Lawmakers prepare to finish one session and start another

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Louisiana legislators on Sunday prepared to wrap up one session and start another.

The current regular session, suspended for more than a month amid the COVID-19 outbreak, must end by 6 p.m. Monday. A special session lasting up to 30 days will follow so lawmakers can complete unfinished business.

The state’s operating budget for the next fiscal year, often approved in the last minutes of a regular session, will be finalized next month. Lawmakers have addressed a revenue shortfall for the current year with help from federal aid.

The state House of Representatives and Senate met Sunday afternoon and evening and spent much of their time deciding whether to agree to amendments made by the other chamber. The House approved and sent to Gov. John Bel Edwards a bill to let Louisiana residents play online fantasy sports for money.

House Bill 357 by Rep. Tanner Magee started out as a proposal for a ballot measure that would let voters decide whether to allow sports betting in their parishes. Legislators already have approved holding the referendum through a separate instrument, so the bill was amended to establish fantasy sports regulations.

In 2018, voters in 47 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes approved legalizing fantasy sports with cash prizes in their areas. Last year, legislators tried to set up the regulations and tax rates, but former Sen. Danny Martiny, who had reached his terms limit in the senate, filibustered during the last moments of the session and blocked the effort.

Martiny at the time said he was upset about the treatment of his sports betting bill.

“Is it true that one of the amendments calls this the Danny Martiny Act?” Rep. Mark Wright asked.

“It definitely should have,” Magee said with a laugh.

Tax rates for fantasy sports are on the agenda for the special session.

Lawmakers also gave final passage to an expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program that would allow any doctor in good standing to recommend use of the drug for any patient they believe it would help. The program currently is limited to patients who have one of a list of specified conditions.

Senate Bill 418, the hotly debated tort reform bill by River Ridge Republican Sen. Kirk Talbot, was sent to a conference committee to hammer out differences between the House and Senate versions.

Talbot said negotiations are ongoing with Edwards, who is skeptical about the legislation but has not said publicly that he would veto it. Legislators would have enough votes to override a veto if everyone were to vote the same way they did when they approved it the first time.