The Louisiana Legislative session convened on April 8 and ended on June 6. During those two months, budget issues were at the forefront as teacher pay raises, infrastructure spending and salary increases for judges, district attorneys and assistant district attorneys were all considered. With substantial cash available and statewide elections pending, legislators were generous in approving pay raises and spending plans.
House Bill 578 – the largest transportation spending bill passed in 30 years at $700 million – will filter money to every corner of the state, including $40 million for upgrades to rural roads and bridges. The work will be financed by revamping how the state spends $690 million in settlement dollars from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill.
Pay was increased for judges, prosecutors and sheriffs. These increases will use $9.9 million in the state budget, while the judicial branch’s budget covers the $1.8 million needed for the pay raises promised to judges.
A bill allowing 1,600 refineries and other industrial plants in the state to keep some environmental violations secret failed to clear the state House after a lengthy debate. Had the bill passed, companies would have been immune from penalties related to these violations. The legislation would have created a self-audit system in which facilities would voluntarily report violations of environmental rules to state regulators. This information would be kept confidential and could not be used against the companies.
Supporters believe a self-report system would encourage industry to report minor infractions that, in turn, would help alleviate major problems. They point to other states, such as Oklahoma, which passed a law allowing similar protections. Opponents saw it as a way for industry to hide environmental infractions and skirt due process.
With this year’s upcoming gubernatorial and statewide elections, incumbent Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has been promoting the resurgence of the energy industry, while lawsuits stemming from wetland damage to coastal communities persist. All 144 members of the legislature are up for re-election this fall, as 12-year term limits force 50 lawmakers out of office, although some are expected to flip chambers. Election day is October 12 and after the governor is inaugurated, lawmakers will convene in January of 2020 for an organizational session while the regular session is set to begin in March.