Saturday, April 20, 2024

Louisiana lawmakers set out on a clear path for conservative priorities

by Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Under new Republican leadership, Louisiana’s GOP-dominated Legislature gathered at the Capitol Monday to convene their three-month regular session, pushing conservative priorities that could reshape education policies, toughen certain criminal penalties, reduce regulations on the property insurance industry and perhaps even rewrite the state Constitution.

For the first time in eight years, there will be no Democratic governor to backstop his party’s lawmakers, as former Gov. John Bel Edwards did by vetoing multiple conservative bills. Republicans hold a two-thirds supermajority in both the House and Senate and conservative Gov. Jeff Landry provides a clear path to advance their priorities.

“We’re working hard to make this state better,” Landry said in an opening address to the Legislature. “Let’s have a government that works for and not against the people of our great state.”

Landry, who assumed office in January, addressed lawmakers Monday afternoon and urged them to “bring meaningful and everlasting improvements” in a state that regularly scores poorly in key categories. One-fifth of Louisiana residents live in poverty. The state routinely reports the most dismal education rankings in the country. It covers an area with a historic property insurance crisis due to hurricanes and has some of the highest incarceration rates and homicide rates per capita.

Although the Legislature has already gathered twice this year — for a special session to redraw congressional boundaries and a second to pass tough-on-crime policies — the regular session allows lawmakers to debate a broad range of topics. So far, more than 1,100 bills have been filed.

“Today, new problems and concerns move to the forefront demanding our attention and action,” Landry said. “We intend to work hard on this session. Your concerns are my concerns.”

Among the bills filed so far this session are measures that echo conversations happening in statehouses across the country, including ones that have already been raised in Louisiana. Lawmakers will once again consider a “ Don’t Say Gay ” bill that broadly bars teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in public school classrooms; and a measure requiring public school teachers to use the pronouns and names that align with what students were assigned at birth, unless parents give permission to do otherwise.

While nearly identical bills passed last year, Edwards vetoed them. He was unable to seek reelection last year due to term limits.

Landry has signaled support for regulating classroom discussions. On Monday he called for students to be “free from being indoctrinated by the latest radical social cause” and said parents are the “most important voice in a child’s education.”

One top priority this session will be addressing Louisiana’s insurance crisis, which was exacerbated by a series of hurricanes that generated hundreds of thousands of insurance claims. As those piled up, companies that wrote homeowners policies in the state went insolvent or left, canceling or refusing to renew existing policies. Many residents were forced to turn to the more expenesive state-run insurer of last resort.

As reported by The Advocate, insurance-related bills filed this session include efforts to loosen Louisiana’s “three-year rule” that bans insurers from dropping homeowners who have been customers for at least three years. Other proposed legislation would change the way claims are handled and another bill would allow insurers to raise rates without state approval.

Landry is also asking legislators to call a special convention this summer to rewrite Louisiana’s constitution for the first time in 50 years. Final approval would rest with voters.

“It is time for us to open the dialogue about reforming our bloated, outdated, antiquated, and much abused state Constitution,” Landry said, noting that the 1973 version has been amended hundreds of times.

The regular session must conclude no later than the evening of June 3.

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