Lousiana legislative session begins

Published 11:57 pm Sunday, April 26, 2009

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Money will be the main thing on lawmakers’ minds as they return to the Louisiana Capitol on Monday: the shortage of it in next year’s budget and the amount some want to give away in tax breaks.

The nine-week legislative session begins with hundreds of millions of dollars in health care services and education programs on the chopping block and more than 200 tax break bills for businesses, homeowners, retirees and a slew of special causes.

Fiscal matters aren’t the only issues up for debate. Battles are expected over bills to revamp local school board governance, to allow concealed weapons on college campuses, to repeal the mandatory motorcycle helmet law, to ban cell phone use while driving and to require drug testing of welfare recipients, for example.

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House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, said he was surprised by the number of nonfinancial bills filed for the short session.

But legislative leaders say financial woes will be the overwhelming focal point.

‘‘The budget in a word, the budget. That in a nutshell is what the session is going to be about,’’ said Senate President Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan.

Louisiana’s coffers face multiple blows in the 2009-10 budget year that begins July 1, including a slowing of post-Hurricane Katrina recovery growth, the national recession and plummeting oil and gas prices.