Gov. John Bel Edwards kicked off the regular session Monday with a state-of-the-state address. He touted accomplishments from his first two years in office, such as chipping away at the backlog of infrastructure projects, a low unemployment rate and bipartisan criminal justice reform.
"Very soon, we will be able to say that we no longer lead the nation in imprisonment, and we have already exceeded our expected savings goal for the first year," he told members of both the House and Senate.
Looking ahead, Edwards outlined his priorities for this session. They include increasing opportunities for small businesses, raising Louisiana’s minimum wage, and implementing changes to how the state handles sexual harassment. He said he plans to do this by, "lifting the veil of secrecy by prohibiting employers from mandating forced arbitration, protecting the identity of individuals reporting instances of sexual harassment or discrimination from public disclosure, and requiring annual sexual harassment training for all public employees and elected officials.”
But much of the focus over the next three months will be on creating a budget for next fiscal year. In the special session, legislators were unable to reach a compromise on how to replace nearly $1 billion in revenue that's set to expire on June 30. So lawmakers will be forced to try and make nearly $700 million in cuts.
"To those that say we can cut our way out of this," urged Edwards, "it's your time to step up to the plate and make the specific cuts that you insist can and should be made. I think what many of you will find is that it is much harder than it seems because when you cut funding, you cut services that many people in this state rely upon."
Before this session even started, Edwards was already eyeing bringing it to an early end — making room for a second special session ending in June. That would give legislators one last crack at replacing some of the revenue that's expiring.