In a matter of 24-hours, the Legislature appears to have gone from a standstill to full steam ahead.
On Monday, lawmakers expressed concern that, with a week left in the special session, no one had introduced a budget bill. The task is typically left to the chairman of the House Appropriations committee, and midway through the special session, Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) finally delivered, introducing a state operating budget that funds 90% of the TOPS program, but cuts higher education by $26 million. That move concerns Rep. Patricia Smith (D-Baton Rouge).
"You can have the students all you want, but if you don’t have the places and the disciplines and the instructors - if you’re gonna reduce their funding then you’re actually working against TOPS," Smith said at a meeting of the House Appropriations committee Tuesday evening.
Henry’s proposal protects funding for nursing homes and safety net hospitals, but removes nearly $70 million in state general funds from the Louisiana Department of Health.
"Oh wow," urged Smith, "you’re really trying to put poor people out."
Representative Henry addressed critics, and said moving his budget out of committee is just the first step in the process.
"When the bill gets on to the floor I promise you there’s gonna be amendments to move things around as things go and that’s how the process works," he explained.
In total, five bills passed the House committee and are headed to the floor on Thursday, including a competing budget proposal from Speaker Pro Temp Walt Leger (D-New Orleans).
Henry also introduced three supplemental funding bills, which are contingent on money raised by the Legislature in this special session.
But despite the progress made on Tuesday, lawmakers are still facing a tight deadline to pass a budget by June 4th and avoid another special session.