1. Tort Reform
Business and industry groups have already said they’re optimistic about making new strides in tort reform under the new, conservative legislative makeup. After successful attempts in the House, and failures in the Senate blamed on committee seats, state Republican leaders have already vowed to make tort reform a priority in 2020.
2. Oil and gas lawsuits
Gov. John Bel Edwards is not going to stop his legal pursuit against oil and gas companies in his quest for more coastal restoration dollars. Conservative legislators will continue to push back, now with even stronger numbers. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to stop the governor’s agenda anytime soon, but Republican members will continue to point to the lawsuits as a choke point for the state’s economy.
3. Education funding
Edwards has said he plans to prioritize making new investments in early childhood education in this new term. Meanwhile, he and some legislators will continue to push for fully funding TOPS and higher education and increasing teacher pay. Funding these initiatives has again been made slightly more complicated by the delayed approval—the second year in a row—of a budget forecast by the Revenue Estimating Conference.
4. Tax reform
Buddying up with tort reform, lawmakers are expected to continue pushing for state tax reform this year, although how much of that can be done in a non-fiscal session is pretty limited. With significant surpluses seen over the past few years, many want to roll back the 0.45 cent sales tax early. With Edwards continuing at the helm, however, it’s unlikely there’s enough support to call a Constitutional Convention—a Republican push made during the election cycle for major tax reform. Refinements to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program will also remain in the spotlight.
5. New leadership
All of these issues come at the behest of the new leadership in both chambers, and their respective committees. Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, is expected to be the next Senate president, and fellow Republican Rep. Sherman Mack of Albany is expected to be confirmed as House speaker. Both reportedly have been chosen without Democratic input—let alone that of the governor. Leadership will be finalized Jan. 13 after legislators have been sworn in for the new term. Those new leaders will then make committee appointments. As president, departing Sen. John Alario, R-Westwego, made appointments that gave Edwards’ agendas a better chance of making it to the floor for debate. That kind of bipartisanship power sharing is unlikely to continue in the new term.
A strong bloc of first-term representatives will also be entering the Capitol this month. Voters elected 20 new senators and 46 new representatives. With so many new legislators forced into the “learning curve” hole, this first session could see a lot of false starts: big ideas that gain little traction.
On a related matter:
The long fight that will be
redistricting begins this year
Much like the recent governor’s race, the 2020 census and subsequent redistricting of legislative and congressional districts will bring swampy Washington politics to the actual swamps of Louisiana.
Growing political divisions between the state Legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards will result in some impolite disagreement over how to draw the district lines for the next 10 years. Without a supermajority in both chambers, Republicans will have to work with Edwards to shore up the new maps.
Congress will also go through reapportionment in 2021. The process resulted in Louisiana losing a congressional district after the 2010 census. While it’s unlikely the state would lose another seat on Capital Hill, some in state government are expected to push for a reconfiguration of the 4th and 5th districts in north Louisiana. But that idea won’t get much traction from its affected residents who are already fleeing in droves to surrounding states.
New state legislative district lines will help put Republicans in better positions to keep themselves elected—and put a few more in office—ensuring the party’s stronghold for the next decade. But if this election cycle taught us anything, it’s that the district lines are already drawn heavily in Republicans’ favor.
Edwards will be leaving office just four years after creation of the new district lines, resulting in a power vacuum Republicans are already eager to fill. While redistricting won’t have a direct effect on the gubernatorial election in four years, if a Republican governor is elected with a Republican-majority House and Senate, the party will have an even greater level of control over policy.