State lawmakers will consider dozens of controversial bills starting this week — amidst an unprecedented fiscal calamity and under the watch of a new governor
Louisiana's multi-billion-dollar budget hole and looming cuts to universities and hospitals will dominate the headlines during the regular legislative session that kicks off this week (Monday, March 14), but as usual there will be plenty of other hot-button issues in the marbled halls of the state Capitol.
More than 1,200 bills were prefiled by the March 4 deadline, including legislation to allow monkeys as service animals, to designate an official state butterfly and to let hunters wear "blaze pink" instead of just "hunter orange." On the more serious side, here are 12 bills to watch:
Allows anyone over 21 to carry a concealed handgun without a permit
Lawmakers are set to take up nearly two dozen bills involving handguns and concealed-carry rights during the regular session. One of the most sweeping pieces of legislation was filed by Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge. The bill would amend the state constitution to allow anyone over 21 to carry a concealed weapon without a permit unless they already were barred from carrying a weapon by law. This constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and voter approval statewide. Ivey also has filed HB 6, which would achieve the same result without amending the constitution. The latter measure would need only a majority vote from lawmakers — and the governor's signature.
Requires 10-day waiting period for gun purchases
On the other end of the gun regulation spectrum, Rep. John Bagneris, D-New Orleans, has filed a bill to impose a 10-day waiting period for purchasing a firearm. The penalty for violating the law would be a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 and imprisonment for one to five years. It faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled, NRA-friendly House.
Eliminates Tulane University scholarships awarded by legislators
Rep. Jerome "Dee" Richard, I-Thibodaux, is back with a bill to nix a long-running but controversial program that allows every lawmaker to give one student per year a Tulane University scholarship currently worth more than $40,000. Lawmakers have rejected similar bills in recent years.
Prohibits 'sanctuary cities'
Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, who is one of the most hard-right members of the Legislature, has set her sights on so-called "sanctuary cities" (like New Orleans) that have indicated they will not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Her legislation would withhold state dollars from any city that imposes any of a wide range of policies friendly to undocumented immigrants, including any measure that prevents law enforcement officers from asking individuals about their immigration status. With millions of state dollars at risk, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration figures to be among the loudest opponents of the bill. Moreover, Landrieu says the recent policy change merely complies with a federal court-ordered and supervised consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Prohibits felons from qualifying for or holding public office
Derrick Shepherd, a former Louisiana state legislator who served two years in prison for money laundering, qualified to run for the House last year but later was disqualified. Several months later, the Louisiana Supreme Court — on a technicality — overturned a provision in the state constitution barring felons from seeking state or local public office. HB 153 by Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, would once again bar felons from seeking public office. It's expected to breeze through the legislative process and be sent to voters in the fall for final approval. But that may not be the end of things, as Shepherd and others are expected to claim the new prohibition (assuming lawmakers and voters adopt it) cannot be applied "retroactively" to persons convicted of felonies before the latest amendment was put in place.
Bans automatic payroll deduction of union dues for public employees
Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, is reviving one of last year's biggest legislative fights with his bill to ban the voluntary deduction of union dues from the paychecks of public employees and charter school workers. The bill has long been a top issue for the state's business lobby, but opposition from teacher and police unions helped defeat the measure last year. Expect another heated debate this year in the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, which is majority Republican but chaired by a Democrat.
Extends the mandatory waiting period for an abortion
This bill by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, would extend the waiting period for women seeking an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours. Only four other states have 72-hour waiting periods for abortions. The legislation will start with a hearing in the House Health and Welfare Committee, which is chaired by Hoffmann. The committee is majority Republican and counts only two women among its 14 members, so it is likely to make it to the House floor.
Allows religious groups to snub same-sex marriage ceremonies
After abandoning his so-called "religious freedom" bill last year, Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, has filed a less-sweeping bill he has dubbed the "Pastor Protection Act." HB 597 would allow any religious organization or its employees to refuse to provide "services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges" for a marriage ceremony if doing so would cause the organization to violate a "sincerely held religious belief." The bill is likely to garner plenty of attention for Johnson, an attorney who recently announced a run for Louisiana's 4th Congressional District. The legislation has a better chance of passing than a similar bill introduced by Johnson last year, which would have applied to any private business.
Requires employers to give workers paid sick leave
SB 212 by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, would require employers with five or more full-time employees to provide paid sick leave for full-time workers. Smaller companies with fewer than five employees would be required at least to offer unpaid leave. Employees would earn one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked up to a maximum number of 52 hours of sick leave per year. Unused hours could be rolled over to the next year. If approved, the changes would begin Jan. 1, 2017, but the measure almost certainly will meet strong opposition from business groups.
Increases the state minimum wage to $8 an hour
It's become an annual tradition for the Louisiana Legislature to debate and reject any increase to the state's minimum wage. Despite that track record, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, is poised to make another attempt this year. Her SB 269 would increase the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $8 an hour beginning Jan. 1, 2017. The minimum wage would rise to $8.50 an hour in 2018. The measure will have the support of a governor for the first time in eight years, as Gov. John Bel Edwards touted raising the minimum wage on the campaign trail last fall. It's unclear whether his backing will be enough to get the legislation through a Republican-controlled House and Senate. Newly elected Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, also has SB 347, which would repeal restrictions that prevent local governments from passing laws related to minimum wage or vacation and sick leave days.
Expands medical marijuana law
Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, took a baby step toward marijuana reform last year when he pushed through a narrow medical marijuana law through the Legislature. This year, Mills' SB 271 would expand the list of ailments eligible for marijuana prescriptions to include cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and several other chronic conditions. The current law only allows for marijuana prescriptions for glaucoma, chemotherapy cancer treatment and spastic quadriplegia. Another bill proposed by Mills, SB 180, would let medical marijuana patients from other states legally possess the substance in Louisiana as long as it was in a form allowed under the current state law. As in the past, Mills may have to overcome the opposition of the state's sheriffs and district attorneys for the legislation to pass.
Adds sexual orientation and gender identity to discrimination laws
SB332 by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, adds sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the state's anti-discrimination laws. It also adds age, sex or disability in other provisions of the law that fail to mention those already protected classes. The bill would also repeal an obscure portion of state law allowing the attorney general to file suit to revoke a company's business license for "unlawful activity aimed at organized homosexuality." Similar LGBT anti-discrimination measures have failed in recent years and have been opposed by the Louisiana Family Forum.
3 More to Watch
HB 94 by Rep. Jack Montoucet, R-Crowley, would allow the use of monkeys as "service animals."
HB 183 by Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, would provide for the authority of the attorney general to intervene in officer-involved incidents which cause serious bodily injury or death to another individual.
'BAN THE BOX'
HB 231 by Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, would create the "Ban the Box for State Contracts Act" which would prohibit certain contractors from inquiring about a job applicant's criminal history on a job application.