Louisiana lawmakers held behind-the-scenes negotiations on a state operating budget and put the finishing touches on business tax breaks and other coronavirus response measures, as they reached the final hours of a special session that must end Tuesday.
A unanimous House vote Monday gave final passage to a bill using $50 million in federal aid to provide $250 one-time “hazard pay” checks to thousands of Louisiana’s front-line employees who stayed on their jobs in the early days of the virus outbreak.
The Senate voted 33-2 to shield K-12 schools and colleges from most civil lawsuits from students and teachers who contract COVID-19—but only after narrowing the bill’s scope to apply to the current pandemic rather than any further infectious disease outbreaks. It requires another vote before it can reach Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk.
What remained to be settled is a final deal on the $35 billion state operating budget to keep government programs and services up and running when the new financial year begins Wednesday.
Also outstanding was the business lobby’s main priority for the session, a package of changes to the civil justice system aimed at lessening damage claims that can be awarded in car wreck lawsuits.
The majority-Republican House and Senate called themselves into the 30-day special session June 1. It was only the second time in state history that lawmakers set their own agenda for a special session, rather than letting a governor dictate the plans.
The agenda was crafted in heavy consultation with business lobbying groups and featured several tax break expansions and civil legal system measures those organizations have sought for years.
GOP lawmakers said businesses need state help to recover from closures and operating restrictions ordered by the Democratic governor to respond to the pandemic. Democrats have pushed back on giving out millions of dollars in tax breaks, saying the approach is unfocused, won’t specifically help virus-impacted businesses and could worsen state budget problems caused by the outbreak. Read the full story.