Session Scorecard: What's gotten done at the La. State Capitol?

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The to-do list for the 2017 Legislative Session was a long one, with plenty of big ticket items. With one week to go, lawmakers have failed to accomplish some key goals.

Overall, from the House to the Senate, several legislators are frustrated.

"I'd say we haven't been very successful," said Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge.

Long-time lawmaker, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said he was disappointed by what was left undone.

"I'd probably give it a B, because I'm just not happy we weren't able to achieve the A that we should be trying to get," Alario explained.

Tax Reform

Last year, lawmakers pointed to 2017 as the time for tax reform. That, however, proved to be a failure.

From the outset, almost all legislators agreed the state's tax system is broken.

For the better part of a year, a non-partisan task force studied best practices for how to overhaul the system. The governor turned many of the task force recommendations into tax bills for the session.

"They were presented and they were passed over, they were presented and then they were voted down," said Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge.

Despite the months of study by that panel, some Republicans said reform was too overwhelming a task for one session.

"It is very complicated, and for a lot of members, it is very scary simply because of the fact they don't understand. That's why they hire CPAs," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.

Henry noted that a key part of the governor's tax plan was not part of the task force recommendations: the Commercial Activity Tax. That proposal, he said, caught many off guard when it was filed more than a week into the session.

"You have to have both sides of this house and the executive branch to be able to work together. Right now, it's not happening," said Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.

Schexnayder says a constitutional conventional would be needed to do true reform.

However, some Democrats chalked the failure of the governor's reform bills up to partisan politics, with a Republican legislature blocking a Democratic governor's reform proposals.

Fiscal Cliff

Louisiana is fast-approaching a fiscal cliff estimated to top more than $1 billion. Even so, lawmakers have done very little to address it.

The cliff would come starting in fiscal year 2018-2019, when many of the temporary tax measures put in place during the 2016 special session will fall off the books. That sort of shortfall could mean deep cuts to many state programs.

"I don't think members felt an urgency to deal with," said Henry.

Lawmakers from both parties admit a special session will be required to address this issue sometime either this fall or early in 2018.

Criminal Justice Reform

Bills aimed at cutting back on Louisiana's top-ranked incarceration rate are on the move at the capitol.

The bills would enact a laundry list of reforms, including reducing mandatory minimum sentences for certain offenses like drug crimes, reducing how long convicts must be behind bars before they can get access to parole, and reducing the "cleansing period" for nonviolent habitual offenders.

"It's going to have a great impact on the budget, a great impact on our social needs and families and bringing our people together, so that's very positive," said Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe.

The proposed reforms are based on ideas from a task force which met over the last year to iron out ways of reining in the prison population and reducing
the costs of corrections.

Louisiana has the highest imprisonment rate across the country. Out of every 100,000 residents, 816 are in prison, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice. That's nearly double the national average.

Police Reform

In light of the Alton Sterling shooting, bills aimed at reforming police practices have seen success at the capitol. Two are currently waiting for their final votes.
A bill by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, mandates 400 hours of basic training and 20 additional hours each year for all police officers. BRPD already exceeds those totals, according to the head of the Baton Rouge Union of Police.

Another bill creates a statewide database of disciplinary action taken against police officers. The database would allow law enforcement leaders to track bad officers.


Lawmakers are still wrestling with the state budget, meaning it gets an incomplete on the scorecard. The sticking point is whether to leave some money on the table.

In the budget plan passed by the House, lawmakers set aside about $200 million, with the hope of avoiding a midyear shortfall. However, the governor and the Senate committee believed keeping that money off the table would lead to the ending of key programs.

The governor referred to the House plan as a "non-starter" and threatened to veto such a proposal.

The Senate panel's plan instead spends all of that money. It also sets money aside for $80 million in left-over expenses from the current fiscal year. Those remaining bills were not accounted for in the House budget plan, according to Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte. Legislators have until next Thursday to reach a compromise on the state budget, or they will be forced to stay at the state capitol for a special session.

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