What Just Happened At The Louisiana Legislature Isn’t Completely Clear…

…but the upshot is that this year’s regular legislative session ended without a budget being passed, despite there having been reports of a budget deal. As such, we are now in a Special Session of the Louisiana Legislature, and it’s adjourned until Monday so that work might be done behind the scenes to sort out what can be done to reach a budget agreement.

It’s a little chaotic, but what we’re hearing is the reason the budget deal blew up is the Senate sent over a “conference report” that contained (1) a provision to spend 100 percent of what the Revenue Estimating Committee projects as the state’s revenue, and (2) a provision to push one month of payments to Medicaid providers to next year, which would open up $157 million for additional spending.

In the preamble was a request to the state agencies that they not spend some $50 million of their appropriations as a hedge against the REC’s projections coming short; that does not have the force of law.

I put “conference report” in scare-quotes because neither Taylor Barras nor Cameron Henry, who were two of the three appointed House conferees, had signed the conference report – and under those terms they wouldn’t have agreed to do so.

So what happened was this document, which arrived on the House floor with next to no time to spare before sine die, was promoted by House speaker pro tem Walt Leger as the must-pass budget. Leger demanded that the “conference report” be voted on despite the fact it was out of order – a conference report isn’t valid unless it has the signatures of at least two out of three conferees in both the House and the Senate.

That, as you might imagine, failed, and the legislative session ended before anything else could be done.

You will read and hear much about how this is all Barras’ fault. From where we sit, that is categorically untrue.

First of all, the budget was passed by the House on May 4, which is the earliest in a session anyone we’ve talked to can remember. The Senate didn’t pass its version of the budget until June 3 – this past Saturday.

And the Senate’s appointed conferees – John Alario, Eric Lafleur and Greg Tarver – were not appointed until this afternoon.¬†We’re told there was no effort made by the Senate to actually confer with Barras and Henry on the budget; instead, they got Pat Smith, the North Baton Rouge Democrat who was the third House-appointed conferee, to sign on to the “conference report” – copies of which were distributed on the House floor bearing a quite readable “UNOFFICIAL” mark on the front cover – and then gave it to Leger to attempt to force through the House at the last minute.

That failed, obviously, as it was a complete insult to the budget process and to the House’s integrity as a legislative body. The House has shown it won’t be bullied by such tactics.

The House floor was rife with rumor that as soon as the special session was gaveled in, a move would be made to effect a coup against Barras’ leadership, something the House Democrats and Gov. John Bel Edwards have been scheming to do for most of this session. We’re told not only don’t they have the votes to remove Barras but they also don’t have a replacement for him. Edwards and the Democrats would like to make Leger the speaker, but that plan failed last January when Barras was elected over him. The only way they could get the 53 votes to remove Barras would be to find another Republican of suitable stature to run against him; no one is currently available to fit that bill. In fact, earlier today Barras was honored by his colleagues with the Doc Hudson Cup as The Gentleman Of The House, the highest honor the House can confer upon one of its members – an indication of just how poorly what Rep. Nancy Landry called “the smear campaign against him” was working.

So Rep. Stuart Bishop made the motion, and it carried, to adjourn until Monday.

What Barras and the House have done is to strike a blow against the sleazebag old-school Louisiana political tactics one should expect from John Alario, who is the resident master of such hooliganism, and stand their¬†ground against an immature, wannabe dictator in the governor’s mansion in John Bel Edwards. Barras and the House are to be congratulated for that.

And fingers ought to be pointed at both Alario and Edwards for their inability, if not refusal, to deal in good faith on the state budget. They, not Barras, have debauched the Louisiana legislature, and it might be time to weigh options as to the recall of both.

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