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Wrapping Up in Baton Rouge 

Jeremy Alford's Top 5 policy issues that Louisiana legislators punted to next year's session

As state lawmakers entered their final weekend of the session, tensions ran high and confusion sometimes reigned. At one point, Sen. Bodi White, a Republican from Livingston Parish, misidentified all three of the Senate's African-American women. He did it with a slight country twang from behind the mic, chasing it with a few giggles upon being corrected.

  Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, didn't think it was funny. She took the mic next and explained who was who. "I know some people think we all look alike," Peterson said, before storming off. White, for his part, left the matter alone, not to be heard from again.

  Meanwhile, in the House, things got ugly over a proposed breakaway school district for southeast Baton Rouge — legislation sponsored by White. As the debate gave way to the final vote, Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, accused supporters of using House bills still pending in the Senate to hang over the heads of those straddling the fence.

  She said "threats" had been made to coerce lawmakers into voting for the measure — a serious accusation — but in the end, White's bill didn't have enough votes to pass. Despite Smith's melodrama, other opponents of the measure let the matter be, knowing the session would end soon. The proposal failed in a vote Friday.

  There are other issues, however, that lawmakers won't be able to just leave alone. These are issues that either were ignored by lawmakers this session or simply will demand more attention next year.

  Here are the top five legislative leftovers:

   Retirement — To help craft his proposed (but only partially successful) retirement reforms, Gov. Bobby Jindal paid $400,00 to Buck Consultants of New Jersey. The contract doesn't end until summer 2013, meaning Jindal may try again next year. So will the measure's opponents, especially if court challenges don't pan out.

   Vouchers — Free tuition at private schools for students at failing public schools was another cornerstone reform for Jindal. Opponents feared there wasn't enough accountability, and their fears proved well-founded when it was revealed that 315 vouchers went to a Ruston Bible school that has no classrooms, teachers or computers.

   One-time monies — It often takes a while to unravel the annual operating budget, but the issue of using one-time monies for recurring expenses is now a perennial dustup between the House and Senate. The House takes a hard line on the issue; the Senate is more flexible. "This is a discussion we're going to be having for years to come," said Senate Finance Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.

   Privatization — Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater opposed cuts to contracts and positions this year, arguing the reductions could stand in the way of Jindal's future privatization plans. As for what those might be, Rainwater was mum. Based on Jindal's proposals this year, "privatization" will be the administration's mantra for the rest of the governor's term.

   Taxes — Last fiscal year, Louisiana could have collected $10.8 billion in taxes. A wide range of exemptions kept collections to $6.5 billion. This was why some lawmakers were rankled by Jindal's push to give the New Orleans Hornets a $36.5 million tax break. They resolved to study the issue.

  It should be noted that the 2013 session will be "fiscal only" under the Louisiana Constitution.

  Things could change if Jindal becomes vice president. Some conservatives say he's worthy of Mitt Romney's nod. Some even say this year's session was Jindal's audition for the job. While some issues may change or tamper down a little, the governor's national ambitions will not. That's something that's always on his plate.

Jeremy Alford is a freelance journalist in Baton Rouge. Email him at jeremy@jeremyalford.com. Follow him on Twitter: @alfordwrites.

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