‘Common sense thinking prevailed’: Lawmakers dedicated roadworks and dismissed burning social issues | Legislature

Allow people to carry concealed handguns without a permit? He died in the Louisiana Senate.

Anti-vaccination legislation? The senators did not suggest that either.

The highly publicized “Don’t say gay” measure, modeled on a new Florida law? He perished in the Chamber. So did a high-profile bill that would have imprisoned women who have had abortions.

And the House and Senate have ignored calls to cut taxes for Louisianans.

Lawmakers in other conservative states this year passed laws on burning issues like guns, abortion and gay rights, and they also cut taxes.

But in the annual session that ended Monday, Louisiana’s Republican-dominated legislature implemented all of these measures. What happened?

Several factors were at work, lawmakers said. The first is that Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, opposed these initiatives and could have vetoed them, while in other red states, conservative governors, such as Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas, have put their political strength behind these causes.

With a record surplus in hand, instead of cutting taxes, Louisiana lawmakers focused on spending the money in a way Edwards and Republican lawmakers had agreed to. They used the one-time money for new and existing roads, bridges and water systems across the state and to pay down debt, rather than increasing annual spending and likely creating future deficits. budgets.

“Everyone realized that the state this year had to put the state on a new economic trajectory, said State Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, the pro tem speaker. “We didn’t want to waste this opportunity and let other issues become obstacles. It was at all levels with the House, the Senate and the Governor’s office. We had a unique opportunity to get it right. »

In other words, moderate Republicans — who occupy the middle of Louisiana’s political spectrum — have dominated this year, with lawmakers giving much of the credit to Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette.

“Rather than fighting over the shiny objects, we were able to focus on the big, important things,” said Matthew Block, Edwards’ legal counsel.

Prior to the start of the session in March, these shiny objects seemed likely to drown out other problems.

Ultra-conservatives have spoken confidently about passing measures addressing priority issues in America’s culture wars: banning the teaching of critical race theory; the adoption of the “Don’t Say Gay” restriction for teachers; limit the governor’s ability to impose vaccination mandates; and lifting the requirement that people carrying concealed handguns must be licensed.

None of these measures have been adopted.

“We weren’t going to be swept away by political winds,” said Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin. “We stuck to what we thought was necessary. In the end, legislation and common sense thinking prevailed.

Certainly, the Conservatives have triumphed on two divisive social issues.

The Women’s Sports Equity Act, Senate Bill 44, passed with a non-vetoing majority, a year after Edwards vetoed a similar measure. Sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, it will ban transgender athletes from participating in high school sports. Edwards let SB44 become law without his signature, calling it “petty” and “unnecessary”, but saying the legislature would have struck it down had he vetoed it.

The Legislature also passed two tough anti-abortion bills that would go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court, as expected, overturns Roe v. Wade.

Senate Bill 342, sponsored by Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, would increase criminal penalties for abortion providers. Senate Bill 388, by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, would allow the prosecution of out-of-state vendors who sell abortion pills to women in Louisiana.

Edwards, who has expressed doubts about some aspects of the bills, did not reveal whether he would sign them, but he has always supported anti-abortion legislation.

In some cases, ultra-conservative measures have run into headwinds in part because of their sponsors.

Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, pushed bills that would ban critical race theory, which conservatives consider state-sanctioned racism. Proponents say the theory teaches that racism is an integral part of US history.

But Garofalo remained at odds with House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, after sparking controversy last year with a remark about slavery, then declined the president’s request to step down as Chairman of the House Education Committee. Schexnayder took it off.

This year, anti-criticism measures of Garofalo’s race theory — House Bill 1014 and House Bill 747 — failed even to make it out of the Education Committee, the first stage of the legislative process.

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Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, made national headlines with Bill 813, which would have allowed prosecutors to jail women who had abortions. But with the state’s leading anti-abortion groups — Louisiana Family Forum and Louisiana Right to Life — saying it went too far, the House killed the bill.

McCormick angered his anti-abortion colleagues by insisting they vote on HB813 — their anti-abortion vote would draw criticism from mainstream allies — even though everyone knew he would lose badly.

“It started a discussion that we should be having,” an unrepentant McCormick said recently.

The House passed McCormick’s Bill 37, which was similar to a measure passed last year by the National Rifle Association that would allow anyone to carry a handgun without undergoing firearms training. Edwards vetoed the 2021 bill.

But HB37 died this month without another vote after a Senate committee accepted an amendment by Sen. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales, to rewrite the bill to instead allow school districts to authorize officers to security, which could include teachers and administrators, to carry concealed handguns in schools. The vote came in the wake of a Texas school shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers.

“The school shooting changed the conversation on this issue,” Cortez said.

The House Education Committee also killed Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Houghton’s Bill 837, which would have mimicked a Florida measure to ban public school teachers from discussing sexual orientation. or gender identity.

And the Senate bottled up several House measures that would have limited Edwards’ ability to impose vaccination mandates, prompting an outcry among conservatives.

Edwards lowered the temperature in May by withdrawing its order requiring schoolchildren to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“In a right-wing state, we have avoided going down some of the paths of extremism that have been taken in other conservative states. Reason #1 is that we have a moderate Democratic governor who has acted as a brake to that,” said Peter Robins-Brown, executive director of Louisiana Progress, a Baton Rouge group that pushes progressive legislation.

Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, of Lafayette, who leads the Democratic caucus in this chamber, said Cortez and Schexnayder are also to be commended.

“We know where leadership has drawn a line in the sand,” Boudreaux said. “They didn’t open the floodgates and say, ‘Pour it out.’ We don’t follow the national example on everything.

After years of tight budgets, lawmakers have had to decide what to do with more than $2 billion in extra money, thanks to federal stimulus funds approved by the Democratic Congress and President Joe Biden and the post-pandemic economic recovery. .

Lawmakers decided not to pass tax cuts, as lawmakers did in 2007 and 2008 in a similar situation. As Cortez noted, they expect the Legislature in three years to choose not to renew a temporary sales tax of 0.45 cents on the dollar, which will provide $425 million in annual savings. to taxpayers.

Legislators used the excess money to fix traffic problems and other infrastructure.

A new bridge over the Mississippi River near Baton Rouge received $300 million to start the project, which could eventually cost $3 billion. The Legislative Assembly and Edwards spend $200 million on a new bridge over the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles; $200 million to expand I-49 south of Lafayette; $450 million to upgrade water and sewer systems across the state; $400 million to pay a post-Hurricane Katrina debt to the federal government for reinforcement of the New Orleans area levee system; $500 million to replenish the fund that pays the unemployed; $175 million to the rainy day fund; at least $100 million to repair existing roads and bridges; plus $100 million to repair old buildings at public colleges and universities and state buildings.

The Louisiana Public Affairs Research Council has applauded fiscal conservatism of spending one-time money for one-time needs.

“All of this funding has overshadowed these other political issues,” Cortez said. “People wanted to get it right financially, for federal money to be invested in roads, bridges and debt. It’s not really a fancy thing to do, but you get a better credit rating to have a lower interest rate in the future. If you were in business, you would want to do this.

Lawmakers also invested $105 million in parochial projects that, in many cases, received little public scrutiny.

But Cortez said that money — which went to nearly every legislative district — helped placate anyone unhappy that his other bills didn’t pass.

“Getting this for the members is huge,” Magee said.

Edwards engendered goodwill by using the veto on a handful of lawmakers’ bills, hoping he would use that power to punish those who crossed his path.

Even the District of McCormick has received funding to lay a new water main that will improve drinking water in Oil City and surrounding areas.

“It’s really necessary,” he said.

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