Melinda Deslatte: Many issues settled as session reaches final days

The Louisiana legislative session enters its last week with Republican leaders’ main tax overhaul proposals unfinished, but most other major issues settled in a rare year where lawmakers likely won’t be scrambling to finish their workload in the session’s waning hours.

Nearly all the bills that have to be passed annually — the package of budget measures that chart spending plans across the year — already have won final passage and sit on the governor’s desk. Only two significant budget proposals await final votes: the state’s multiyear construction budget and a bill to spend federal coronavirus aid.

The earlier-than-usual budget finish was spurred by Republicans’ push to get the spending package to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards early enough that he must make line-item veto decisions before session ends Thursday evening. That gives lawmakers an opportunity in session to try to override any projects or language Edwards might strike, though it’s unclear whether they would have enough override votes.

Lawmakers appear to have deals on their biggest tax measures, though they still need final votes on proposals to get rid of personal and corporate income tax deductions for federal income taxes paid in exchange for lowering state income tax rates. Haggling continues over a Senate push to make a temporary state sales tax permanent and steer the dollars to roadwork.

The fate of most other high-profile proposals is clear.

Bills that have reached final passage will allow some convicted felons to serve on juries after their release from prison, add four days to Louisiana’s early voting period for presidential elections and toughen requirements for how colleges must handle sexual misconduct claims after a scandal at Louisiana State University.

Among the ideas that have been shelved or rejected were proposals to increase Louisiana’s minimum wage, get rid of the state’s special interest tax breaks, decriminalize prostitution, increase unemployment payments to jobless workers, ban the use of corporal punishment at schools and overhaul the public defender system.

Louisiana won’t move to a closed primary system for congressional elections or make other changes to the congressional elections calendar. The state won’t offer a path to release for an estimated 1,500 prisoners convicted of felonies by juries that were not unanimous. And it won’t try to penalize Facebook or Twitter for removing religious and political posts the social media companies deem inappropriate.

Recreational marijuana use won’t be legalized, but lawmakers still are deciding whether to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot. They already have agreed to expand Louisiana’s medical marijuana program to allow patients to smoke the cheaper, raw form of cannabis.

Lawmakers won’t place new restrictions on medical treatments for people who are transgender, but they did send Edwards a bill prohibiting transgender athletes from competing on schools’ female sports teams.

The governor is expected to veto that transgender sports ban proposal, along with another measure sent to his desk that seeks to remove the permitting requirements for adults 21 and older to carry a concealed handgun.

Proposals recommended by a task force to address police misconduct faced mixed results.

Lawmakers sent Edwards bills to place new restrictions on the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants, require detailed policies for body camera and dash camera use, boost law enforcement agencies’ minority recruitment efforts and require anti-bias training. They’ve also agreed to require suspension or revocation of a police officer’s state certification if the officer committed misconduct.

But Republican senators blocked passage of a bid to place new limits on the broad qualified immunity defense available to law enforcement officers against civil damage claims for wrongful death or injury, a change particularly sought by Black legislators.

Louisiana won’t be following the lead of other Republican-led legislatures in putting limits on classroom discussions about racism and sexism. The proposal to prohibit teaching “divisive concepts” in public schools or colleges stalled in committee.

Though the bill won’t pass, it sparked weeks of racial tensions in the House, worsened intraparty fractures among Republicans and led GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder to oust Republican Rep. Ray Garofalo as chairman of the House Education Committee.

Still awaiting final decisions but expected to pass are measures to set regulations for sports betting, change the way Louisiana shops for voting systems, allow college athletes to earn money from sponsorship deals and make kindergarten mandatory in Louisiana.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.