Financial bills linger as session enters final hours

Gov. Bobby Jindal

Most of Jindal’s limited agenda is passing

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers are heading into the final hours of their three-month regular session Monday, with financial bills awaiting last-minute compromises.
Next year’s multibillion-dollar construction budget needs to be finished, with House members seeking cuts to projects packed into the bill by senators.
Meanwhile, the state’s current year budget needs rebalancing, to fill $75 million in gaps in the TOPS college tuition program, the public school funding formula and payments to parish sheriffs for housing state prisoners in local jails.
The Legislature must finish work by 6 p.m. today.
Lawmakers completed a $24.6 billion state operating budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1 several days earlier, when the House adopted the Senate’s version of the spending plans. Money for services for the disabled will grow, along with dollars for colleges and public schools. State workers will get a pay raise, along with state police troopers.
Many of the session’s most contentious issues were decided weeks ago, with lawmakers refusing to jettison Louisiana’s use of the Common Core education standards, to raise the state’s minimum wage and to allow the dispensing of medical marijuana in Louisiana.
Gov. Bobby Jindal won passage of most of the proposals on his limited agenda, but few of them were controversial.
Adding new legal protections for veterans, toughening laws against human trafficking and shifting new dollars to high-demand programs at colleges and technical campuses weren’t expected to run into many roadblocks when they were proposed.
The Republican governor spent many of the session days out of state gearing up for what is assumed to be a likely 2016 presidential campaign, and with fewer than two years remaining in his term, his relationship with lawmakers has grown more difficult.
On his most contentious agenda issue, the governor won passage of a bill to derail the lawsuit filed by a New Orleans area levee board against oil and gas companies for environmental damage to the state. But Jindal couldn’t get support for his effort to get more authority over the makeup of the board and removal of its members.
The session might be defined most by what failed, rather than what passed. Rejected by lawmakers were bills to expand Medicaid, to tighten regulation of payday lenders, to cap the state’s free college tuition program and to lessen penalties for marijuana possession.
Members of the general public packed committee rooms in greater numbers than usual, but in many instances, they ran into roadblocks from lawmakers and saw their bills shelved.
As they have in many prior sessions, legislators enacted new abortion restrictions. This time, they adopted a Texas-style requirement that doctors who perform the procedure must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Abortion-rights supporters say the bill, supported by Jindal, will shutter three of Louisiana’s five abortion clinics.

By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

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