Gov. Bobby Jindal is supposed to address the legislators – if he is in the state – and set forth his priorities for the session. The big question is, will they be listening to the lame-duck governor.
Legislators may be paying more attention to U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who, some observers contend, will be hovering in the background as the favorite to be the next governor.
They face the daunting task of trying to plug a $1.6 billion budget hole and achieve a balanced budget, which is required under the state constitution.
Cuts to higher education and healthcare services and increases in taxes and fees are thorny issues that will create spirited discussions. As one legislator said, it will be like going into Purgatory.
The Legislature has already been in the national limelight before the session began because of a “religious freedom” bill introduced by Bossier Republican state Rep. Mike Johnson.
His bill, HB 707, titled the Marriage and Conscience Act, has thrust the state into the national debate over religious freedom legislation as happened recently in Indiana and Arkansas.
As written, Johnson’s bill would allow business owners on the basis of their religious beliefs to refuse service to anyone without retribution from the state.
Opponents contend the bill is aimed at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community and is specifically targeting same-sex marriage. Some legal experts see it as licensing discrimination.
LGBT advocacy groups and others have mounted a united campaign against the legislation. Business leaders in Louisiana have mostly been silent, unlike in Indiana and Arkansas where big businesses forced tempering of the legislation.
Not surprisingly, Johnson’s legislation has the support of Jindal, who likely sees it as an opportunity to score points with the religious right. But Senate President John Alario, acknowledged as the most powerful legislator, does not like the bill and said that the Legislature will likely be very reluctant to move it forward.
That is just one of the controversial non-financial issues expected to be part of this legislative session. Legislators are also likely to have contentious discussions over Common Core, gay rights, gun laws, abortion, and marijuana.
To say the least, these will be definite distractions as legislators wrestle with serious budgetary issues.