Come Monday, the Louisiana Legislature meets to dive into a pile of more than 1,500 bills, a workload that is substantial for a session that must end by June 2.
And that’s not the end of it. The prefiled legislation before the session can be supplemented by five bills per legislator, 144 of them. There are also 47 prefiled constitutional amendments.
Some of those bills are nonstarters, in that they are either duplicative of other legislators’ ideas or they are filed to make a point but won’t get the time of day during a committee hearing.
Still, the deluge of bills represents one of the quirks of the legislative calendar. Last year, and next year, the Legislature meets in shorter “fiscal” sessions, mostly focused on the budget and taxes. Thus, the 2014 “general” session, in which filing bills is nearly unlimited, is the last such meeting before the elections in fall 2015.
So if you’re a legislator pushing an idea, or filing a bill for a particular constituency back home, this is the general session opportunity before one faces the voters.
Another quirk of the general session is a big one: It is constitutionally forbidden to raise taxes during even-numbered years.
That leads to curious results, such as the cash-strapped state cannot eliminate tax breaks — essentially, getting money back that lawmakers earlier gave away. The result is a tighter playing field for the budget discussions, which are, every session, one of the major tasks for lawmakers.
The state motto thus becomes “Rob Peter to pay Paul, because we have no other choice.” And maybe Peter will get over it before the 2015 election.
A lot of issues are apt to generate heat, if not light, in the session. Those include education and health care, both of which are hardy perennials of debate — in part, because both are areas in which Louisiana lags the nation in performance and quality. An agitation against higher education standards in schools, called Common Core, is apt to be a big generator of discussion.
But many complex issues, such as sentencing laws for drug offenses, have the potential to generate much debate. Gov. Bobby Jindal opens the session with a major address to both House and Senate.
In many cases, despite the popular questioning of politicians in general, this session will see a number of proposals on which lawmakers and other officials have put in much study and reflection. Let us give that work its due as we prepare for what is for legislators particularly a long, hard slog through the spring.