Budget unresolved as Louisiana session reaches final days

    Louisiana lawmakers reached the final hours of their legislative session with disputes raging about sports betting and minor budget skirmishes needing resolution.

    The 60-day session must end Thursday by 6 p.m.

    Negotiations continued behind the scenes Wednesday between the House and Senate about a final version of next year’s $30 billion-plus state operating budget, a companion measure to spend millions in unbudgeted money from the current year and the state’s construction spending plans.

    But the largest disagreement, over public school financing, was resolved days ago, promising K-12 teachers a $1,000 pay raise, support workers a $500 salary bump and districts $39 million in new discretionary money for their operations. Approval of that school financing legislation gave Gov. John Bel Edwards his signature achievement for the session.

    Lawmakers in the majority-GOP House and Senate still were haggling over bills to legalize sports betting, set regulations for online fantasy sports competitions for cash and establish a minimum marriage age in Louisiana.

    Two abortion measures remain outstanding and were expected to win final passage before adjournment: to say abortions done via medication can only be performed at Louisiana’s three licensed abortion clinics and to ask voters to rewrite the state constitution to ensure it offers no protections for abortion rights.

    Edwards, a Democrat, already has signed a more sweeping abortion restriction passed by lawmakers last week that could ban the procedure as early as six weeks of pregnancy — if a similar Mississippi law is upheld in federal court.

    On Wednesday, the House gave final passage to a bill allowing medical marijuana patients to use inhalers like asthma patients, a proposal championed by patients and their advocates.

    Also sent to the governor’s desk was legislation that prohibits Louisiana executive branch agencies from entering into contracts with vendors who boycott Israel. The measure by Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges, of Denham Springs, is similar to legislation approved in other states.

    The loudest outstanding fights center on sports betting.

    Louisiana voters agreed in November to legalize online fantasy sports contests for cash prizes in 47 parishes. But the tax and regulatory provisions required to start the betting have gotten tied up in a separate House and Senate feud over whether to legalize wagering on live action sports events.

     

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