La. lawmakers made a brief return to the capitol building due to COVID-19, budget still needs approval

La. lawmakers made a brief return to the capitol building due to COVID-19, budget still needs approval
(Source: Thomas, Rachael)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Inside the state capitol building, state lawmakers got back to work temporarily on Tuesday (March 31) due to a deadline they faced. The gathering of members of the House of Representatives and the state Senate came as deaths from COVID-19 spiked in the state.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, referenced the pandemic and its impact on the legislature at the beginning of the proceedings.

"You all know this has been trying for a lot of us,” Schexnayder said.

The brief conclave was intended to meet a deadline for introducing last-minute pieces of legislation. When the House convened 58 of its 105 members were present and they took steps to distance themselves from each other.

FOX 8 political analyst Mike Sherman assessed the short meeting of House and Senate members.

"This is probably the least exciting day in the recent history of the legislature but perhaps the most important considering the circumstances they met today on,” said Sherman.

The regular legislative session began March 9, but suspended soon after due to the novel coronavirus which became a pandemic. Though some legislators showed up for the bill introduction deadline, they did not make a full day of it, and legislative leaders intentionally did not set a specific return date after both chambers concluded the work at hand.

"That will give us the flexibility to determine the best time to be here, so we will once we get out we will have an open date and we will send out notices to everybody to let you know when we will return,” said Schexnayder.

But the regular session must end by June 1 and under state law a new budget must be approved in time for the fiscal year which begins the first day of July.

Sherman noted that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ stay-at-home order now stretches through April 30.

"Based upon the recent extension of our stay-at-home order from the governor the legislature would have very little time to work this year during the month of May before that all-important June 1 constitutional deadline; hopefully they get there, if not we're looking at another special session,” said Sherman.

And state lawmakers have other weighty issues to tackle during the current legislative session. Among other things, they must approve the Minimum Foundation Program or MFP, which sends dollars to local schools.

"The job of the legislature is absolutely critical to keep the state funded and operational,” Sherman said.

But legislative leaders said for now they have no choice but to take it a day at a time.

"Keep it open-ended until we see a clear path to come back,” said Schexnayder about when they will return to the state capitol.

Sherman said with a shorter window of time to get pressing state government business done, lawmakers could exhibit less partisanship.

"What we saw in Congress last week with the passage of the CARES Act hopefully is an example of what we’re going to see during that month of May when the legislature likely reconvenes which is a bipartisan spirit of cooperation. They’ve got to get a budget passed,” he said.

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