Full Senate to take its turn with ‘pretend budget’

<p>Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, speaks about the committee’s rewriting of next year’s budget proposal, on Friday, May 11, 2018, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)</p>Melinda Deslatte

<p class="p1">The full state Senate today will take up the proposed state budget for fiscal year 2018-19 beginning July 1 that was reworked and approved last week by the Senate Finance Committee.

<p class="p3">Members of the committee agreed it is a budget no one likes because of heavy cuts made to deal with an upcoming $648 million deficit when temporary taxes go off the books on June 30. Health care services were shielded from reductions made by the House, but cuts are made to colleges and heavy reductions to state agencies.

<p class="p3">Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, and chairman of the Finance Committee, called it a “pretend budget” that demonstrates the need for passing taxes in a special session. Legislators are beginning the 10th week of their regular session today facing the challenge of ending the session early in order to hold that special session.

<p class="p3">Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to call the special session early to save funds and end it by June 4, the scheduled date to close the regular session. However, Republican leaders in the House haven’t committed to raising replacement revenues, and it isn’t certain how they will deal with the proposed budget when it returns to the lower chamber.

<p class="p3">The Senate Judiciary B Committee today will hear legislation extending the Harrah’s Casino contract in New Orleans. The Advocate last week said the fate of House Bill 553 remained uncertain after New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Gov. Edwards and City Council members have “serious reservations” about extending the license six years before it expires in 2024.

<p class="p3">“I still think it’s iffy at this point,” Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, told the newspaper.

<p class="p3">The House this week will be deciding whether to concur in Senate changes to members’ bills, and the Senate will be doing the same thing with their bills returned from the House. Both houses will also be deciding the fate of bills they received from the other chamber.

<p class="p3">Senate Bill 316 by Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, that would allow the state’s 15 riverboat casinos to move to land within 1,200 feet of their current waterway locations is up for House debate Tuesday. The legislation also sets a limit of 2,365 gaming positions at each casino.

<p class="p3">The bill was approved 22-14 in the Senate and 10-4-1 by the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee. S.B. 543 by Johns that levies an additional 1 percent hotel-motel tax in Calcasieu Parish is also on the Tuesday agenda.

<p class="p3">A measure by Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, which would allow universities to be licensed to conduct raffles, is up for full House debate today.

<p class="p3">The full House today will also consider measures dealing with cosmetology fees, creation of the Council on Efficient Government to review and evaluate potential privatization of some state goods and services and requiring unanimous juries in all felony cases beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

<p class="p3">The Senate has already approved a unanimous jury bill and sent it to the House. Other Senate bills on the full House agenda this week deal with bulletproof school backpacks, abortion, free speech, ending some dedicated funds and TOPS scholarships.

<p class="p3">The House Ways and Means Committee today will decide the fate of S.B. 493 that makes 20 percent reductions to three industrial rebates permanent. The Senate approved the bill 22-11. It would raise $96.5 million over the next four years.

<p class="p3">The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee will hear House Concurrent Resolution 3 that creates a Constitutional Convention Study Commission. The legislation requires the commission to determine its recommendations by Jan. 15, 2019, and to submit its report by Feb. 14, 2019.

<p class="p3">The committee will also hear H.B. 265 that would allow felons on probation and parole to vote after demonstrating some responsibility and staying out of prison for five years. The measure passed the House 59-42.

<p class="p3">The Senate Finance Committee will hear House bills dealing with a state expenditure limit, creation of a Louisiana Checkbook to give citizens internet access to detailed state government operations, creation of a TOPS Income Fund and House appropriations bills.

<p class="p3">S.B. 61 up before the committee provides that the actual salaries of district, appeal and Supreme Court judges and justices shall increase by 2.5 percent each July 1 from 2018 to 2022. The state-paid salaries of city court and parish court judges would also be increased by the same amount for the same years.

<p class="p3">H.B. 345 on the same agenda prohibits the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from using any of its Conservation Fund for any building acquisition unless the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget approves it.

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