BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Lawmakers resumed the 2020 regular legislative session on Monday, May 4, after temporarily adjourning in mid-March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We’ve taken extraordinary measures - all of us in here - to deal with this health crisis and it’s working,” House Speaker Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, told lawmakers when he gaveled in. "We see every day that it’s working, but now it’s time for us to take on the economic crisis threatening our very way of life.”
Legislators say they will prioritize bills related to COVID-19, the economy, and the budget. Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, asked their respective members to weed out bills that are not urgent.
Roughly one-third of the bills filed will actually be debated, they said. Cortez and Schexnayder said they still expect to hear a handful of bills that aim to lower Louisiana driver’s car insurance rates, a key goal lawmakers set before the pandemic.
“We do not return to this session filled with fear,” Schexnayder said. "We return to this session filled with optimism that we can accomplish whatever is in our way.”
Meanwhile, the House appropriations got a sobering outlook on the state’s economy post-pandemic from state economists. They say the Coronavirus pandemic is the worst economic event in Louisiana’s history.
“The second quarter of this calendar year is probably going to be horrible,” economist Greg Albrecht said. "The third quarter is probably going to be horrible.”
It’s unclear how the pandemic will impact the state’s budget, though economists expect Louisiana will miss out on hundreds of millions in revenue collections.
Lawmakers will practice social distancing and wear personal protective equipment during the session. Workers installed plexiglass barriers between seats in the House Thursday.
Committee hearings will be limited in length and spaced out over time to reduce the number of people in the capitol at one time. Floor debate will also be limited inside the full house and senate.
The legislature has until June 30 to pass a budget and other key bills needed to keep state government running, giving lawmakers roughly 28 working days to debate the 500 bills the leaders expect to hear.
It’s unclear what shape the state’s finances are in since the pandemic and plummeting oil prices crippled the state’s economy. Legislative leaders are already discussing the possibility of a special session in the fall.
The legislature paused session on March 16. Since then, a number of lawmakers announced they’ve been infected, including the Cortez and Baton Rouge Rep. Ted James.
Another member, first-year Rep. Reggie Bagala, died from COVID-19 complications earlier in April. His seat in the House is now decorated with a black bow and flowers.
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