Special session without Senate support

Published 12:12 am Saturday, October 27, 2012

BATON ROUGE (AP) — An attempt has failed to get lawmakers into special session to consider reversing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent cuts to health care programs and a state prison. State senators blocked the effort, and the lawmaker leading the charge could not meet a Friday deadline to garner enough votes.

Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard, an independent from Thibodaux, needed 13 senators to sign onto supporting the idea, the threshold for triggering a mail-in balloting of the Legislature. He fell short of the benchmark in the time required to pull together a November special session.

Only nine senators signed the petition, said Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, who had been handling the effort in the Senate.

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“I do not expect to reach the 13,” he said. “Certainly my colleagues examined every possibility and determined on their own what was best for their district and what they believed was best for the state.”

Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, joined Jindal in opposing the effort, saying it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars for lawmakers to return to Baton Rouge without a concrete plan for how they would rebalance the $25 billion budget if they reversed the governor’s cuts.

Richard had more than enough supporters in the House to force a vote on the 15-day session, filing petitions from 39 House members earlier this week, despite opposition from House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, a Jindal ally.

But his attempt to call a special session was always a long-shot effort.

The Legislature has called itself into session only once since the modern state constitution was enacted nearly four decades ago, for the required task of redistricting and only then with the support of the governor.

“A majority of legislators didn’t feel like a special session was appropriate at this time, and we agree with them,” Jindal said in a statement.

Supporters of the special session were frustrated that Jindal has shuttered a state prison in Calcasieu Parish, announced closure of a state-run psychiatric hospital in St. Tammany Parish and made deep cuts to the LSU-run public hospital system across the state — all without legislative input.

However, several lawmakers said while they thought Jindal mishandled the cuts, they questioned the worth of a special session without an alternate plan and they questioned if enough lawmakers could agree on different budget slashing to meet a veto-proof two-thirds majority of support.

Nevers said some senators didn’t believe they had enough information about what budget changes were being proposed, some were concerned about the cost of a special session and others wanted more items included than the limited agenda floated by Richard.

The cuts came after lawmakers wrapped up their work on the budget for the current fiscal year. Since then, Jindal has slashed spending by hundreds of millions of dollars, largely in response to a drop in federal Medicaid funding after lawmakers went home.

Senators who signed the petition supporting a special session, according to Senate spokeswoman Brenda Hodge, were: Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte; Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans; Dale Erdey, R-Livingston; Ed Murray, D-New Orleans; Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville; Rick Gallot, D-Ruston; Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge; and Nevers.