House passes key compromise; lawmakers fear a third special session

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The legislature passed a compromise bill authored by Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, that would extend one-third of the fifth penny of state sales tax.

It would cover about $366 million of the $648 million fiscal cliff. The measure failed on Friday, and lawmakers applauded the bill's passage.

It is the first sales tax bill to come out of the House in two years, and it now heads to the Senate.

Despite the compromise, the debate that followed became heated as two political heavyweights read excerpts from the state's constitution at each other.

Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, offered his version of the budget immediately after.

"The time is now, members, for us to continue to move forward and build on the momentum that we have without any further delay," Leger said.

Although possible, it is unusual for bills to move through the legislative process in under six days. The special session ends in seven.

Appropriations chairman Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, has not filed a budget yet and had not put Leger's budget on the calendar for debate.

"We can delay further and play semantics with the constitution to force another special session, but I don't see how the people of the state benefit from that," Leger said.

Leger then tried an unusual motion to skip the appropriations committee and put his budget on the floor until an exasperated Henry scheduled Leger's budget for debate in appropriations Tuesday.

Henry said he did not want to author the bill until revenue had been raised so that lawmakers who did not want to vote for a tax extension, but compromised, would not have to vote also for budget cuts.

Leger and Henry disagreed about how much time was needed for public testimony on a budget, too.

Leger, along with most Democrats, argued that the budget had already passed through the legislative process and lawmakers did not need additional testimony to identify areas of need.

"I'm fairly confident we don't want to quickly spend 30 billion dollars," Henry retorted.

Leger said the legislature is running out of time.

"I think this is the way that we get through the process," Leger said. "I don't think another bill has time to get through the process."

Henry challenged the House to override the governor's veto of the regular session's budget, but that failed by 18 votes.

Leger and most Democrats voted against it.

Leger's budget is on the agenda for appropriations Tuesday. If it fails, there is no clear path to a budget without serious procedural efforts to speed the process.

The legislature is constitutionally obligated to pass a budget.

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