Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Louisiana lawmakers considering moving up start date on future sessions

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

Louisiana lawmakers may want to consider a constitutional amendment to move up legislative sessions, with the possibility of a break for Mardi Gras, according to lawmakers on a special joint study committee.

A Joint Special Study Committee on Legislative Sessions held a hearing in Baton Rouge on Tuesday to explore the possibility of moving the regular session start date to January or February.

The effort spawned from House Resolution 232, sponsored by Rep. Kyle Green, Jr., D-Marrero, “to study the feasibility and advisability of changing the timing, duration, and subject matter limitations of regular legislative sessions.”

The legislation tasks the study committee with producing a report for the House by Feb. 1.

Discussions Tuesday centered on the feasibility of a January or February start date, which would conclude after 85 calendar days in even years and sixty days in odd years, under current constitutional requirements.

Legislative staff, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and Chief Legislative Economist Deborah Vivian testified Tuesday about the numerous complications the change would bring for the budget and other processes.

The move would push back the constitutionally required date for the governor to present a proposed budget to the Legislature to December, preventing new governors from setting a first year budget and requiring lawmakers to hold hearings and briefings during session, rather than before as it is now, officials said.

The constitution also requires lawmakers to rectify year end deficits that don’t become clear until late August, after an earlier legislative session would conclude. That would require lawmakers to return to the capitol or develop another method for settling deficits.

An earlier start date would also necessitate an earlier budget request process, and would require state departments to develop new budgets at the same time they’re rectifying issues from the previous fiscal year. The timing would be further complicated by dates set in statute, though lawmakers can more easily change those dates than those set in the constitution, staff advised.

“At first blush, I’m not a fan of changing these dates,” Dardenne said, noting that prior discussions on moving up the date were ultimately derailed by concerns about conflicts with Mardi Gras. “It’s a question of is it broke, and does it need fixing?”

Dardenne said the change would place added burdens on staff working to close out the prior fiscal year at the same time they would be required to craft a budget for the following year, “dealing with two fiscal years at the same time.”

The state’s Annual Financial Report has grown more complicated over the last decade due to federal regulations, and the change would add to the burden, he said.

“This is a huge burden that’s going to be put on the staff for budget preparation while they’re doing budget implementation,” Dardenne said.

Vivian said an earlier start date would also inject uncertainty into the budget process by requiring staff to predict revenues farther in advance, and lawmakers would not be in session when actual revenues are determined.

“At that point you would be out of session. You wouldn’t have the ability like we do not to clean things up,” she said. “The farther back we go (for a start date) the less we know about cash collections.”

Vivian noted that personal income tax collections, a third of the state’s revenues, are not known until May, and each 1% in deviation the cash collections equates to roughly $150 million.

“It’s more of an uncertainty problem at the (Revenue Estimating Conference) than a date problem,” she said.

Several lawmakers conceded that a January start date is unworkable, and Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, suggested they explore the possibility of shifting the start date up by a few weeks, then break for Mardi Gras without per diem, before returning to finish the session.

“It allows us to start a little bit earlier …. Because I think on behalf of most of the people I’ve spoken to, and I know Representative Green, as well, are in favor of looking at how we could possibly move it up,” he said.

“I think it’s a good suggestion if there’s movement toward doing this,” Dardenne said.

The subcommittee ultimately adopted a recommendation to the Legislature to consider a constitutional amendment to give the legislature more flexibility to set session dates and breaks.

You may also like

Update Required Flash plugin