- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Efforts to raise Louisiana’s minimum wage and let school teachers carry guns to work appear jettisoned for the legislative session. Tougher restrictions on the payday lending industry and efforts to lessen marijuana penalties are on life support. And none of the major budget decisions have been settled.

The three-month legislative session has reached its halfway point with much of the controversy still ahead, as lawmakers took a long Easter break before settling in for the second-half stretch. Their work must end by June 2.

A handful of noncontroversial bills have reached Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk, including measures to reauthorize the corrections department and to toughen explosives regulations after millions of pounds of improperly-stored military propellant was discovered at Camp Minden.

Lawmakers are on track with previous sessions, where the biggest issues often get negotiated until the final days and budget decisions can get wrapped up in the last few hours.

“At the halfway point, I think we’re moving along very well,” said House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.

More than 1,900 bills were filed by lawmakers for consideration in the free-for-all session, in which legislators can tackle nearly any topic of interest - except taxes.

Proposals to ban anyone under the age of 18 in Louisiana from using tanning beds and from buying electronic cigarettes are speeding to final passage, while a bid to loosen helmet restrictions for motorcyclists quickly stalled.

Measures to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes await their first hearing, and the House on Monday debates whether to name the Bible as Louisiana’s official state book.

New abortion restrictions that would require doctors performing the procedure to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital easily cleared the House, despite criticism they would shut down three of Louisiana’s five abortion clinics. The bill awaits debate in the Senate.

Before they can wrap up their work, lawmakers must rebalance this year’s budget and craft a spending plan for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins July 1. That is proving tricky as the state continues to face financial gaps and limited revenue growth.

“We’re still struggling. We’re not over the hump yet,” said Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Jindal proposed a budget that would plug new dollars into education, health programs and state worker pay raises. He called it balanced and responsible, but House lawmakers say it’s built on shaky financing and packed with new spending they’re not sure the state can afford.

The Appropriations Committee intends to draw up its version of the budget plans by the end of the month, with full House debate set for May 8.

Looming over the discussion are worries about a House financial analysis that shows Jindal’s budget is balanced using $968 million in surplus, trust fund, tax amnesty and other patchwork dollars that won’t reappear a year later.

As a possible 2016 presidential campaign nears, the Republican governor’s agenda for the session is a light one, focused mainly on workforce training efforts to fill petrochemical and manufacturing jobs his administration has drawn to Louisiana.

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