NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -The end of the regular legislative session meant the beginning of a special session at the State Capitol. This time it was not Gov. John Bel Edwards who called what is formerly labelled an “extraordinary session” but state lawmakers and a local political analyst thinks that puts more pressure on legislators.
During a press conference mere hours before the regular legislative session was to conclude and the special session begin, Gov. Edwards, a Democrat, said it is imperative that state lawmakers pass a budget during the special session which must end by June 30.
"We're going to be working with the legislature to make sure that those essential bills that they didn't get to in this regular session,” said Edwards. "We have to have a budget come July 1, we can't run a deficit and so we have to have a budget in place when the new fiscal year starts.”
The pandemic interrupted the regular session and lawmakers were on hiatus for weeks. Edwards suggested early on after the session resumed that legislators had enough time to pass a budget, but Republicans disagreed and called the legislature into a special session, something that is normally done by governors.
Dr. Robert Collins, a Dillard University political analyst, said Republicans are flexing their political muscle.
"First of all, the Republicans in the legislature are asserting their independence by calling themselves into a special session,” said Collins. "They're basically sending a message to the governor that, you know, look, this is our session, we're going to set the agenda, the governor's not going to set the agenda."
He said the onus is now on legislators to get important work done including passage of a new budget.
"If something goes wrong and if we don't have a budget passed I think most people will look at the Republicans in the state legislature and say, yeah, it was their session, it was there agenda, it wasn't the governor's agenda, so I think most of the blame will have to go on them,” Collins stated.
During the regular session lawmakers did vote to expand Louisiana’s medical marijuana program to cover more medical conditions. They also agreed to let voters decide if sports betting should be allowed in their respective parishes and they loosened restrictions on carrying guns into churches.
On the guns in churches bills, the Archdiocese of New Orleans issued the following statement:
“If HB 334 becomes law, we understand that we maintain the legal authority to determine whether or not to prohibit concealed weapons in our churches. If we allow for such a situation, we also understand that we maintain the right to mandate additional hours of training beyond what is required to attain a concealed carry permit. Our priority remains to keep our faithful safe and allow for them to worship in a secure and sacred environment.”
The full legislature also passed tort reform which changes civil litigation rules for lawsuits related to car accidents and limits damage claims against insurers and other businesses; legislation that Republicans and business groups made a priority for the regular session.
However, the governor is not convinced the changes would result in lower insurance rates and as of late Monday afternoon Republicans were in discussions with the governor in hopes of keeping him from vetoing the legislation.
Sen. Kirk Talbot sponsored the bill.
"Look even before the COVID shutdown this was a big priority for the people of Louisiana, they're tired of paying these high premiums,” he said.
And Dr. Collins says state lawmakers are having an easier time of passing some controversial legislation because the public is distracted and because of social distancing many are not showing up at the capitol to voice their opinion on proposed new laws.
"Right now, people are distracted with the pandemic and with the riots and the protests that are going on all over the country, so clearly they're trying to pass some controversial bills,” said Collins.
He said despite the governor not calling the special session he retains power including the ability to veto bills lawmakers pass. Republicans have a super-majority in the Senate and are just two votes shy of one in the House, but veto overrides have traditionally been difficult to achieve.
"All the governor has to do is to hold the Democratic Caucus in the House together and they will not be able to override his veto,” said Collins.