Legislative Report

Special session is technically under way but no work starts until Monday With four money bills left to address, the House will begin work on Monday. The Senate won’t return to work until Wednesday.

by Mike Stagg

After a wild end to the regular session, the Legislature entered its fifth special session in two years on Thursday evening. The House and Senate quickly adjourned, leaving the contentious work on the state's budget, finance and construction budgets for Monday.

House and Senate members departed the Capitol Thursday evening shortly after beginning the provisional special session that had been called by Gov. John Bel Edwards a week ago in the event the two bodies could not agree on the state's budget, construction bill, financing for that bill and legislation to address the final expenses of the current fiscal year.

The session, which began and 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and can run until 6 p.m. on Monday, June 19, moved from provisional to necessary after the rancorous regular session ended with no agreement on any of those major bills.

The rancor was most evident in the House with fights over the handling of the budget by the Republican leadership, a racially divisive debate and vote on a bill regarding local government moves to remove monuments honoring Confederate soldiers and leaders, parliamentary maneuvers over funding for the state construction contract, and then a fractious debate over the budget in the final hours of the session.

That final fight saw Speaker Taylor Barras come out on the losing end of a vote that sought to force the clerk of the House to accept a Senate compromise offer on the budget that Barras, House Appropriations chair Cameron Henry and GOP Caucus leader Lance Harris all sought to defeat.

Ten House Republican leaders split with their party leadership on the motion by House Speaker Pro Temp Walt Leger III of New Orleans to force that vote. One of the immediate issues to assess in the new session will be the extent of the damage to the caucus and the leadership.

Barras has come under increasing criticism from outside the House in recent weeks. The defection of 10 members on the crucial final vote of the regular session indicates that not all the discontent is relegated to outsiders.

The call limits legislators to the items listed by Edwards.

The supplemental appropriations bill provides for expenses primarily related to public schools and the housing of prisoners in parish jails. Both are based on per capita estimates at the beginning of each year. The supplemental appropriations bill provides the opportunity to reconcile actual costs with those projected costs.

The Capital Outlay program and budget is the state's construction budget for the coming fiscal year. The House and Senate disagreed on that bill during the regular session. It remains to be seen how much of that difference is genuine or how much of it was related to posturing on the budget.

The Omnibus Bond Authorization Act is the bill that provides the method for financing the Capital Outlay budget. That bill, HB3 in the regular session, was taken hostage by House Democrats in the regular session in a dispute with the Republican leadership over the way in which they said they were excluded from meaningful participation in the formulation of the budget and with state revenue-raising efforts.

The state operating budget, HB1 in the regular session, is where the action and acrimony were in the session that ended at 6 p.m. on Thursday. A telling sign of the impact of the regular session in the special session will be seeing if there is any change among the reigning House triumvirate of Barras, Harris and Henry in their approach to dealing with the budget when work begins at 9 a.m. on Monday.

The current state fiscal year ends on June 30. The new fiscal year begins the next day, July 1. Beginning on Monday, there will be eight days to settle matters before the special session must end a week later.