BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The Louisiana legislature wrapped up its work for the year by passing the state’s operating budget in the final minutes of the session.

The final version of the bill was brought up to both chambers with just moments left in the session. Republican leadership in the House and Senate had different plans on how to spend the $2 billion in surplus the state has. 

There was a flurry of confusion about what did and did not end up in the bills that were finally released with 30 minutes left in the session. A faction of House Republicans challenged the changes saying it wasn’t enough time to vet.

“Those legislators were saying that most of them that think I would think told you that sit on the Appropriations Committee. So if they didn’t know what was in those bills, shame on them for not being able to show up to committee and be able to look at those bills,” said Speaker Clay Schexnayder.

Included in the bill is a $2,000 teacher pay raise and a $1,000 pay raise for support staff. But the way the procedure shook out, it is just temporary and BESE will have to approve it next year to be made permanent in the MFP.

“I’m happy with most of the work that was done in the session. It wasn’t easy, quite frankly. It really is. And we make it much harder than it needs to be,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

There was a last minute reduction of $100 million to the Department of Health and it is not clear what programs will be impacted by that change. The governor said he and LDH were not consulted on those changes.

The budget had been a point of contention between the House and Senate as two different plans emerged from each chamber. Conservative leaders in the House rewrote the governor’s proposed budget with some key changes. It focused on paying down teacher retirement debt to keep the state’s spending below the constitutional spending cap.

That plan was scrutinized for taking out the statewide teacher pay raises. It also did not backfill the lost federal funding for early childhood education as well as reduce spending on coastal projects, construction, and other parts of the governor’s priorities.

The Senate released a different plan after the Revenue Estimating Conference recognized even more surplus money to be spent. Senators put back the teacher pay raises and put all local projects, funding hospitals, and other state needs “below the line” which put pressure on representatives to pass the spending cap resolution in order to fund those projects.

Outside the budget, the legislative session has been rife with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that has stolen the spotlight. Sitting on the governor’s desk are the state’s version of the Don’t Say Gay bill, a ban on gender-affirming care for minors, and a bill that would prohibit using a student’s preferred pronouns and name without parental permission. Edwards said he plans to veto them. 

“On those issues, the judgment of history, I believe, will be very clear. It will be as clear as the judgment of history has been on those who didn’t want civil rights in the fifties, for example. But I’m not going to wait until then to say it’s wrong. My judgment today is that those bills are wrong,” Edwards said.

The governor also commented on the Supreme Court’s ruling against Alabama’s redistricting maps they say were discriminatory to Black voters. Louisiana’s maps passed last year could be in jeopardy.

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