About the best that could be said of the annual legislative session that ended June 6 was that it made lawmakers feel almost as frustrated as the voters they represent. That's saying something.
Tensions between the House and Senate are at an all-time high, mostly because of the political brinkmanship played by House leaders. Those tensions have already spilled over into the special session, which began 30 minutes after the regular session ended.
The longest-running joke in the final days of the regular session was each legislator's answers to the question: How are you going to spend the 30 minutes of "free time" between the regular session ending and the next special session beginning?
I used that time to compile my annual (for more than 30 years now) recap of the legislative carnage, otherwise known as Da Winnas and Da Loozas.
Because lawmakers already are in special session — largely to repair the damage they inflicted earlier this year — the fate of some major players could soon change from "winna" to "looza" and vice-versa. With that caveat, let's begin with ...
1. Gov. John Bel Edwards — The guv lost some big fights (equal pay and minimum wage among them), but he won the most important battle of the session: the one for control of the state budget. What passed was not the budget he ultimately wants, but it is the one he can hold over lawmakers' heads in the special session. TOPS, higher education, public hospitals and other vital programs face horrific cuts, which puts lots of pressure on leges to increase revenues. Equally important for Edwards, House Republican leaders looked dazed and confused in their handling of the construction budget on the final day. On other fronts, Edwards backed the "Raise the Age" bill to put 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system and a "real" REAL ID bill, which will allow Louisianans to travel on domestic airlines in the future.
2. Business interests — The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) won by playing good defense, leading the charge to defeat the minimum wage and equal pay bills. Overall, LABI narrowed its focus and chose its battles wisely.
3. Gambling interests — Casinos and video poker interests avoided any tax hikes in both special sessions, and the video poker industry got all four of its key bills passed — proving once again that the house (as in the gambling house) always wins.
4. The cannabis industry — Passage of an expanded medical marijuana bill was a milestone for people battling serious medical conditions, but don't start ordering your gummy bears just yet. We're still a long way from Colorado.
5. Charter schools — Charter supporters beat back several major bills that would have restricted their foothold in the K-12 landscape. After winning those initial skirmishes, their opponents agreed to cease hostilities ... for now.
6. The Orleans Parish School Board — State-run Recovery School District schools in New Orleans will return to local control by 2019 at the latest, with some conditions. Charters will retain a measure of independence, so this was a "win" for both sides in New Orleans.
7. The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts — Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill to accelerate a final decision in a lawsuit that has tied up the Four Seasons Hotel project at the old World Trade Center site in New Orleans for more than a year. The bill helps not just the Four Seasons but also all public benefit corporations that lease public lands.
8. Anti-abortion activists/supporters — Louisiana now will restrict access to abortions by requiring a 72-hour waiting period. Several other bills restricting abortion rights also passed.
9. Physical therapists — Patients will now be able to get physical therapy directly, without first having to get a "referral" by their doctor.
10. The City of New Orleans — Defeating the so-called sanctuary cities bill and passing the Four Seasons bill ranked among the top priorities for Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city. Landrieu also got a four-bill package passed to finalize his deal with local firefighters to end decades of litigation. A bill to impede removal of Confederate-era monuments also was bottled up in a House committee, as was a bill to scuttle the city's "Hire NOLA" program.
11. LGBT people — The so-called Pastor Protection Bill (declaring that pastors don't have to perform same-sex marriages) died, which was perhaps the clearest sign of all that the Religious Right is no longer in charge.
12. Local indigent defender boards — They got a guaranteed (65 percent) slice of all state funds for indigent defendant representation in criminal trials. Critics say that could threaten the quality of defense efforts in capital cases, but it also will take a lot of pressure off local indigent defender boards and the local governments that fund them.
13. Immigrants — People who literally have no lobbyists nonetheless won a major victory when Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand and others helped beat back the so-called sanctuary cities bill.
14. Teachers — While K-12 education got whacked in the general budget, teachers won two key battles: They secured a one-year delay of accountability measures; and lawmakers reduced from 50 percent to 35 percent the portion of a teacher's evaluation that is based on performance measures.
Which brings us to ...
- Women were among the biggest losers in Louisiana's 2016 legislative session.
1. Women — The equal pay bill died an ignominious death in committee one day after some frat-house antics on the House floor garnered embarrassing international attention. A "joke" amendment on an anti-human trafficking bill (more on this below) signaled that Louisiana is still in the caveman era when it comes to treatment of women.
2. Public hospitals & health care — Without additional revenue, next year's budget cuts the Department of Health and Hospitals by more than $170 million.
3. Higher education & college students — TOPS was cut by more than 50 percent and direct state funding for colleges and universities also was cut by some $55 million, although that could change significantly after the special session. One bright spot: Lawmakers approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would confer "tuition freedom" on university systems if voters approve the concept.
- Attorney General Jeff Landry lost two battles: sanctuary cities and a bid to have a budget with out gubernatorial oversight.
4. Attorney General Jeff Landry — His GOP allies in the House tried to give him a separate budget, one not touchable by the governor, but Edwards and the Senate would have no part of that. Perhaps to teach him a lesson, his budget got put back into the general appropriations budget — with a trim. Landry also was on the losing side of the sanctuary cities fight.
5. The House GOP leadership — Regardless of the final budget outcome, it's clear the Republican leadership of the House is not completely in control. Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry got smacked down by his colleagues when he tried to push a budget that funded TOPS at the expense of public hospitals. For all his rants against Edwards, he still does not have a real alternative to the governor's proposed revenue increases. In the final days of the session, House leaders refused to take up the Capital Outlay Bill, even after a majority of House members (in an apparent snub of House Speaker Taylor Barras) voted to do so.
7. Environmentalists — Lawmakers killed measures to require fence-line monitoring by facilities that break state and federal environmental guidelines, and they killed a bill to prohibit open burning of munitions in Louisiana.
8. The "Caveman Caucus" — The House's male chauvinists have become political targets for women voters, including conservative women, for their frat-house antics during debate on a stripper minimum age bill. Rep. Kenneth Havard, R-Jackson, filed an amendment setting age and weight limits on strippers, saying it was a "joke" to highlight his opposition to "government overreach." Then, he voted for the bill as originally presented. A day later, he refused to apologize, which only made things worse. This fight is far from over, as Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, has gained traction with her digital "It's No Joke" movement. Watch out, boys.
9. Poor people — They always seem to lose, but only rarely does it happen in such a public manner as the defeat of a bill to raise the minimum wage.
10. K-12 education — For the first time in decades, lawmakers cut state aid for public elementary and secondary schools. The gains that teachers made elsewhere could be offset by pay cuts and layoffs in poorer school districts.
As is often the case, lawmakers performed down to low expectations.