La. governor faces hurdles in advancing legislative agenda with 2 weeks left in session

Published: May. 24, 2016 at 12:06 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Gov. John Bel Edwards' legislative agenda has faced many hurdles during the session, with many bills that he wants to see made law failing to make it to his desk.

"It's been kind of a mixed bag on that front. I think he's had a tough time with some of the signature pieces that were part of the campaign and part of the actual opening of the session," said Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana.

That includes SB 269, a bill that would raise the minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $8.50 by the start of 2018. The governor personally testified in support of the measure in front of the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations.

It narrowly advanced out of that committee, but has since been tied up in the Senate Finance Committee because it would impact the pay of some state workers.

Meanwhile, a House Committee effectively killed another bill on the governor's agenda last Thursday. SB 254 was aimed at closing the pay gap between men and women in Louisiana. Advocates for the bill, including the governor, said women on average make 65 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said that the delay is in part because of the clear political differences between the largely Republican legislature and the Democratic governor. However, he also indicated that delays on big pieces of legislation, like the minimum wage bill, are just part of the process.

"I always tell people, good bills take two, three years to pass. Bad ones pass the first time we see them. Sometimes you have to plant the ideas then they'll come about," Alario said.

Still, the governor has seen some successes, albeit with bills that are far more appealing to the conservative legislative body.

For example, the governor has already signed into law a bill he backed that extends the wait period for abortions from one to three days.

On Monday, lawmakers in the Senate gave final passage to an Edwards-backed bill that would prevent organizations that perform abortions from receiving public funds. HB 606 takes aim at a Planned Parenthood facility under construction in New Orleans where they may eventually perform abortions.

Erwin indicated that despite some of the defeats, there is still one very important possibility for success.

"I think when you talk about big accomplishments, it's kind of hard to see that right now. And I think for him hopefully the budget for him will be that big accomplishment, because it's the biggest issue," Erwin said.

However, with the state short an estimated $600 million for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, there is still a long way to go in negotiating how to balance the budget.

"The knuckle crunching comes at the end and we'll see how it wraps up then," Alario said.

The governor has repeatedly indicated his desire for a second special session to raise additional revenue and thereby reduce the shortfall.

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