Jun 21, 2010 8:14 PM by Chris Welty
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana lawmakers ended a contentious
three-month regular session Monday, with the House losing its
budget battles to the Senate and Gov. Bobby Jindal reappearing in
the final days to ensure the session didn't end in meltdown.
Before they adjourned, lawmakers worked out the final pieces of
their budget disputes, approving the movement of dollars to balance
the bills and agreeing to spend millions on their pet projects.
Mirroring the disputes from a year earlier, House and Senate
leaders spent much of the session locked in a stalemate over the
budget. With a day to spare, the House reluctantly agreed to the
Senate's version of the $26 billion budget for the 2010-11 fiscal
year and the Senate's plans for rebalancing this year's budget,
which contained a $600 million deficit.
But House leaders made it clear they didn't agree with those
bills, even as they sent them to the governor, arguing the budget
doesn't cut enough from state spending and uses too much one-time
money to pay for ongoing services.
"As a fiscal conservative, I thought this budget was a
disaster," said House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, who voted
Tucker and others in the House found it hard to fight the power
of the governor, however. Jindal returned late last week from his
daily visits to coastal parishes, where he's tracking the
devastation of the oil spill, to side with the Senate in the money
debate and successfully urge the House to go along.
"I know it was not easy, but we felt like we came together at
the end and passed what we feel like was a responsible budget. It's
not a perfect budget," said Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette,
chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
The state's revenue forecasting panel revised income estimates
Monday to match the budget and formally recognized the "rainy
day" fund money and tax amnesty dollars used to balance it.
Jindal won on several of his main legislative fronts, getting
victories on bills to raise college tuition and to revamp the
state's teacher evaluation process to tie at least half a teacher's
review to student performance data.
He also got final passage of his signature elementary and
secondary education bill to let public school districts waive
education regulations they feel impede their ability to improve.
But that faces an immediate lawsuit from a state teachers union
when the governor signs the measure into law.
An objection to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul
will be written into Louisiana law, a largely symbolic statement
backed by Jindal as the state has joined a federal lawsuit
challenging the constitutionality of the congressional legislation.
While he got much of what he requested from lawmakers, Jindal
lost his bid to do away with the lieutenant governor's office, to
merge public college governing boards and to make it easier to tap
into certain state trust funds.
The governor successfully defeated efforts to open most of the
records in his office to public scrutiny - but lawmakers backed a
bid to require Jindal to open and preserve any of his records tied
to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. That leaves the governor
choosing whether to veto the measure, even as he's urging BP PLC
and others involved in the spill to give his administration access
to their records.
As the budget battles raged largely behind the scenes, lawmakers
also advanced their own agendas. They overhauled the congressional
primary system to return the state to an open primary, repealed a
$15 increase in the price of a Louisiana driver's license enacted
by the Jindal administration and added several new restrictions on
abortion in the state.
They passed bans on cyberbullying, synthetic marijuana and the
cancellation of insurance coverage for homeowners who have found
corrosive Chinese drywall in their homes. The state's retirement
programs for new hires were revamped. The state ban on texting
while driving was toughened, so police can stop anyone they observe
texting at the wheel without waiting for another traffic violation.
And concealed handguns will be allowed in churches, if pastors