June 7, 2017 11:16 AM

Legislators sweep calendars to kill time waiting on budget progress

Photo by Robin May

The House and Senate put in short morning sessions before each recessed until mid-afternoon as no progress has been made on negotiations on the state's budget, finance and construction bills that constitute the main work of the fiscal-only session.

While the larger issues loomed, each chamber used the calm between the storms to honor guests, retirees, beauty queens and sports champions between bouts of taking care of routine business.

The LSU-Eunice national-champion women's softball team was honored in both the House and Senate. Miss Louisiana got introduced in the Senate. The House honored a retiring Louisiana Department of Health worker whose claim to fame, according to the resolution approved recognizing her, was effectively enrolling children in the state's LACHIP program and adults in Medicaid expansion, programs that a majority of the House has only grudgingly approved.

Some substantive work did get done, though.

The House concurred with Senate amendments to HB680 by Rep. Joe Marino that suspends child support payments for a parent who is incarcerated. The bill is one of the final pieces of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force package of bills that was still awaiting final passage. The vote was 61-24. It now goes to Gov. John Bel Edwards for his signature.

The House also concurred in Senate changes in HB249 by Rep. Tanner Magee. This bill tailors fines, penalties and restitution to an offender's ability to pay. This bill is also part of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force package. It was approved by a 67-25 vote.

Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan
Photo by Robin May

The House rejected Senate amendments to Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan's HB210. The bill originally dealt with licensing of retired dentists. The amendments, primarily authored by Sen. Fred Mills, used Coussan's bill to address other issues related to the state Board of Dentistry, including moving the domicile of the board to Baton Rouge, adding two consumer advocates to the board, and directing the Louisiana Legislative Auditor to complete a performance audit of the board before February, 2018.

Rep. John Stefanski questioned whether the amendments were relevant to the bill. Coussan, who had recommended concurrence in the Senate amendments, then changed his recommendation and asked his colleagues to reject the Senate changes. The bill now goes to a conference committee which must try to find a compromise before the session ends on Thursday at 6 p.m.
Rep. John Stefanski
Photo by Robin May

The House concurred in Senate amendments to HCR26 by Rep. Helena Moreno. The resolution directs the State Police Crime Lab and the Attorney General's office to develop a system for tracking sexual assault kits used to gather evidence from rape victims who turn to healthcare providers rather than police to make their initial reports. Tracking the evidence can affect its use in prosecutions against subjects. The resolution notes that other states have successfully created effective tracking models.

The House amended and approved SCR31 by Sen. Bodi White that would create the Louisiana Law Enforcement Body Camera Implementation Task Force. The bill was amended in the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice and on the floor. It now heads back to the Senate for concurrence or rejection.

And, in a possible sign of the rancor left in the House over the debate over SB1, the bill to rename the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts after one of the school's late co-founders, Rep. Patricia Smith withdrew her HCR194 from the calendar and asked that it be removed from the rolls of the House. The resolution, had it been enacted, would have called upon the LSMSA board of directors to honor the late Jimmy D. Long, Sr., with a statue or a bust.

The bill to rename the school after Long passed over vehement and intense opposition from the school's alumni that was capped by two days of lobbying in the Capitol before the bill was amended and passed on Monday. The amendment, crafted by Rep. Lance Harris, essentially affixes Long's name to the school but does not obligate the school to use his name on it's branding or academic documents.

Senators Gerald Long and Francis Thompson
Photo by Robin May

One Lafayette area LSMSA alum predicts that Long's name will never be used on the campus and believes that it's an open question as to whether the dormitory the board had proposed naming after Jimmy D. Long, Sr., will survive the efforts of his brother Sen. Gerald Long and Sen. Francis Thompson to name the school after the late representative and public education advocate.

The House was scheduled to reconvene at 2 p.m. and the Senate at 2:30 p.m.


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