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2.9.21 – Houma Today

 Here’s what to expect. Jeremy Alford. LaPolitics. The regular legislative session that convenes April 12 will mark a return to some sense of normalcy for Louisiana legislators.

Last year representatives and senators were forced to shelve many of their closely held issues to make room for pandemic policymaking. A pile of local bills and pet projects were paused or intentionally overlooked as lawmakers transitioned to topics like unemployment, direct financial assistance and liability, to name a few.  

Now lawmakers can file legislation on any subject they choose, within certain guidelines. This year’s session is fiscal in nature, held during odd-numbered years, which means the Legislature is permitted to debate tax-related issues. As such, lawmakers can only file five non-fiscal bills during the regular session.

Due to the decrease in the passage rate in 2020, those five non-fiscal bills are a hot commodity this year. Lobbyists and associations were scrambling in January to get lawmakers to file bills on their behalf.https://be4678f8e487ac4e6b0a8f12c0110df0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Lawmakers, however, have their own bills that have been on hold for a year, and they’re hearing similar requests from local officials back home.

More:Houma lawmaker signs redistricting reform pledge. Here’s why it matters

But that doesn’t mean the 2021 regular session won’t be defined by the same issues that colored the 2020 regular session. Opposition to COVID-19 restrictions, for starters, will likely surface again. Conservatives are still eager to see lawmakers — particularly senators — sign a petition to overturn the governor’s executive orders.https://be4678f8e487ac4e6b0a8f12c0110df0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

The House has already traveled that path, and there’s pending litigation to prove as much. The Senate, however, stayed neutral. In an effort to change that, Citizens for a New Louisiana distributed mail and other political literature last week urging voters to contact Senate President Page Cortez to “circulate the petition to reopen Louisiana’s economy. He only needs 19 senators to sign on.”

For now, lawmakers seem to be more interested in whether Congress will pass a COVID-19 relief bill with local and state funding in time for the regular session. If so, any resulting federal dollars could be plugged into the state budget during the normal appropriations process. We should know later this month or in early March what that federal timeline looks like.

Legislators will also follow up on the work of various task forces created in 2020 to help guide the 2021 regular session. The House and Senate have been sent reports on police practices and a proposed centralized sales tax system, among other findings, so you can expect bills on those topics.

More:Will Legislature consider gas tax to save Louisiana’s roads and bridges and build new ones?

If you want to know how other issues are shaping up, just look to the committee level. For instance, the committees with jurisdiction over natural resources and governmental affairs are conducting hearings into and staking out positions on the White House’s energy policies and the voting machine contracts that are required for future Louisiana elections. 

As for health care, Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Fred Mills said he expects his committee to handle a few high-profile proposals during the regular session regarding scope of practice, telemedicine, water management and the state’s growing Medicaid program.

During an appearance last week on the “Sounds of Session” podcast, produced by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Mills noted that COVID-19 brought with it several emergency orders that relaxed practice standards for physicians, physician assistants, licensed practical nurses and nurses. 

“Right now, we’re giving them blanket authority to do certain things,” Mills said. “I think these professionals, especially nurses and physician assistants, are going to come back to the Legislature and say, ‘Listen, you gave me more authority to do certain things right now, it has worked and now we need to legislatively do that,’ meaning expanding their scope of practices.” 

Telemedicine is another issue Mills expects his committee to consider. While there are already laws in place regulating the practice, the chairman said there could be proposed changes to make it more accessible and to address payment issues. The latter topic — payment parity for physicians — could create a “tug of war between the insurance industry and providers and hospitals,” Mills added. 

Then there’s water management, which Mills described as a long-term policy area that needs some attention and money, especially since some systems run by smaller towns suffer from poor engineering reviews. While legislation is still being drafted, Mills said he’s interested in hearing system consolidation ideas and developing some kind of a reportable rating formula for system-level water quality and management. “We can all understand an ‘F’ grade,” said Mills. “We can’t all understand these chemical levels and what they’re supposed to mean.”

As of Tuesday morning, lawmakers had filed roughly a dozen bills, with hundreds more to follow. Last year, the House was responsible for introducing 871 bills and the Senate kicked in 518. Let’s just hope a two-month session will be long enough to satisfy both the voids left by last year’s policymaking decisions and the demands of this politically important year, which is only beginning to take shape.

— Jeremy Alford is publisher-editor of LaPolitics.com and LaPolitics Weekly. Email him at JJA@LaPolitics.com.