off the table for the session, lawmakers will be left cobbling together a budget that likely will contain steep cuts across government services — and talking about the possibility of a second special session on taxes to lessen some of the slashing.

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         Gov. John Bel Edwards, in office since January, has said he doesn't want to take the budget balancing approach of his predecessor, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. The ex-governor raided savings accounts and sold property to drum up short-term fixes that kept government running, but always only one step away from the next shortfall.

         Edwards wants the state to match its spending to its yearly revenue, which could be a painful process with the size of next year's budget hole.

         The Democratic governor, disappointed at the failure to reach a full budget solution in the special session, will speak to the majority Republican Legislature an hour after the latest session opens at noon.

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         Some lawmakers will be returning to Baton Rouge from districts digging out of severe flooding after days of storms inundated neighborhoods in north Louisiana and in Edwards' home parish.

         While the state's finances again will take center stage in the session, lawmakers also have offered a wide range of measures for consideration.

         Old education battles on the state's voucher program, higher education management and the content standards taught in Louisiana's public schools are expected to flare up again. New contentious discussions about removing Confederate monuments and requiring welfare recipients to hold jobs in order to receive assistance are being introduced.

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         Lawmakers are proposing bills that will bring national debates on illegal immigration and same-sex marriage to the state capitol's halls. New efforts to restrict abortion and strip funding from Planned Parenthood have been proposed among the more than 1,200 bills up for consideration. And lawmakers will again be asked to decide whether they should loosen or tighten gun regulations in Louisiana.

         The regular legislative session must end by June 6.

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         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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