La. budget matters in store for last day of 2014 session

After three months of meetings and debate, the 2014 session of the Louisiana Legislature comes down to one more day of scrambling.

Legally, the session, which began on March 10, must end by 6 p.m. Monday.

The state’s multibillion-dollar construction budget needs to be finished, and this year’s budget needs to be rebalanced to fill holes in education and prisons funding.

Representatives and senators slammed through bills on Sunday, with both chambers skipping over controversial measures and focusing on clearing their calendars to get out in time for the LSU baseball game or the Beer League’s barbecue.

Clerks and staff were still sorting through just what passed on Sunday and what remains for the last day’s work. But the rough count is that the House and Senate have taken votes on about 1,000 bills since the session began.

The $25 billion state budget and $3.6 billion spending plan for public schools cleared its final legislative hurdle on Friday. About 100,000 retirees got the first cost-of-living increase in six years on their monthly benefits check under a package of bills signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal on Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday, legislators agreed to delay the effects of the state’s shift to Common Core education standards and to add new privacy protections for public school student data. The state’s voters will be asked for permission to sell lots in New Orleans’ 9th Ward for $100 each to spur development of the area nearly wiped out by Hurricane Katrina flooding. And the state’s penalties for running human trafficking operations are about to get much stiffer.

What remains for Monday is a pile of bills awaiting approval of final compromises, called conference reports. A majority of each chamber must agree to the exact wording before legislation can clear final passage.

The Senate needs to sign off on a bill that would forbid the use of welfare cards at bars and tattoo parlors. The House needs to vote on the final wording of legislation on whether lawmakers should confirm the hiring and pay of the state’s higher education commissioner.

Also awaiting conference report votes are bills that would study consolidating the New Orleans Traffic and Municipal courts, stiffen penalties for beating up referees at children’s sporting events and change the state’s plumbing standards to the International Plumbing Code.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, is one of the legislators trying to work out last-minute wording on a bill. He is still trying to get issues resolved regarding legislation on life support for pregnant women.

Morrell said he hopes the measure would adopt wording that would defer decisions to family, rather than have the government require physicians to continue life support on women who have clinically died but are being kept alive for the baby to be born.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be there,” Morrell said.

“Issue now is does anything get vetoed while we’re still sitting here and that kind of stuff,” said state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton.

One of the biggest outstanding issues is House Bill 2, the state construction budget for the fiscal year that begins in July. It’s also known as the capital outlay plan.

HB2 was just a little out of balance when it left the House. The Senate piled in projects, putting the legislation into a posture in which it contains $400 million more in spending than the state can afford.

The House rejected the Senate’s changes.

A conference committee, comprising of half a dozen legislators, must reach a compromise by 6 p.m. Monday. The conference committee met Sunday to work on the bill.

State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, and Gov. Bobby Jindal bantered about the situation Sunday afternoon during a bill signing ceremony. Robideaux made a remark about the construction budget, to which Jindal chided him: “First, you have to pass it.”

State Sen. Neil Riser, who handles the capital outlay plan in the Senate, said the two sides are working on a compromise.

“Not certain but confident we’re going to be able to work it out. I’ll be certain when we’re done. You’re never certain,” said Riser, R-Columbia.

Michelle Millhollon and Will Sentell of The Advocate Capitol news bureau and Melinda Deslatte of The Associated Press contributed to this report. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.