La. House meets for rare Sunday session

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- State Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, center, signals his vote during an April meeting of the Louisiana House. As chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Fannin's name is on House Bill 1, which details state government's spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- State Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, center, signals his vote during an April meeting of the Louisiana House. As chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Fannin's name is on House Bill 1, which details state government's spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The Louisiana House of Representatives convened for a rare Sunday session.

Primarily, the House was in session to accept House Bill 1, the state’s $25 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. With the session drawing to a close, the House wanted to get procedural hurdles out of the way and give legislative leaders time to iron out differences on the bill’s contents.

The House also tackled a few bills, giving final legislative passage to a measure that would create a legal framework for parents using surrogate mothers to carry and birth babies. Gov. Bobby Jindal must sign the measure to make it law.

The Legislature also gave final legislative approval to a proposal that would limit cuts that could be made to rates paid to nursing homes, pharmacies, clinics and hospitals that provide care for Medicaid patients. A majority of voters statewide must also approve.

But the state budget took up most of the attention. Legislators clumped in little groups around the chamber to discuss what changes the state Senate made that they can accept and those they cannot.

The session must end Thursday, and some House leaders already were talking about the possibility of a special session to drum up a final compromise for the 2013-14 plan to finance state government operations for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“I am always OK with going to a special session if that means getting a better product,” said state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

The Republicans’ leader in the House, state Rep. Lance Harris, echoed Edwards’ position.

“I’m OK with whatever we have to do for whatever is right for the state of Louisiana and for the citizens,” said Harris, R-Alexandria, chairman of the Republican delegation.

The House spent more than a hour Sunday night deliberating on House Bill 677, before rejecting the supplemental budget, which takes care of lingering funding needs in the current budget year.

State Rep. James Armes, D-Leesville, attracted the attention of the Jindal administration Sunday when he tried to gut voucher funding from the supplemental budget.

The Legislature approved an expansion of the voucher program last year after an intense push by Jindal. Vouchers use state funding to send public schoolchildren to private or parochial schools.

Armes said state Education Superintendent John White should find the money within his own budget to pay for vouchers.

“LA State Rep James Armes wants to kick current scholarship students out of school. Trying to cut funding for current year,” tweeted Kyle Plotkin, the governor’s communications director.

A few seconds later, the governor’s press secretary, Sean Lansing, retweeted Plotkin’s tweet. Lansing added the word “Unbelievable.”

The House rejected Armes’ amendment but did vote in favor of an amendment by House Democratic leader Edwards to grant a 2.75 percent increase in basic state funding for public schools.

In pushing the amendment, Edwards told the House that he and others warned the chamber last year that the voucher funding mechanism was unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court later agreed. Edwards’ argument Sunday was that the state constitution requires the increase he wanted.

Plotkin tweeted that Edwards “needs a better argument than ‘I told you so’ if he wants 2 run for gov. Now touting how smart he is”

House members defied Gov. Bobby Jindal and his legislative allies by voting 63-40 in favor of an amendment that would give public schools a $68 million increase in state funding. Supporters of the amendment yelled from the floor for House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, to close the voting machine as it became apparent that few House members were not switching their votes from “yes” to “no.”

The House ultimately rejected the supplemental budget bill, with 45 voting for it and 67 voting against HB677. The rejection adds to the uncertainty in the final days.

Also on the House’s agenda for Sunday was a higher education funding measure, Senate Bill 117, the so-called outcomes-based bill. But state Rep. Steve Carter, who was handling the Senate-passed legislation on the House floor asked to postpone the debate until Monday. Carter, R-Baton Rouge, chairs the House Education committee.

After about four and half hours, the House adjourned until 9 a.m. Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report