STATE

Legislative session begins

Michael Tortorich
Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks Monday during the groundbreaking event for a new biofuels plant in Geismar created by Dynamic Fuels, the partnership between Tyson Foods and Syntroleum Corp. The plant will convert chicken fat into clean-burning biodiesel fuels. Officials say when the plant is operational by the end of 2009, it will be the first of its kind in the nation.

BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana Legislature convened for a two-month session at noon Monday with more than a thousand bills on the agenda.

With the state facing a $1.3 billion revenue drop next year, cuts may come to health care and education.

This session contrasts with last year, when the state’s economy was booming and lawmakers had the luxury of a surplus.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has warned against using temporary fixes to the budget, pointing to the  challenge of the budget over coming years.

“Yes, this will be a session dominated by debates about the budget and how to do more with less, but at the same time we must do more to move our state forward,” Jindal said during his 18-minute address on the opening day of the session.

Jindal recently told the Baton Rouge Press Club that ignoring budget challenges this year will only bring greater problems in years to come.

The federal stimulus, which Jindal opposed, will provide temporary dollars to the state. Nearly $1 billion in federal funds will fill in the budget.

Jindal has recommended cutting health care and higher education in his $26.7 billion operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Hundreds of bills filed in the session propose tax cuts. One bill involves eliminating the state individual income tax.

Additionally, Jindal’s political aspirations remain in focus. Though the governor has consistently denied any interest in holding a national office, he continues to fundraise outside of the state.

Locally, an Ascension Parish representative has drawn attention for his bill concerning controversial red light enforcement cameras.

Rep. Eddie Lambert, a Republican from Gonzales, filed a bill to make it less profitable for cities and parishes to have camera systems implemented. The bill sets a $150 maximum on citations generated by the cameras.

Rep. Cedric Richmond and Rep. Jeff Arnold are sponsoring a bill that would prohibit such systems.

The session must end by June 25.