Louisiana Spotlight: Legislation falls into the dustbin at session's end
BATON ROUGE — Louisiana won’t be legalizing recreational marijuana, abolishing the death penalty, or changing the sales tax rate, with those bills among the many tossed to the dustbin as the legislative session reaches its final week.
Decisions remain about next year’s budget, whether to legalize hemp production and how to regulate fantasy sports betting. But more and more proposals are being added to the “dead bills” pile in the two-month, election-year session as Thursday’s end nears.
Louisiana’s governor and lieutenant governor won’t be elected jointly. Louisiana won’t become the latest state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The state won’t restrict new highway billboards. Louisiana’s gun laws won’t be strengthened or loosened. Hank Williams’ iconic “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” won’t become an official state song.
The list of stalled or rejected bills has only lengthened once the House and Senate got a look at each other’s proposals.
Senators shelved the House Republicans’ latest effort to give Louisiana’s legislative auditor access to income tax data to check Medicaid eligibility, in an ongoing fight since Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards expanded the Medicaid program.
Meanwhile, the House shot down repeated efforts to advance a Senate-backed measure that would legalize sports betting in Louisiana, loading it up with unpopular amendments to make it easier to jettison the proposal.
At one late-night committee hearing last week, Sen. J.P. Morrell, the New Orleans Democrat who chairs the Senate tax committee, joked that his panel’s actions were akin to the “Red Wedding,” a reference to a slaughter in the fictional HBO series “Game of Thrones.” That night, the committee killed every House-passed tax break-related bill on its agenda.
The next day, Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur declared that his committee wouldn’t hear any remaining House bills that have large price tags and no financing to pay for them.
Some lawmakers passed bills through their chambers knowing they’d be shelved on the other side. They won’t have the implications, for example, of having to make deep cuts to services to cover the costs of a hefty tax break — but they’ll get to go home and get credit for trying to pass the idea.
Other lawmakers tried to make sweeping changes, but ran into a wall of opposition from colleagues who didn’t want to rock the boat ahead of a campaign season and the fall ballot.
“We’re apparently not supposed to do anything of meaning in an election year,” a frustrated Baton Rouge Republican Rep. Barry Ivey said as he sought unsuccessfully to rewrite Louisiana’s tax structure.
Significant tax bills that emerged from the House fared poorly in the Senate, particularly any efforts to roll back the hard-fought, seven-year tax compromise struck by state lawmakers last year. They ran into a roadblock of opposition in the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, the tax review panel.
The committee shelved House GOP leader Lance Harris’ proposal for an early phase-out of the sales tax that formed the compromise’s centerpiece.
Republican Rep. John Stefanski, of Crowley pulled from consideration his legislation aimed at undoing cuts to a hefty tax break for businesses’ utility costs, knowing the bill faced certain defeat with the committee.
Industry-backed bids to roll back changes Edwards made to a lucrative property tax break for manufacturers, the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, failed to win enough support in either the House or Senate.
But while the governor won that skirmish, he again failed to win support for the minimum wage hike and equal pay protections he campaigned about in 2015. A separate proposal to give municipalities the authority to set their own minimum wage rates also stalled.
And despite hours and hours of emotional debate, lawmakers ultimately aren’t changing anything about Louisiana’s death penalty.
The Senate rejected a bid to end capital punishment in the state, and the sponsor of a similar House measure shelved it rather than ask his colleagues to vote on the divisive issue.
Meanwhile, senators narrowly scrapped a measure to shield the identity of drug suppliers for executions, an effort aimed at helping restart long-stalled lethal injections.
The inventory of defeated ideas likely only will grow larger as the session winds down.
Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte