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Legislative leaders strike cooperative tone ahead of 2020 session


February 11, 2020
By Julia Arenstam
Originally Posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

Republican state legislative leaders Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, emphasized a desire to cooperate with the governor’s administration at this morning’s legislative panel during Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s annual meeting.

Referencing the recent committee assignments, Cortez said “the committees should be proportionate to the body, which reflects the state as a whole. … You have to have all sides in the debate. The committee structure reflects that makeup.” 

When it comes to approving the budget and revenue forecasts, the latest Revenue Estimating Conference has been reported as a dizzying repeat of last year’s push and pull between the governor’s office and Republican legislators. 

Despite the debate and an unapproved revenue forecast, the legislative leaders again spoke of collaboration. 

“If we work together and don’t work with the governor, then it’s going to fail,” Cortez said. 

“I will bring a compromise from the House to sit down, Page will do the same from his side, having a compromise to move forward and not just say no,” Schexnayder said. 

In a later address by Gov. John Bel Edwards, he struck a similar bipartisan tone. 

“When you take partisanship off the table, then there’s a seat at the table for everyone,” Edwards said. 

Their plans for tort reform include the same olive branch. 

Both legislators seemed to disagree with the notion of legal reform as a one-answer issue but maintained that it’s a top priority for the session. 

Schexnayder, who said last year’s Omnibus bill “made sense at the time,” now says there will be a “huge push” to get some type of tort reform in place, through the Senate, and onto Edward’s desk.  

“If we really want to legislate appropriately, we have to get a bill that effects change, that the governor will sign,” Cortez said, adding the issue extends beyond auto insurance rates. 

Edwards later addressed LABI members about the issue, saying he agreed auto insurance rates are too high and is willing to sit down “to come up with a way to address those problems.”

“I think that legislation and regulation go hand-in-hand on this,” Edwards said. “We know that insurances out there charge more for widows than non-widows, charge more for blue-collar workers than other workers, irrespective of their driving records, charge more to poor people.” 

Cortez and Schexnayder also expressed support for the idea of a centralized sales tax collection system, a proposal that has been rebuffed by many local sales tax collectors. Referring back to their own enterprises, Cortez and Schexnayder said not collecting taxes from online retailers hurts small businesses.

“I think that’s a wrong, and it’s going to protect our small businesses if we fix it,” Cortez said. 

Pressed on their plans for leading the two legislative bodies over the next four years, and their legacies as term-limited legislators, Cortez and Schexnayder said they wanted to be remembered as independent, yet inclusive of the representative body as a whole. 

“I want to leave a stamp that these last four years that the House and Senate were independent, that we worked together, all of us, coming up with a compromise to move our state forward,” Schexnayder said. 

Part of that legacy is not leaving the state in a fiscal crisis when the one penny, now 0.45 cent, sales tax is discontinued in five years, they said. Cortez said if the state budget reverts back to a deficit after he leaves office, he won’t have done his job in reforming the state budget.