The 2022 regular legislative session gets underway Monday and what should citizens expect? Well, perhaps the best way to think about what’s ahead is to take a look back.
Even before Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed the recently-passed Congressional redistricting maps, the session was already shaping up to be an experience of déjà vu. Now it will be even more so.
Lawmakers spent much of February redrawing a variety of maps to align political districts to shifts in population. Now, with the governor’s veto, they will be revisiting the Congressional maps yet again, either through an attempt to override the veto with a two-thirds vote or pass it again with a simple majority.
But that’s not the only issue that will seem familiar to those who watch the Legislature. There are a number of high-profile, and sometimes controversial, bills from last year that will be front and center again this year. Among the topics:
- Gubernatorial emergency declarations
- Carrying concealed firearms without a permit
- Limiting sports participation by transgender athletes
- Critical Race Theory
- Social studies instruction
- Centralized sales tax collection
- Tax cuts
- Legislative spending controls
There are actually even more, but these are among the ones expected to dominate the legislative discussion. Some issues are a response to the governor’s veto of certain measures last year and the failure at the polls of a key tax reform measure. But others are simply repeats of debates on issues that didn’t pass in 2021.
Like last year, too, the Legislature finds itself with a boatload of money to spend – almost $3 billion dollars in non-recurring federal and state dollars and about a billion dollars in recurring new revenues that can be added to the operational budget.
From CABL’s perspective, the governor’s executive budget proposal does a good job of prioritizing a lot of that spending, ensuring non-recurring funds are used only for non-recurring purposes, but also targeting the revenues to areas of recognized need. Those include transportation, much-needed help for local water and sewer projects, teacher pay, early childhood education, higher education, and paying down some of the huge debt we owe the federal government from past hurricanes and COVID.
Of course, the Legislature will have its own ideas on where a lot of those funds should be targeted and that will be part of the debate, as well.
As far as new things, there are quite a few positive proposals in education. They include expanded school choice options, additional focus on literacy and computer science, expanding opportunities for high school students to earn college credits, and making it easier to transfer college courses between institutions. There is also an opportunity to build on some of last year’s success with tax reform.
Unfortunately, the tensions between Republicans and Democrats that were evident at the close of the redistricting session are likely to spill into the regular session with its much longer calendar and agenda of politically-charged bills.
Controversy is not unusual at the Legislature and a certain amount of that is to be expected. What we don’t need is the partisan warfare that we have recently seen in other states, and there are reasons to be hopeful. One is that we don’t seem to have the same level of legislation to limit things like voting and classroom instruction that dominated discussion elsewhere. It could happen, but so far there doesn’t seem to be the same appetite.
The other is that this year provides another almost unprecedented opportunity to make wise investments of billions of dollars for the wellbeing of our people and our state. For lawmakers who come to the Capitol because they want to make a difference in the lives of citizens, doing this right should be a top priority that overrides non-productive politics.
Rarely does a group of lawmakers have the opportunity to be a true game changer. In a perverse way, COVID has given this Legislature the chance to play that role. Our hope is that they will put unnecessary political distractions aside and seize this moment to help transform Louisiana in a positive way. It’s our success or failure at that which will be remembered. Not the other things.