BATON ROUGE -- The 2021 fiscal year spending plan remained uncompleted less than 24 hours before the FY 2020 expires, but lawmakers on Monday worked behind closed doors on final details, while a few other measures gained final approval.
The $34 million budget set to begin July 1, but Democrats remained at odds with the majority Republican House and Senate on tax breaks that would require cuts to education, healthcare and other services.
The GOP has argued that the cuts to private business – including the oil industry and large casinos – would jumpstart the state economy. The combination of plunging oil prices and a pandemic brought the state from a projected $500 million to a deficit that could go as high as $800 million, according to forecasts the Revenue Estimating Conference released in May.
Democrats managed a victory through the approval of legislation that would dole out $250 payments to front-line workers who remained on the job during the COVID-19 quarantine.
Through the program, the state would issue checks for up to 200,000 workers on a “first come, first served” basis. Eligible recipients would include bus drivers, EMS employees, grocery store personnel, healthcare employees and nursing home workers.
To meet eligibility, the workers must have worked at least 200 hours between March 22 and May 14 and must not earn more than $50,000 annually. They must be included among “essential critical infrastructure” who worked away from home.
Republicans were near victory Monday on legislation that would reduce insurance premiums by reducing the monetary settlements victims could receive in litigation. Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed one version of the bill earlier this month, but GOP lawmakers – including House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales – have put forth revised bill in hopes to bring it to law this year.
Proponents of the bill, including state Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, have claimed that the legislation – also known as “tort reform” – would bring down insurance premiums for thousands of motorists across Louisiana, whose monthly payments are the second highest in the nation, only behind Michigan.
Democratic lawmakers, including Chad Brown of Plaquemine and Jeremy LaCombe of Fordoche, have argued that the bill is unfair to accident victims who could be left to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for injuries and other damages. They have also argued that it does not guarantee lower premiums.
Republicans were in the final stage Monday on legislation by first-year Rep. Buddy Mincey of Denham Springs, a former Livingston Parish School Board president that would block people from suing school systems for exposure to coronavirus. Plaintiffs would have to claim “grossly negligent or wanton or reckless misconduct” to sue for damages.
It would be retroactive to March 11, and would apply to public and private schools in grades K-12, along with charter schools, private colleges and universities.