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A Somber House Changes Budget Stance

courtesy: youtube
Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger

A somber mood dominated the Capitol Wednesday, following the early morning news that Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise had been shot.

Mike Walsworth of West Monroe updated his fellow senators on Scalise’s condition.

“Our former colleague, Steve Scalise – out of surgery, but in critical condition. He lost a lot -- a lot -- of blood. Such a tragedy.”

The U.S. House Majority Whip served in Louisiana’s House from 1995 through 2008, and then briefly in the state Senate prior to his election to Congress in 2008.

But with the clock ticking on the special session, Louisiana’s House still had business to do: the budget bill, HB 1. This, despite the fact that its author, Appropriations chairman Cameron Henry, who had left  for D.C. to be with his friend and mentor Scalise.

The totality of the circumstances undoubtedly had a dampening effect on the usually fiery divisions over HB 1, which had led to this special session.

During yesterday’s debate, Prairieville Republican Tony Bacala argued the committee-approved version, appropriating about $100-million less than the official revenue forecast, was a responsible compromise.

“If we quit trying to figure out what side wins and what side loses, and we just said let’s try to do what’s best for the state, holding back a little bit has great merit,” Bacala stated.

But Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, a Democrat, urged the House to amend the bill and appropriate the full amount available.

“We are not able to predict what’s going to happen from moment to moment,” Leger said.

He reminded the members of past hurricanes, last summer’s flooding, and the lamentable shooting of Scalise.

“We have a keen reminder of that this morning. And so, rather than tie our hands by not appropriating enough, it is wiser for us to appropriate what is available and we will have flexibility to address those challenges.”

The amendment was approved, 53 to 50, surprising the faction of the Republican delegation that was determined not to spend the full amount.

When it came time to vote on the bill itself, Appropriations vice-chair Franklin Foil (R-Baton Rouge), who was handling the bill for its author, Henry, said, “The bill in its current form now appropriates 100% of what REC is forecasting. This was not how I wanted to see this bill passed out, but I realize this is a process, so I’m going to move favorable passage at this time.”

It passed, 56-44.The Senate Finance Committee takes it up today.