BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A wooden shard pierces the ceiling of the Louisiana Senate chamber – a remnant of 1970 when a bomb went off in the chamber. Nearly half a century later, there was a figurative explosion, as the special session went off the rails.
On Monday night, state lawmakers called it quits after two weeks in Baton Rouge, going home without doing anything to address the state's budget crisis as frustrations boiled over.
Political analyst Clay Young says meltdowns and mud fights were not always a common feature of state government. "It was a lot different years ago, still toxic at times, but people at least could talk to one another," he said.
But now, even the political parties themselves are fractured. During the special session, that made gathering the votes to pass key tax bills extra difficult. Republicans in the Louisiana House have long splintered between moderates and conservatives. During this session, however, the Democrats somewhat splintered too as the House Black Caucus, a group of African American members, asserted its independence.
"The caucus that you would think would take direction from the governor is starting to fracture off from him some. We saw a similar reality with Governor Jindal, when Republicans were not in lockstep with everything he wanted," Young said.
On top of that, many lawmakers say there is simply no level of trust on the House floor. When things melted down on Sunday night, it was in part because Democrats and Republicans each did not trust members of the other party to support their preferred tax bill. Each side demanded theirs get a vote first. Republicans wanted a bill preserving a portion of the expiring penny of state sales tax, while Democrats wanted a bill removing an exemption to the income tax. Neither passed.
In that sort of environment, it's hard for deal-making to happen. "The level of acrimony and distrust is beyond anything that I've seen in the ten years I've been involved in state government," said Gov. John Bel Edwards during a press conference after the session concluded.
Starting Monday, March 12, lawmakers return to the capitol for another session. They have a long list of things to do, including passing a budget. Can they move past the bad blood?
"The feelings in this ran pretty deep. And I'm going to be praying honestly that we can bring healing to this situation," said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.
Every day lawmakers are at the state capitol, they receive a per diem payment. So far, none of the legislators have turned down their pay despite the session's outcome, according to spokespeople for both the House and the Senate.
Special sessions are estimated to cost anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 per day, with the per diems contributing heavily to that price tag. The exact cost of the special session will not be known for several weeks, as House and Senate workers tally up the bills.