It’s an election year in Louisiana; the governor’s race front and center, of course. But the Legislature is currently in session with several buzz worthy items up for consideration.
What are some of the topics facing our lawmakers, and is there any time to have a little fun?
What is the number one agenda item facing lawmakers?
“It’s going to be the budget,” said political analyst Jeremy Alford.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton: it’s the budget, stupid. That is the one topic Jeremy Alford believes will dominate the remainder of the current Louisiana legislative session. But what about specific items to watch?
“I would imagine that the Medicaid budget is probably going to be an area to watch closely, as well as funding for K-12 and higher education,” said Alford.
“I think we’re going to have a more positive approach to the budget,” said Democratic state Rep. Sam Jenkins of Shreveport. "This is the first time we aren’t dealing with severe cuts and deficits. We’ve got a surplus, and maybe we can get to some things we haven’t been able to in the past.”
Lawmakers will have to dive into details to see exactly what should be spent — what the needs are — and whether any potential logjams lie on the horizon.
“We do know from every session of this term, it usually ends that way,” Alford said. "But this is an election year; this is the final year of a term and lawmakers have spent countless hours at the capital so maybe they’ll want to get out and go home.”
Shreveport Democratic Rep. Barbara Norton has several bills up for consideration, including this: “I’ve got legislation for lowering insurance rates on automobiles. I’ll have equal pay for women again. This will be my eighth year of doing that. And I’ve got another bill that would give us an opportunity to make sure we have equal wages for people all over the state of Louisiana.”
“On the wage increase, let’s hear from the people of Louisiana, let’s give them an opportunity to vote on that and see if we can come up with a livable wage for people who have to work like that," Jenkins said.
“I think we’ve got a job to do, but we’re here, and we’re committed," Norton said.
Other issues sure to be addressed this session: “The gas tax for starters. Teacher pay raises, which is a top issue for the governor," Alford said.
“The one concern many of us have when you grant a pay raise,” said Republican Rep. Thomas Carmody of Shreveport. "Whether it’s $1,000 for teachers or $500 for support personnel — that’s an obligation you take on for the rest of time. It’s not as if I’m giving you a bonus.”
And state Sen. Barrow Peacock of Shreveport-Bossier is high on the sports gambling issue — considered a buzz worthy item prior to the session.
“It’s something, when you look at it from an entertainment value,” said Peacock. "It’s something we need to pass in Louisiana. We need to have our riverboats and Louisiana Downs offer that entertainment factor to the citizens of Texas. We want them to come to Shreveport-Bossier.”
Switching gears from the legislature, Republican gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham attended the start of the session.
“We’ve got every piece of the puzzle that we need to make this a great, great state,” Abraham said. "We’ve just got to have a leader to put those pieces together.”
“Folks in Louisiana usually don’t focus on a gubernatorial race ‘til about Labor Day,” said Alford. "So sometimes you’ve got to be creative.”
Along those lines, Abraham rolled out his new commercial based on "Game of Thrones."
“When ‘Game of Thrones’ comes back on TV, it’s probably a good opportunity to throw out your ‘Game of Thrones’ themed commercial. And it got some national play as well. I’ve been told it has been circulated in the White House so I think they probably go their dollars’ worth on that video," Alford said.
(To see Abraham’s commercial, watch the video attached to this report.)
“I’ve watched both ‘Game of Thrones’ and the campaign commercial”, said Alford. “I think both do justice to not only life in Westeros, but also to what life must be like in northeast Louisiana for Ralph Abraham.”
So, it’s good to have a sense of humor.
And keep in mind House Bill 372. The president of the influential Louisiana Association of Business and Industry calls it the most important bill before the legislature this year. If passed, it could help ease automobile insurance rates and predatory lawsuits in Louisiana.
And over a dozen bills have been filed related to medical marijuana.
Shreveport Democratic Rep. Cedric Glover has filed HB462, calling for a constitutional amendment allowing local governing authorities to hold elections to decide whether sale, distribution and possession would be allowed in their jurisdictions.
The current session is scheduled to run through June 6.