May 4, 2017 07:13 AM

With the Senate adjourned for the week, the House will debate and vote on seven funding bills today, including HB1.

Photo by Robin May

It will be all budget all the time that the House is in session today. How long they stay in session will depend on how many attempts are made to amend HB1 and the six other bills that deal with funding state government operations in the new fiscal year which begins on July 1.

The budget process this year has been different than prior years, with the Appropriations Committee breaking into subgroups tackling the budgets of specific categories, departments and agencies. As a result, there have been fewer public meetings of the committee itself. The final meeting the committee held on the budget lasted only about four hours and it consisted of brief discussions of amendments to the executive budget. Over 40 amendments were approved, including deep cuts to the Louisiana Department of Health and a proposal to shift a portion of the flood disaster relief money targeted for homeowners to a flood control project in the Baton Rouge area.

In all, the HB1 that emerged from the Appropriations Committee contained about $600 million less spending than the executive budget submitted by Gov. John Bel Edwards earlier this year. The state budget is comprised of state General Fund dollars (those dollars generated by tax revenues), other fees and payments received by the state, and funding from the federal government for various programs that it supports in Louisiana.

HB1 spreads the remainder of the budget cuts across departments. It funds the college tuition assistance program TOPS at 100 percent.

HB1 is the first special order of the day dealing with state spending.

Only one amendment had been pre-filed before Speaker Taylor Barras gaveled the House into session at 9 a.m. That amendment was by Rep. Malinda White and it specifies the funding that the Louisiana Department of Health would provide to the private providers who now operate what was the LSU Hospitals System. HB1 as it emerged from the Appropriations Committee set general parameters on the spending. Rep. White's amendment would set the specific amounts and the sources for that spending.

The Picard Group of Lafayette represents the private providers who are branded as Alliance of Public Private Partnerships. It's members include Lafayette General Medical Center, Ochsner Health System, Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana, Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center and Lake Charles Memorial Health System.

The House is sitting as the Committee as a Whole. Each member has the opportunity to submit amendments and speak in support of it. Rep. Pat Smith of Baton Rouge and Rep. White sought to reinstate funding for positions in the Department of Children and Family Services. In separate amendments, Smith and White argued that eliminating positions that are currently vacant amounts to cuts in essential services for children who may be victims of abuse.

White told her colleagues that case workers in Louisiana's department has the largest case load of child service workers in any other state. She also said that because of low pay and stress related to the work, turnover is high. She maintained that the state would save money by not having to retrain workers to fill those jobs. Her amendment sought to save the positions and to give those workers a raise. White says the state is spending $54 million retraining workers each year to fill vacancies who leave.

Both amendments were rejected likely setting the tone for the rest of the day.

Republican patience was apparently limited. After Rep. White's amendment failed, Rep. Nancy Landry of Lafayette moved to have the House limit comments to five minutes by legislators per amendment. Her motion was approved.

Six of the seven bills up for consideration today list Rep. Cameron Henry as the author as he is chair of the Appropriations Committee and he led his committee's approach to dealing with the budget.

HB64 deals with ancillary expenses of state government. Those include funding for the offices that enable the state to conduct business like the Office of State Procurement, Office of Risk Management, offices of property services which track the use of state and federal government properties in the state, Prison Enterprises (which uses prison labor to provide goods and services to state and local governments), and two clean water revolving loan funds which help communities build water systems.

HB403 is a budget housekeeping bill. It directs the state treasurer to deposit $25 million from General Fund into the Budget Stabilization Fund. The bill also transfers $7,582,927 from the Future Medical Care Fund to the state Self-Insurance Fund.

HB620 provides funding for the state courts. The state provides for state courts ranging from district courts up to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The bill provides a total of $187,394,369 for the courts. That includes $84,921,583 for the Supreme Court and the statewide legal, judicial and court programs run through the court. The bill appropriates $47,551,252 for the state's five courts of appeal which includes five chief judges and 48 appellate court judges. District courts will receive $48,881,924 for the 204 judges that sit on the state courts across the state and for a portion of the operation of those courts.

HB624 provides for sharing of state spending among various political subdivisions across the state. The state will share $90 million with local governments and political subdivisions. The 45-page bill sets the splits of the money in each parish.

HB625 is the state's supplemental appropriations bill. The bill directs the allocation of interagency transfers, self-generated revenue, statutory dedications and some federal dollars across a range of offices and programs. The bill affects about $450 million, most of that is federal money.

HB665 is Speaker Taylor Barras' bill. It provides funding for the operation of the Legislature, including the staff of both the House and the Senate, the Louisiana State Law Institute, and the salaries of legislators in both chambers. The bill appropriates $62,472,956 which represents a $10 million cut in funding for the Legislature from the previous year.

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