Capitol Views: Legislature in transition mode

Members of the House and Senate will turn a corner next week when the state budget, found in House Bill 1, begins moving through the legislative process. At the same time, the Legislature’s tax-writing committees are preparing for the possibility of 2018’s second special session, to follow the ongoing regular session. Getting revenue-raising proposals to move will likely be difficult for the tax committees during the approaching special session, if there is one, but there may be some new faces added to the panel on the House side.

In terms of the budget bill, the Appropriations Committee will release its version Monday, with a House floor hearing to follow Thursday. While there’s little doubt that House Bill 1, by Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, will escape the committee—even with deep spending reductions—gathering 53 votes from the lower chamber for floor passage could be difficult.

The governor has asked lawmakers to use new dollars recognized Thursday by the Revenue Estimating Conference as follows:

  • $83 million for the New Orleans and Shreveport safety-net hospitals.
  • $50 million for TOPS, leaving it $183 million short.
  • $43 million for the Health Department.
  • $35 million for sheriffs and district attorneys.
  • $25 million for higher education.
  • $20 million for corrections.
  • $12 million for juvenile justice
  • $10 million for Go Grants
  • $1 million for senior centers.

House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, sounded more interested in fully funding the TOPS scholarship program and using the balance to address health care and higher education needs. The speaker also isn’t committing to a second 2018 special session yet, especially after next fiscal year’s budget shortfall was downgraded yesterday to $648 million.

Barras, however, will eventually have to commit to naming two new members to the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, especially if there is another special session that will focus heavily on the policy topic.

One vacancy came about when former Rep. Chris Broadwater stepped aside earlier this year and another occurred when Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, was relocated to the House Civil Law Committee. There has been some speculation that it’s a good fit on paper, since Seabaugh is being vetted for a federal judgeship and conservatives will always want a stronger vote for their team coming out of that committee.

Asked for his reaction, Seabaugh, an attorney who has served on the House Civil Law Committee two other times, said the move made sense and he’s fine with the decision. “I asked the speaker if he would put me back (on Ways and Means) if there was another special session,” says Seabaugh, a solid anti-tax vote, “but he told me no.”

Jeremy Alford will publish a daily update throughout the legislative session on Daily Report PM. Alford reports on Louisiana politics at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.

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