- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Latest on the special legislative session (all times local):

4:50 p.m.

The head of Louisiana’s social services department says cuts proposed for this year would leave her agency only able to investigate the most serious cases of child abuse.

The Department of Children and Family Services’ faces reductions of more than $15 million before the budget year ends June 30.

Department Secretary Marketa Garner Walters told the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday that her agency has taken such deep cuts in recent years that additional reductions would force her to furlough staff.

Those furloughs, Walters says, would hit every part of her department, including the food stamp, child protective services and foster care programs. She says that would lessen services.

In addition, she says she’d stop contracts for emergency preparedness, abortion alternatives and drug courts.

Lawmakers are weighing whether to raise taxes to offset cuts.

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2:30 p.m.

Lawmakers in the House have started sifting through Gov. John Bel Edwards’ tax proposals for the special legislative session.

The Ways and Means Committee started hearings Wednesday on individual tax bills, but took no votes.

Committee Chairman Neil Abramson, a New Orleans Democrat, says lawmakers want to discuss all the tax proposals and get the financial analysis of each before making decisions.

He expected the first tax votes later this week or early next week.

Among the proposals discussed would boost the cigarette tax from 86 cents per pack to $1.08, starting April 1.

Supporters say the tax hike would add more money to state coffers while also discouraging smoking.

Members of the committee expressed reticence about raising cigarette taxes again, after lawmakers just boosted the tax last year.

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11:30 a.m.

Louisiana’s state senators have agreed to use $328 million in patchwork financing to help fill gaps in this year’s budget, sending the proposals to the House for consideration.

The Senate voted 38-0 Wednesday for both measures, to tap into $128 million from the “rainy day” fund and to redirect $200 million in Gulf oil spill money to the operating budget.

With those votes, Senate President John Alario says the Senate has done all the work it can for now to help rebalance the budget, which has a gap ranging from $850 million to $950 million. The hole must be closed by June 30.

Tax increases and most budget bills must start in the House, which hasn’t yet voted on legislation sought by Gov. John Bel Edwards for the special session.

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