Session ends, but disputes will continue

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June 12, 2012
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June 12, 2012

The most recent Louisiana legislative session may be over, but expect some trends from the three months of rancorous arguments over the budget, education and other matters to reappear year after year.

Republican leaders, U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Treasurer John Kennedy, will remain at odds with GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal over financing issues, particularly if Vitter and Kennedy are considering campaigns for governor in 2015.

A group of House fiscal conservatives will continue to push for a shrink in government spending, an end to patchwork budget financing and the elimination of one-time money for ongoing expenses. Jindal will continue to need support from Democrats to help get his budget plans passed, amid philosophical disagreements with that bloc of conservative House Republicans.

Jindal will have continued tough times to get parts of his legislative agenda passed — if he sticks around for the remainder of his term — as his lame duck status makes him less relevant to Louisiana politics tied to election cycles.

Construction projects and the state’s “capital outlay” budget will remain a bargaining chip the governor’s office uses to rally support for proposals and to penalize those who fall out of line.

Teacher unions and some public school leaders will try again to reverse Jindal’s sweeping education changes, if the courts don’t strike them down. If the courts do, Jindal will revisit the ideas, seeking to pass them again.

Sex offenders will continue to be the group used as the poster child for being “tough on crime.” Lawmakers will again try to place new restrictions on women seeking abortions. Colleges will push for new tuition and fee hikes on students.

And, lawmakers apparently will continue to debate year after year whether they want to randomly drug test welfare recipients.

One thing that many Republican and Democratic lawmakers hope won’t reappear in 2013 is a Jindal agenda that has anything to do with retirement, after strong complaints that many of the ideas offered by the governor were unconstitutional and unfairly penalized long-time state workers.

Certain fights and disagreements are perennial issues in the Louisiana Capitol. Depending on the makeup of the Legislature, the topics are tweaked slightly, with new ones added and old ones falling away. Some get new sponsors. But a list of bills and a series of debates return annually, like clockwork.

A lawmaker will inevitably seek to put a cap on payments in the free college tuition program called TOPS. At least one legislator will push to ban hand-held cellphone use while driving. Someone will try to make some sort of change to the laws governing cameras that track when drivers run through red lights or go over the speed limit.

Some disputes even play out in the same fashion each year.

For example, the budget negotiating process is becoming a repetitive cycle in this time of continued financial woes for Louisiana.

The trend in the past few sessions has been:

– The Jindal administration presents its budget, typically tied to some one-time, piecemeal financing plans to make the figures balance.

– Conservative House members seek to cut spending further and remove some or all of the one-time money.

– If they are successful, the governor’s agency chiefs and financial analysts describe dire scenarios that will emanate from those reductions, like medical program shutdowns, threatened public safety and college campuses facing financial emergency.

– The administration looks to the Senate to restore the funding, and the Senate works with the governor’s staff to do so, sending a plumped-up version of the budget back to the House for approval with only a few days left to the session.

– Lawmakers in the House cry foul, special sessions are threatened and a final version of the annual spending plans is cobbled together before the legislative session ends. No special session is called.

Legislators who wind up on the losing side of whatever issue are hoping they can change the trends. Some of them who left the session that wrapped up last week are already plotting and strategizing for the next one.