Thursday, July 18, 2024

Legislative session ends; Many of Landry’s priorities pass

by BIZ Magazine

By Elizabeth White and Maddie Scott | LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE–Gov. Jeff Landry took office with a conservative agenda and a Republican super-majority in the Legislature after eight years of a Democratic governor, promising sweeping changes in this year’s legislative session. 

A major focus of Landry’s agenda was to reorganize the Louisiana Constitution by moving amendments into statutes. He and conservative lawmakers made a big push for the Legislature to authorize a limited constitutional convention. 

Landry

But their efforts were stymied in the Senate. It also stripped-down proposals by Landry and his supporters to provide parents with state funds to send their children to private schools and to seal many state government records from public inspection.

As a result, Landry’s first regular legislative session, which ended Monday, was more of a mixed bag than expected given the Republican dominance in both chambers. He and his allies also had victories in taking more control of state boards, reclassifying abortion pills as dangerous controlled substances, limiting gender discussion in schools and deregulating home insurance providers.

The Legislature also passed $48 billion in budget bills that included the governor’s proposals for one-time stipends of $2,000 for public K-12 teachers and $1,000 stipends for school support workers. 

Where the governor ran into opposition

Landry had momentum after pushing through most of his anti-crime proposals in a special session earlier this year. He initially wanted the Legislature to start a constitutional convention on May 20 as the regular session was going on, and the House seemed willing to go along. 

“This is about giving the Legislature the tools to address the problems that we know are coming,” Landry said in April, referring to a projected decline of more than $400 million in state revenue next year when part of the state sales tax expires. “We got to start working and figuring out how we can minimize the cuts to education and health care,” he said.

One of Landry’s goals was to remove constitutional protections on much of the state’s spending to give him more leeway in dealing with the drop-off in revenue next year.

Opponents of the bill were worried that the timeline was too rushed and that he could turn the convention into a power grab. 

Under House Bill 800, the Legislature would have held joint committee meetings on different articles of the constitution throughout June and July and then convened for a two-week-long convention in August. 

But there was opposition in the Senate to cementing that timetable. Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, the chairman of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, told WBRZ that he refused to put the House bill on his committee’s agenda.

However, Landry and convention supporters still have plans for public meetings in June and July with intentions of calling a special session in August. 

Another area where Landry got less than expected was in education reform, most notably creating education savings accounts that would allow parents to use state funding to send their children to private schools. 

“The steps we need to take are simple,” Landry said during his opening remarks for the 2024 session. “Make all education lead to a vocation and put parents back in control, and let the money follow the child.” 

The original plan for the education savings accounts was included in a bill that passed the House and was shelved in the Senate. 

State officials and private experts estimated that Landry’s plan would have eventually cost taxpayers $300 million to $500 million a year, and many lawmakers wondered where the state would find the money. 

Landry’s proposal also ran into opposition from school officials in rural parishes, including some that do not have many private schools. Opponents were concerned that giving parents $5,000 to $7,500 a year for each child who attended private school would divert funds from public education.  

Sen. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, sponsored a compromise–a scaled-back version that would delay the plan’s implementation and make it easier for the Legislature to reduce the funding. It calls on state education officials to study existing educational resources to determine the need for a savings plan and then work with lawmakers on funding levels. 

Where Landry won clear victories

Landry is expected to sign other education bills to limit the use of alternative pronouns and discussions of gender and to require schools to post the 10 Commandments in classrooms. 

Landry also sought more power over state boards and commissions, leading lawmakers to pass two bills giving the governor more power over higher education and state ethics boards. 

Senate Bill 462 by Sen. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, would allow the governor to appoint certain boards and commissions. Rep. Dixon McMakin, R-Baton Rouge. said 483 boards and commissions have appointed positions, and Hodges’ bill would affect 148 of those.

“It helps us to be able to start the move—the agenda of the incoming governor, who by the way, is elected by the people,” Landry said on April 24. “It’s only fair that he has, or she has, the opportunity to work with the boards in a manner that he or she sees fit.”

Senate Bill 497 by Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, amended provisions concerning the selection of members of the state Board of Ethics.

In appointing members, current law requires the governor to pick from a list of nominees presented by college and university leaders. The bill removes the involvement of colleges and universities, giving the governor and legislative leaders more power to appoint who they want. 

The bill’s final version also expanded the number of board members from nine to 15. Of those 15 members, the governor would appoint nine.

Taking a risk on insurance?

Many Louisiana homes remain unrepaired after a series of hurricanes hit the state in recent years. After 2021, homeowners saw insurance companies raise prices. 

Tim Temple, the new commissioner of insurance, pushed for a series of bills to deregulate the industry with the aim of attracting more competition. 

“Our new insurance commissioner is working tirelessly to find solutions that make Louisiana an attractive market for more companies to write here,” Landry said during opening remarks for the legislative session. “Commissioner Temple believes, and I agree with him, that the deregulatory measures he is undertaking will improve market conditions.”

House Bill 611, one of the more controversial insurance bills, would end the three-year rule limiting policy cancellations. This means an insurer may decide not to renew up to 5% of its customers’ policies per calendar year for any reason, provided that no more than 5% of the insurer’s policies be dropped in one parish. Landry signed the bill on May 7.

Another new law will allow insurance companies to raise premium rates without obtaining prior approval from Temple’s office.

Some lawmakers warned that there could be a political backlash against Landry and Temple if a devastating hurricane hits Louisiana and premiums surge or insurance companies bail out of the state again. 

In the final hours of the session Monday, Landry also salvaged a small part of what he wanted in closing records of state deliberations to the public. The Legislature passed an amended version of House Bill 767, which would prohibit anyone who is not a Louisiana resident from making a public records request about the governor. 

Public records have been a widely debated topic with the Senate blocking a push by Landry’s office pushing for far greater restrictions.

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