Analyst warns of legislative distractions and session reaches halfway point

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Monday marks the halfway point for this year's legislative session. Although lawmakers are expected to focus almost entirely on budget and tax reform proposals, that hasn't been the case.

Political Analyst Jim Engster says a lot of side issues have become distractions. That includes a bill that would preserve all public military memorials, such as confederate monuments and a bill that would stop public universities from advertising "official" beers.

But Engster says the biggest distraction has been criminal justice reform.

A task force released a report in March, outlining problems with Louisiana's prison system - mainly that it's crowded, and costing too much money.

"Criminal justice reform up to this point, is one of the few areas where some democrats and republicans are in agreement," Engster said. "We've got too many people in prison, we've got the highest incarceration rate in America, and this is a way to thwart that. We'll see where it goes, but that's one that has a chance for some bipartisan flair, which is rare in these days at the captiol."

On Monday, the senate is set to debate a bill that would eliminate the death penalty, which would cut costs for drugs and legal appeals.

Engster believes these issues will eventually be overtaken by Louisiana's financial problems. He says legislators will face a billion dollar shortfall if they don't pass a resolution.

"They're considering some tax measures, taxes are always tough," Engster says. "Lawmakers don't like to hear that word, and the electorate likes to hear it even less."

Engster says another topic to keep an eye on is the gas tax.

Representative Steve Carter's bill would raise that tax by seventeen cents.

The additional revenue would be used for road upgrades to improve quality and traffic flow.

"It's the right thing to do," Carter said. "We've got problems. We've got problems in this state, and we've got tremendous problems in the Baton Rouge area. In fact, coming over here, I was stuck in traffic going both ways on I-10. So we've got to do something." 

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