Major bills pass, but less controversy in '19 session
A budget surplus during an election year allowed for a quieter than usual 2019 session of the Louisiana Legislature, but it brought its share of benefits to the Westbank parishes.
Term limits brought many lawmakers to the end of the road in the House and Senate, while most others must earn their seat another four years in the Oct. 12 primary election.
They head out into the summer and forthcoming campaigns on the heels that brought better pay for some but curtailed possible funding mechanisms for others.
Road programs and funding for public schools were among the biggest winners in this year's session, which ended last week.
The final approval and signature from Gov. John Bel Edwards yielded a much-needed relief plan for Interstate 10 and the Intracoastal Waterway.
The overwhelming approval of House Bill 578 paved the way for a long-awaited fix to the congestion along La. 415 and La. 1, south of the Intracoastal Waterway. It also includes elevations of a portion of La. 1 in Golden Meadow and grew into a $600 million project for work statewide.
On the flip side, another attempt at a fuel tax to raise revenue for the backlog of road projects remained stuck in park. It marked the second time in three years legislators put the brakes on the plan.
The session also provided public school teachers and support personnel a modest – but much needed – bump in pay which will begin with the next school year.
While public schools gained support from the legislature, lawmakers were less enamored with the plan to allow sports betting in casinos as part of a measure that would funnel revenue into the early childhood programs. The bill got a thumbs down in the House, based on arguments that the measure would expand gambling in the state.
Early childhood gained some funding from the state appropriations bill, although Gov. Edwards and state Board of Education Superintendent John White both pushed to expand funding for programs for youngsters before they begin kindergarten.
Older foster children fared well in state legislation when lawmakers approved an extension from 18 to 21 for young adults in foster care to receive services and stay with their foster family.
Women did not fare as well, particularly with legislation that did not exempt feminine hygiene products and diapers from the state sales tax.
Lawmakers also rejected legislation a fourth consecutive year to ensure women would receive equal pay for the same job as their male counterparts. Gov. John Bel Edwards targeted gender equality on pay during his inaugural address in January 2016, but lawmakers four bills in so many years for the measure failed.
Legislators also turned a cold shoulder once again on the governor's recommendation to raise minimum wage, which came up short each year since JBE became governor.
Proposed changes to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program – a heated topic prior to the session – drew a thumbs down from lawmakers, who resisted any changes in the program. The proposal followed the fallout after the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board rejected a $20 million, 10-year tax break request from ExxonMobil on construction of a propylene plant at the Baton Rouge refinery.
Legislators also put the brakes on a bill that would have lowered the amount of money to use a jury in a lawsuit related to an auto accident. Lawmakers hoped the plan would reduce the number of big-dollar suits from injury attorneys, some of whom operate across all of Louisiana and even into other states.