Special Session Analysis: Leadership, division continue to be an issue in the La. House

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Lack of unity behind a single leader in the Louisiana House of Representatives may have played a role in drawing out negotiations in the waning hours of the special session.

A deal had been in the works for days and by the early afternoon on the last day of the session, lawmakers were growing frustrated.

"If all of this has been figured out since sometime yesterday, why are we still here?" asked Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.

In the Senate, President John Alario, R-Westwego, served as a unifying voice in negotiations. Under Alario's leadership, senators from both parties agreed to a deal many did not like. It involved using $99 million from the state's savings account to help clear up the $304 million shortfall. Some senators wanted to unlock the $119 million that the governor was calling for, whereas, others wanted to use less.

"He is always looking to see how to protect the state and how to protect the citizens," said Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans.

Meanwhile, across the hall, members of House leadership were giving mixed messages on what the deal was.

"There's some disagreement within their own leadership and that's one thing, they all need to sit in a room and try to work it out," Alario said.

Unlike in the Senate, the center of power was harder to identify in the House. The traditional House leader - Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, had reportedly agreed to the $99 million deal on the Rainy Day Fund.

However, fiscal hawks like Appropriations Chair Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, and GOP leader Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, balked. Each man represented a separate group of House Republicans who wanted less than the $99 million. Harris said members he was talking to would not accept a deal using more than $90 million in savings.

"The body is not designed to have one person speak for everyone like in the past," Henry said. "Everyone has a group of members that they speak to that say this is their concern."

And that lack of unity behind one leader may have proved problematic, potentially drawing out and complicating negotiations. Another factor: just hours before the vote, Barras would not publicly commit to actually supporting the deal he helped craft when he was asked about it on the House floor.

"Well, we have to get to that bill yet," Barras said before the full House membership. "That's not the bill we're talking about now."

Morrell said that is something that Alario would not do.

"It's always disheartening to me to watch things unfold in the House and see leadership negotiate deals they won't even vote for. And, I mean, their membership picks up on that and it's demoralizing," Morrell explained.

Barras reportedly said he would cast a 'yes' vote during a closed door meeting with Republicans later that afternoon. Even so, this sort of internal division could prove problematic come the regular session, when lawmakers look to take on arguably bigger projects, including tax and budget reform.

Lawmakers return to Baton Rouge for the regular session in April.

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