Session kicks off with frustration in House committee

By Kaylee Poche / LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — Members of the House Ways and Means Committee were notably frustrated when they met Wednesday to begin the special session’s budget discussions, a conversation they have been having in some form for over two years.

However, not all of the 18 members were frustrated for the same reason, and the meeting quickly turned into an airing of grievances, some with Gov. John Bel Edwards and others with their own colleagues.

Several of the 11 Republicans on the committee, which must initiate tax and budget bills, told Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne they were upset that Edwards vetoed the budget passed by the Legislature that dealt with a $648 million shortfall solely through budget cuts.

While that budget would have fully funded health care priorities, it would have cut state agencies with 24 percent cuts across the board, slashed TOPS scholarships by 30 percent and left Louisiana as the only state without a food stamp program.

That bill was created by the Senate after the House did not approve any revenue-raising measures in an earlier special session and then passed a budget that would eliminated most of the state’s spending on health care.

Edwards, who has proposed extending a half-cent of sales tax set to expire this summer, said the House version of the bill could have forced hospitals and medical schools to close and prompted thousands of evictions of poor people from nursing homes.

Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, said she had viewed the final legislative budget as a framework to start the negotiating process in the special session.

“I was frustrated all weekend after the governor vetoed the budget,” Davis said. “I don’t think anyone was sleeping well during the whole process, and I don’t think we’re sleeping well now.”

“I feel like the governor has continually tried to throw the House under the bus,” she added.

Committee leaders said Wednesday that they need to learn more about the costs of any proposals and how they differ from previous ones before voting on any bills.

Other lawmakers, like Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City, worried that voting to r