The Louisiana Legislature approved a more than $100 million spending bill Thursday–after members were rushed into voting for a bill they did not have time to review.
Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, complained that members only had a few minutes to review the bill before they were called to vote on it and urged his colleagues to delay the vote until at least later in the day.
“This is a confusing process,” Bacala said. “Do you really know what’s in this bill?”
(Bacala ended up voting for the bill, according to the roll call of the vote.)
House Bill 39 dedicates $85 million to the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, which already ran out of money as a result of the state’s shutdown. The Louisiana Workforce Commission has borrowed at least $11 million from the federal government to pay for unemployment benefits and expects to borrow another $233 million by the end of next August.
The bill includes $5 million for tourism promotion (even though people can’t come to the state because it’s still shutdown), $5 million in aid for local governments, $3 million for the Louisiana Public Defender Board, and $1 million to the LSU Health Sciences Center for COVID-19 testing, according to House Appropriations Chairman Jerome Zeringue.
The bill also includes roughly $20 million in small local allocations Zeringue describes as infrastructure, drainage, and help for law enforcement and fire fighters. Some of the spending House members balked at on Wednesday remained in the bill while others were taken out and replaced with new spending allocations.
The House voted 87-13 to approve the changes made by the joint House and Senate conference committee and sent the bill to the governor’s desk. The Senate approved the bill 31-0.
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday afternoon declined to say whether he supported any or all of the local appropriations, saying, “There are some other things that we know to be really important and to be a priority for the state. If those things are in the bill, it’s certainly a whole lot easier to accept some of the other things that might be in the bill.”
Edwards can eliminate whichever spending allocations he chooses using the line-item veto.