- Associated Press - Monday, May 26, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Senators came in for late-afternoon Memorial Day meetings to work on rebalancing this year’s budget and clearing out some less controversial bills as Louisiana’s legislative session enters its final week.

The Senate Finance Committee made changes to this year’s $25 billion budget, passing a bill designed to fill current-year gaps in education programs and prison salary and benefits costs.

Members of the committee complained that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration dropped 11 pages of last-minute changes on them that totaled millions of dollars, but they went along with the proposals.

“You put this committee in a difficult position,” said Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, committee chairman. “Ninety amendments in a short period of time, it doesn’t work well for us.”

Lawmakers must wrap up their work by June 2.



The biggest item outstanding is the package of budget bills to close out the books on the current 2013-14 fiscal year and to set the spending plans for state agencies and services in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

But other issues remain.

Jindal pushed a half-dozen bills seeking to void a New Orleans area levee board lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies. The effort seems to have coalesced behind one Senate-backed measure by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, which awaits debate on the House floor.

Meanwhile, lawmakers who failed to persuade the education committees to keep Louisiana from using the Common Core standards are trying to find last-ditch ways to derail the standards.

Debates on hot-button issues such as raising Louisiana’s minimum wage, expanding the state Medicaid program and allowing the dispensing of medical marijuana have ended with each proposal rejected. Lawmakers also refused to enact new protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

As often happens in the final days of a legislative session, much of the attention is on dollars and cents.

Senators on the Finance Committee crafted their version of next year’s $25 billion budget on Sunday, with full Senate debate planned for Wednesday.

On Monday, the committee focused on rebalancing this year’s budget, which is short $75 million for Louisiana’s public schools, the state’s free college tuition program called TOPS and the costs of housing state prisoners in local jails.

A proposal to fill those gaps and reshuffle spending across state agencies to plug holes won passage from the committee, which sent the measure to the Senate floor without objection. At the urging of the administration, the committee agreed to move $18 million from prisoners’ health care to instead pay for salary and benefit costs across state prisons.

The attorney general’s office asked senators to reconsider a Jindal administration plan to take $4.6 million from a national mortgage settlement agreement and use it on state operating expenses.

First Assistant Attorney General Trey Phillips said the money was planned for insurance fraud lawsuits and assistance to homeowners fighting foreclosures. Representatives of several local legal aid organizations said redirecting the dollars would violate a federal court order governing the settlement.

Senators didn’t immediately make changes to address the concern.

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Online:

Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov

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