A few debates remain before the Legislative Session ends Thursday

Disputes remain on sports betting and minor budget needing resolution

June 05, 2019 - 9:56 pm

As the Louisiana legislature reaches the final hours of the session, disputes continue regarding sports betting and minor budget skirmishes needing a resolution, 

but with debates settled over new abortion restrictions and the bills passed to implement them.

The 60-day session is over at 6 p.m. Thursday.

A spending plan of more than $30 billion for the financial year that begins July 1 was happening behind the scenes between the House and Senate.  

The biggest disagreement, however, ended over public school financing, was resolved days ago, promising K-12 teachers a $1,000 pay raise, support workers a $500 salary bump and districts $39 million in new discretionary money for their operations. Approval of that school financing legislation gave Gov. John Bel Edwards his signature achievement for the session.

After years of fighting about how to fill budget gaps, this year's spending debates have been less contentious, after the governor and lawmakers passed a seven-year tax deal in 2018 that stabilized finances. Legislators this year bickered over how to spend new money, a more pleasant task.

"It was kind of quiet," House Republican leader Lance Harris said of the negotiations this session. "We just muddled through the budget process, and the budget process works."

Lawmakers were working through disagreements over small sums, but plans to boost spending on colleges, health services, foster care, senior centers and public safety programs were expected to remain intact.

"Overall, I think we have a very balanced budget in the groups that we chose to give additional money to," said Slidell Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt.  "They haven't had any increased funding in a very long time."

Lawmakers in the majority-Republican House and Senate also still were haggling over bills to legalize sports betting and set regulations for online fantasy sports competitions for cash. While senators were working to establish a minimum marriage age in Louisiana, it was unclear if House lawmakers would agree to revisit that debate after rejecting the idea just a few days before.  

Final passage came today on two abortion measures.  One requires abortions that are done via medication to be performed only at Louisiana's three licensed abortion clinics and the other asks voters to rewrite the state constitution to ensure it offers no protections for abortion rights.

Governor John Bel Edwards, already has signed a more sweeping abortion restriction passed by lawmakers last week that could ban the procedure as early as six weeks of pregnancy, if a similar Mississippi law is upheld in federal court.

On Wednesday, the House gave final passage to a bill allowing medical marijuana patients to use inhalers like asthma patients, a proposal championed by patients and their advocates.

The fight continues centering on sports betting.

Louisiana voters agreed in November to legalize online fantasy sports contests for cash prizes in 47 parishes.  But the tax and regulatory provisions required to start the betting have gotten tied up in a separate House and Senate feud over whether to legalize wagering on live action sports events.

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