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Today In The Louisiana Legislature: Caps on State Spending, Sports Betting And More

May 5, 2020

Louisiana lawmakers considered a wide range of bills in the first full day of committee hearings since they returned to the capitol.

Here's what stood out.

Caps on State Spending

State economists say Louisiana is going to be feeling the financial consequences of the coronavirus for a long time, but in the first days back at the capitol, the highest profile bills are aimed at reducing state spending even more.

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would cap state spending at 98 percent of expected revenue. The measure would not apply to the operating budget lawmakers are working on right now. But if it is approved and takes effect next year, it would cut about $200 million from the state’s budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Democrats on the committee said this measure would force even steeper cuts to state agencies that will be hit hard by the loss of state revenue from the coronavirus-induced economic downturn.

Rep. Rick Edmonds, the Baton Rouge Republican who sponsored the measure, brushed off those criticisms, saying that if the state had implemented a spending cap sooner, agencies would have enough savings on hand to stabilize their budgets.

Sports Betting

A pair of bills aimed at legalizing sports betting cleared a Senate Judiciary Committee today. SB 130 by Sen. Cameron Henry (R- Metairie) and SB 378 by Sen. Ronnie Johns would put the issue on the ballot this fall, letting voters decide parish-by-parish whether or not sports betting should be legal. They would have to wait until next year’s fiscal session to set up the regulatory framework and tax structure.

In 2018, gaming advocates used a similar tactic to legalize daily fantasy games in 47 of the state’s 64 parishes.

Efforts to expand gambling usually stoke up heated debate, but these measures sailed through committee. Last year an effort to legalize and regulate sports betting failed in the dramatic final minutes of the legislative session.

Landry Letter

Attorney General Jeff Landry is calling for Gov. John Bel Edwards to allow barbershops and salons to reopen ahead of schedule.

Landry wrote in a letter to the governor that the state’s “thousands” of licensed cosmetologists are struggling to make ends meet.

“They not only want to serve their clients, but also need to work in order to put food on their tables and provide for their children,” Landry wrote.

Last week, Landry requested that Edwards allow churches and houses of worship to reopen. On Friday, Edwards loosened the state’s social distancing measures, allowing restaurants to reopen patio dining areas and religious institutions to hold in-person worship services.

But Edwards stipulated that those services have to be held outdoors and restaurants must follow state directives on table spacing and the amount of contact restaurant staff can have with customers.

It is unclear how barbers and hairstylists could serve customers while maintaining a safe social distance.