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Mar 29, 2010 12:33 PM by Katie Durio

Louisiana Legislative Session Begins Today at Noon

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana lawmakers begin their annual

regular session Monday, grappling with a set of deep budget

problems and nearly 2,000 pieces of legislation that propose

everything from college tuition increases and looser gun

restrictions to bans on energy drink sales to youngsters and red

light cameras.

The session begins at noon. Gov. Bobby Jindal will outline his

vision for balancing the budget when he speaks to a joint session

of the House and Senate in the afternoon.

The mood is more somber than in past years, as Louisiana's

financial difficulties overshadow other debates and dampen the

celebratory atmosphere that often accompanies the opening day of a

regular session.

Jindal proposed a mix of one-time funding and cuts to balance

next year's $24.2 billion budget, but disagreements have already

emerged between the House and Senate about how much should be cut

and how much state trust funds should be tapped to fill gaps.

The budget troubles have worsened since Jindal offered his

spending recommendations for the 2010-11 fiscal year that begins

July 1. A deficit of up to $400 million is projected for the

remaining three months of the current fiscal year, and lawmakers

will have to rebalance this year's budget before they can devise a

final plan for next year.

The legislative session runs until June 21.

One of this session's most heated disputes is expected to center

on a bill by Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, that attempts to nullify

the federal health care overhaul, arguing the congressional

legislation is unconstitutional.

Tea party groups in the state have made Crowe's bill one of

their top priorities for passage in the session, while the

Legislature's black caucus is vowing to fight it.

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