The Louisiana Legislature returns for its 2020 Regular Session on Monday, kicking off three months of committee hearings, floor votes and partisan squabbles.
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State lawmakers have until June 1 to craft a budget for the coming fiscal year and enact new state laws. More than 1,100 bills have been filed so far.
Edwards will unveil his full legislative agenda in his State of the State address Monday on the House floor. Earlier this week, he gave a preview at the Press Club of Baton Rouge:
Governor Edwards is once again pushing for an increase to the state minimum wage. Right now, minimum wage workers in the state are paid the federally mandated $7.25 per hour. Edwards would like to see that raised to $9 an hour and he is backing a senate bill sponsored by New Orleans Democrat Troy Carter to do just that. This initiative has never gotten very far in the Republican-controlled legislature.
He’s also backing bills that would address the state’s widest-in-the-nation gender pay gap — on average, women in Louisiana earn 69 cents for every dollar a man earns in the same job. He’s advocating for a bill that would ban pay secrecy to close the gap.
Edwards is also backing a series of senate bills sponsored by Alexandria Democrat Jay Luneau. The bills would prohibit car insurance companies from raising a customer’s rates based on his or her age, credit score, marital status, or whether or not the customer is deployed for military service. The bills are Edwards’ answer to Republican calls for tort reform. The Democratic governor has said he is willing to compromise with conservative lawmakers to reduce the state’s sky-high car insurance premiums, but he’s wary of making changes that would hinder accident victims’s ability to sue insurance companies.
Republicans have staked out tort reform as their top priority for this spring. They say it’s the best way to reduce car insurance rates, so they’ve introduced what they are calling the Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2020. It’s nearly identical to a bill they pushed for last year.
Edwards criticized that bill last year, saying it wouldn’t do anything to reduce insurance rates, it was just a way to pump up profits for insurance companies.
The whole tort reform debate is likely to play out as a political tug-of-war between two of the state’s most powerful special interest groups — the business lobby and trial lawyers. Both groups were huge sources of campaign cash last fall.
Republicans have also shown interest in addressing the $14 billion backlog of state infrastructure projects. Though, in a regular session — when legislators can’t introduce new taxes — it’s unclear how they would pay for the transformational improvements they’re calling for.