La. lawmakers call special session on COVID-19 restrictions, unemployment, spending

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BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — Louisiana legislators will return to the State Capitol this fall for their second extraordinary session of 2020, tackling residual effects of the year’s health and weather emergencies.

State House and Senate leaders Monday released their priority list for the 30-day special session, which will start Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. Lawmakers will address the state’s thinning unemployment trust fund, local government deficits and Hurricane Laura relief — plus the power balances between the majority-Republican Legislature and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

“No one could have predicted or planned for the health, economic and natural disaster devastation that 2020 has brought to our state and citizens,” House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales) said in a statement Monday. “A special session is needed to address unforeseen problems related to the in-person education of our children and their return to extracurricular activities, the survival of our economy and the opening up of business, and the recovery of the areas of our state devastated by Hurricane Laura.”

Lawmakers will remedies for the state’s unemployment trust fund, which drained after the COVID-19 pandemic left some 350,000 Louisianians jobless. The fund’s balance has fallen from $1.1 billion to about $85 million since March. Failure to keep the pool above $100 million would prompt the state to borrow federal dollars — which could raise business tax burdens and slice weekly maximum payments to $221.

House and Senate members will also seek to cushion revenue streams for city and parish governments, which have also dissolved amid the outbreak. The state’s audit office projected Monday that the state’s local bodies face a projected $800 million revenue shortfall.

Another agenda item is K-12 funding, after Hurricane Laura damaged schools and displaced students from the Lake Charles area in late August.

Legislators are also set to consider limits on how a governor can respond to emergencies. Republican lawmakers claim that since the state’s first known COVID-19 case in March, Edwards’ virus mitigation measures have left businesses hurting.

“A significant number of House members have also asked to address the continued proclamations issued by the Governor during the pandemic and what many see as an imbalance of power,” Schexnayder said. “This special session will not end without a solution to this problem.”

Edwards has defended his executive measures as aligned with medical advice, including from the White House’s coronavirus task force.

“To abandon these efforts in defiance of the unanimous advice of the public health experts and the Trump administration would seriously jeopardize the lives of our people and the gains we have made,” the governor said in a statement Monday evening.

The idea of Louisiana lawmakers calling themselves into a special session was rare until this year. Only once had they done it — in 1954. They have done it twice in 2020, as of Monday.

Minutes after the Legislature’s latest call, Edwards questioned whether House and Senate members could fulfill their 70-item wishlist.

“I am hopeful that the Legislative leadership will significantly narrow the scope and the duration of this session so that they can do the work they deem necessary, while at the same time working in a bipartisan and cooperative manner to address our significant challenges in an honest and transparent manner,” the governor said. “Louisianans have come too far to have all of our effective and life-saving work upended.”

The 30-day session must end no later than October 27 at 6 p.m.

Read the Louisiana Legislature’s official special session proclamation here.

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