La. House passes state budget bill, sends HB 1 to Senate

La. House passes state budget bill, sends HB 1 to Senate

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The state's partnership hospitals took priority over TOPS scholarships in a budget plan that was advanced by the La. House Friday.

With a vote of 82-17, the House of Representatives passed HB 1 for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The plan includes a $72 million cut to TOPS and moves that money to the state partnership hospitals which treat the uninsured, including Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge.

"For this session, at this time, the priority is our healthcare and our hospitals takes precedence over TOPS. We're going to fund TOPS, maybe not at level some in this chamber want, but it's not going away. The hospitals on the other hand might," said Rep. Robert Shadoin, R-Ruston.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Hospitals said that HB 1 in its current form would allow the hospitals to be funded at a level matching the governor's original request. As a result, hospitals would no longer run the risk of being shut down.

The budget takes into account the state's $600 million shortfall for the fiscal year starting July 1. On Thursday, the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) decided that the money coming into state coffers will likely not be any greater than an estimate from earlier this year.

"I know it's not in a perfect order that we would like it to be in, many of us have concerns about many different parts of it," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who sponsored HB 1 and chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

The plan which Henry originally brought to the floor fully funded TOPS and left the hospitals short. That plan, which advanced through House Appropriations on Monday, featured an across the board cut to all of the partner hospitals. Shreveport's partnership hospital would have received a 40 percent cut to funding, while Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge would see an 8 percent reduction in state funding.

Speaking on the House floor Thursday, DHH Secretary Rebekah Gee called those cuts "draconian" and said they could lead to all LSU doctor residency programs closing.

On Thursday night, House lawmakers passed an amendment moving $72 million from TOPS to the hospitals. Sponsored by Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, that amendment advanced with a narrow vote of 49-43.

The amendment, which would cut about 25 percent of the TOPS budget, was met with criticism. Henry said it could cost approximately 13,000 students their scholarships.

Still, on Friday, the House shot down an effort to split the difference. Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, brought an amendment that would give $36 million back to TOPS. That measure failed with a vote of 42-57.

"TOPS is no more important that the hospitals that treat thousands and thousands of our Louisiana citizens," said Jackson on Friday, while pointing out that cutting money from hospital funding could serve as a double whammy because of the loss of federal match money. "For every state dollar you take away, its correct that we take away federal dollars that we cannot receive."

Morris defended his idea, saying that it is not "political to do what a majority of your district wants."

Other amendments to the education budget also failed Friday.

Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, attempted to move more than $40 million from TOPS to the LSU medical schools in New Orleans and Shreveport. That measure failed with a vote of 49-45.

An amendment by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, that would have move $2 million from school vouchers to GO grants, also failed.

Gov. John Bel Edwards released the following statement after the House passed the bill:

"I appreciate the hard work done by the House of Representatives to pass a budget today. I remain committed to working with legislators to allocate all available resources in a way that responsibly funds the public-private partner hospitals, TOPS, and all critical services, such as the NOW and Children's Choice waivers. It is my hope that we can continue to work together during the next special session to explore revenue options that would allow us to fully fund TOPS next year, as well as the life-saving services that the citizens of Louisiana rely on us to protect."

The budget now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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