BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - After his surprise election, Louisiana’s new House speaker was working Tuesday to piece together his leadership team, choices made more urgent by the state’s deep financial problems and a planned February special session aimed at closing the gaps.
Republican Taylor Barras spent much of his second day in office presiding over House briefings on the budget, ethics laws and public meeting regulations - and hearing from lawmakers about committee seats.
Barras said he hopes to have committee assignments for the House’s 104 other members decided within two weeks.
“I asked them this morning to get their preferences back to me by Monday. Hopefully, from that point on, mapping it out over the next seven to 10 days,” he said. “Certainly, before the end of the month - but I’m anticipating well before the end of the month - to have that finalized.”
The leadership and membership of the House’s subject matter committees can determine whether bills pass or fail, along with the speaker’s decisions about where to assign the legislation.
Traditionally, decisions about who will be speaker and which lawmakers will lead committees are worked out behind the scenes before the House formally elects its speaker when the new term begins. Usually, those decisions involve heavy influence from the governor.
But nothing about Barras’ election followed tradition.
The New Iberia lawmaker won the speaker’s race Monday in a rare, contested vote that rebuffed Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ pick, Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.
Barras emerged shortly before the vote as the candidate who could rally enough GOP support in the majority-Republican House. He hadn’t been campaigning for weeks, like Leger and Republican Rep. Cameron Henry, who stepped aside for Barras.
That leaves Barras scrambling to select committee chairmen, vice chairmen and members.
Because of the uncommon situation that promoted him to speaker, Barras said he hadn’t made the usual promises of committee chairmanships ahead of time.
“That’s the benefit I had of not knowing 48 hours ago that I was potentially going to be the speaker,” he said. “No, I’m actually starting with a clean slate. It’s kind of refreshing, actually, although it’s made for a long list of requests.”
Those decisions for the House budget and tax committees carry even more weight as Louisiana grapples with budget shortfalls and as Edwards plans a mid-February special session designed to make tax changes that raise more dollars for state government.
The new House speaker was meeting Tuesday evening with Edwards, the governor’s financial advisers and Senate President John Alario to talk about the state’s budget gaps and possible fixes.
Alario hasn’t officially announced his committee makeup, but senators indicated they knew their assignments and who will lead the chamber’s committees before the new terms began Monday.
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