A Look At Local Lawmakers
Between last Wednesday’s end to the state legislature’s special session and Monday’s opening of the 2016 regular legislative session, lawmakers had only a short break. And, they left much undone in the three-week special session to address serious budget deficits, both for the present 2016 fiscal year, and even worse for the 2017 fiscal year.
The budget hole remaining for 2016 looked to be about $30 million, but as the results of the special session continue to be reviewed, that hole is estimated upwards of $50 million. Next year’s budget shortage is estimated as high as $800 million. Unfortunately, lawmakers squandered much of the last three weeks in partisan bickering instead of cooperative efforts on tax reform and repairing the damage done to the state’s fiscal standing over the last eight years.
And because they are constitutionally precluded from addressing tax issues during the regular session because this is an even-numbered year, there’s discussion of another special session in June.
But some budget issues can be addressed during this session and a primary concern of lawmakers should be restructuring the TOPS program – with costs approaching $300 million for next year’s free college tuition program.
In the meantime, local lawmakers have contributed to the nearly 1,200 pre-filed bills for legislative consideration over the next three months. Senator Ryan Gatti’s list is includes over two dozen items two of which are constitutional amendment propositions. One of those, SB 39, would increase the level of assessed value at which the homestead exemption applies for property tax purposes. Gatti’s SB 46 would allow for concealed carry of handguns by state residents over 21 years of age so long as the person isn’t prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.
Other proposed legislation by Gatti would allow civil service personnel to participate in political activities, which is currently prohibited by state law.
Sen. Barrow Peacock’s proposed legislation slate also features two dozen changes to Louisiana law. Many of his bills address various retirement system issues; others would amend probate law, and SB 72 would authorize private employers to offer veterans employment preferences.
Rep. Mike Johnson’s list is much shorter than Gatti’s, but at least one item is likely to draw public interest. Johnson’s proposed HB 597, the Pastor Protection Act, would allow for the rights of religious organizations and clergy to decline participation in certain marriages – and that refusing to do so would not result civil, criminal or other punitive action by the state.
Johnson’s HB 505, a proposed constitutional amendment, would exempt the widows of military personnel killed in action from any property taxes.
Rep. Dodie Horton, elected to the seat vacated Henry Burns, has the shortest list among local lawmakers. Horton’s list features HB 255, which addresses eligibility requirements for concealed carry permits for guns. Her HB 110 would designate a bridge on Highway 154 in Bossier Parish as the “Officer Thomas LaValley Memorial Bridge.”
Folks interested in following these bills or the legislative session’s work can keep up with lawmaker’s work and contributions by accessing the Louisiana Legislature’s website. This site allows users to follow bills, watch hearings, and a keep up with issues like movement on legislative issues that impact local governments.
And it may get more interesting as Gov. John Bel Edwards weighs in on legislative efforts that could impact the 2017 budget through revisions to state programs, such as TOPS and how the state funds higher education and health care – and perhaps give some ideas about what a second special session might include.
Marty Carlson is a
columnist for the BPT.
She may be reached at