Lawmakers prepare to resume pandemic-shortened session on Monday

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Louisiana legislators have pared down the number of bills they will consider during their pandemic-shortened regular session, though measures involving contentious issues such as tort reform still could be discussed.

Legislators plan to resume the regular session Monday. The regular session must end June 1, though a special session could be called and held immediately afterward. Spending bills must be approved before the state’s fiscal year begins July 1.

State Senate President Page Cortez and state House of Representatives Speaker Clay Schexnayder said they asked members to prioritize their bills. Cortez said the Senate will only take up about one-third of the 500 or so bills that had been proposed.

Schexnayder said spending bills, legislation directly addressing COVID-19, and measures meant to help the economy are top priorities. Tort reform, which was the top priority for many Republicans and business groups before the session started, still will be discussed, he said, noting that some members believe legal changes will lower auto insurance rates and put money in consumers’ pockets during a difficult time.

Right now, lawmakers don’t know how much they have to spend. The state’s Revenue Estimating Conference plans to meet May 11, though even then, the economists lawmakers rely upon to make their projections will be doing a lot of guesswork.

Another unanswered question involves whether there will be federal aid to help state and local governments fill their budget holes. As of now, lawmakers believe the $1.8 billion already allocated to Louisiana governments only can be used to pay for efforts to fight COVID-19.

Asked about a petition some of their Republican colleagues are circulating about revoking Gov. John Bel Edwards’ “stay at home” order, Cortez and Schexnayder didn’t reject the concept outright but said they had not signed it. Cortez said he discussed the issue with Louisiana U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, and said the congressman advised him that revoking the emergency declaration could lead to a loss of FEMA funding and U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loans.

Both leaders said they considered the Legislature’s work “essential” and therefore exempt from the 10-person limit on gatherings. But lawmakers still plan to provide personal protective equipment and hold only one meeting at a time to allow for social distancing.

“I happen to believe the Legislature is essential,” Gov. Edwards said Thursday, noting the state cannot operate without a budget.