THE LEGISLATURE…The Louisiana Legislature will reconvene tomorrow, March 31, at 11:00am. They are not expected to stay in session long. March 31 is the last day to introduce bills in the current session. A number of bills were in the process of being introduced when legislators were forced to put themselves in recess on March 17. The legislature is constitutionally mandated to be in session tomorrow, but there will be special arrangements in light of the continuing spread of the virus. Legislators will not be in their usual seats, but instead will be arranged six feet apart to provide proper social distancing. We are also told the public will be allowed in the building after passing through a lengthy security process, which will include having their temperatures taken. And, the public will only be allowed in the balconies of each chamber, and once again, seated six feet apart. Since they will not take action on legislation before once again recessing, they are hoping everyone will stay home and watch online or via Louisiana Public Broadcasting.
The governor has now said his stay-at-home order will need to be expanded beyond April 13. Legislative leadership has also indicated it may be sometime after that date before lawmakers can once again convene in Baton Rouge to deal with the 2020 regular session. There is even talk that a special session may be needed after the June 1 mandatory Sine Die date for the regular session. The truth of the matter is no one knows how long it will take the virus to dissipate.
Of course, the largest mandate of the legislative session is the passage of the state budget for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. The Revenue Estimating Conference, the group that decides how much money the state has to spend each year, has not made a preliminary decision on the forecast amount. Now, with casinos closed, businesses closed, oil prices at a record low and all of the other negative ongoing issues, it will be difficult for the REC to determine a forecast with any reasonable amount of certainty. There is the passage of federal stimulus bill, which will provide Louisiana with $1.25 billion to help with expenses surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak. Louisiana Associated Press Capitol Bureau Chief Melinda Deslatte in her weekend column offered an excellent view of the situation as it currently exists. See attached.
Baton Rouge Advocate Capitol Bureau Chief Mark Ballard also had some thoughts on what will happen next. See attached.
Public Affairs Research Council President Robert Travis Scott this week issued a letter to lawmakers urging them to reconvene to deal with the budget and other “essential legislation.” Scott claims the current expectation is for lawmakers to call a special session in June, but they could also call a session later in the summer or early fall, or adjourn in April and immediately begin a special session through the end of June. Among Scott’s key points are that the session should look at tax and regulatory relief for businesses, school closure impact, and the possibility that economic recovery will take longer than expected. He says those same priorities should extend to the local level. Click here to read Scott’s letter.
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