Lawmakers returning to familiar issues

Lawmakers return to familiar issues
February 26, 2014
Our High-Tech World
February 26, 2014

When lawmakers return to Baton Rouge in two weeks for the opening of the legislative session, they’ll spend much of their time revisiting proposals they rejected last year.

Expanding Louisiana’s Medicaid program. Lessening penalties for marijuana possession. Capping the state’s free college tuition program called TOPS. Cutting state government contracts. Prohibiting smoking near the entrances to state-owned buildings.

The ideas all stalled in 2013, and they’re all back for the session that begins March 10 and runs until June.

Debates on surrogacy law, teacher tenure, gun rights and discrimination over sexual orientation will be back, along with the repeated battle over the most appropriate way to finance state government programs and services from year to year.

Legislators are approaching some old ideas with new tactics and strategies. But for others, they’re returning to well-worn territory with hopes of striking a deal or persuasively muscling through a bill they couldn’t previously pass.

Senate President John Alario, who has been in the Louisiana Legislature since 1972, has an oft-repeated view of the process of bills staggering into law: “In my experience, a good bill takes two or three years to pass. The bad ones we seem to pass the first time we see them.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal appears to be returning with a light agenda for the session, a year after his tax-rewrite package imploded.

The Republican governor has given no outline of his legislative priorities and no indication he’ll have a lengthy list of bills to push aside from offering budget recommendations.

Despite repeated inquiries from The Associated Press, Jindal’s office has provided no details about what the governor will be pushing. It could be an indication that term-limited and with only two years left in office, Jindal might be content to put out fires and defend his previous laws.

The most volatile issue facing lawmakers appears to be a review of state education board policy from a few years ago _ on whether the Legislature wants to continue Louisiana’s participation in the Common Core educational standards.

Debate on the issue started at the end of the 2013 legislative session and has been building toward this next meeting of lawmakers.

The Louisiana Democratic Party’s legislative agenda also is largely a retread.

State party chair Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, outlined a push to broaden last year’s equal pay legislation for state workers to apply to private companies and also to expand the Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health law.

Those proposals, coupled with Democrats’ bid to increase the state’s minimum wage, appear to be long shots. They face strong GOP opposition, and both the state House and Senate are majority Republican. Similar measures have been rejected in previous sessions.

Lawmakers of all political stripes are readying to fight the Jindal administration on bills that the governor has either vetoed or helped defeat before they got to his desk.

Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard, an independent from Thibodaux, will again try to open more of the governor’s office records to public scrutiny. He’s also reviving a measure to force a 10 percent cut on state agency spending on consulting and professional services contracts. The Jindal administration has opposed and helped kill those ideas in past years.

Rep. Kenny Havard’s back with a bill that would require a lengthy review of privatization deals before a state agency could enter into the contract. The Jindal administration persuaded senators to shelve that measure from Havard, R-Jackson, last year.

And Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, is again asking for legislative support of a proposal that would create a new legal and regulatory framework for surrogacy births in Louisiana, despite Jindal’s veto of a similar bill in 2013.

That’s not to say the Legislature won’t be talking about new ideas and considering different proposals from the perennial disputes.

Lawmakers also expect debates over whether Louisiana should legalize medical marijuana, change its execution methods and limit interest rates on payday loans. Those types of discussions may have happened before at the Louisiana Capitol, but it’s been a few years.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.