Senate, House balk at each other’s changes; sports betting, kindergarten, others sent to conference

Rep. Julie Emerson
Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro Photo by Travis Gauthier

With just 55 hours remaining before Thursday’s 6 p.m. deadline for this session, the Senate in short order Tuesday morning duly and unanimously rejected the House-amended versions of the sports betting and mandatory kindergarten bills at the request of their authors.

Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, is co-author of SB247, which establishes the mechanism for regulating sports betting. He urged the Senate to reject the House’s amendments, three from committee and two added on the floor, “until we get things in order.” 

The House passed its amended version of Cortez’s bill last Thursday, 78-15.

A few minutes earlier, Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, called on the Senate to reject the House amendments to his SB10, which lowers the age for mandatory kindergarten from 7 to 5. The House had amended the bill on the floor to change the cutoff date for the fifth birthday of a child entering kindergarten from Sept. 30 to March 31.

“It had the unintended consequence of locking out half the kids we intended to address,” Fields complained. The amended bill passed the House last Thursday 60-36.

The vote against concurrence on both bills was 34-0.

The House, meanwhile, rejected Senate amendments on several contentious measures Tuesday, including HB7 by Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman, providing a sales tax exemption for feminine hygiene products and diapers. Freeman moved to reject the Senate amendments, but a surprisingly large number of her colleagues appeared satisfied with the amendments. The vote to reject them was 51-43.

The Lafayette House delegation was split. Republican Jean-Paul Coussan joined Democrats Marcus Bryant and Vincent Pierre in voting to reject; Republicans Beau Beaullieu, Stuart Bishop, Julie Emerson and Jonathan Goudeau voted against rejection. 

The House also refused Tuesday afternoon to agree to the Senate amendments to Emerson’s HB423, which would require hospitals to submit quarterly reports about treatments for abortion complications to the Louisiana Department of Health and the attorney general. 

“We haven’t worked this thing out,” Emerson told the House and moved to reject a floor amendment by Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, requiring that the reports include the names and addresses of the abortion clinics and hospitals and the nature of the complication treated. The vote to reject the amendments was 78-18, reflecting the continuing opposition of abortion-rights advocates in the House. 

Among the Lafayette delegation, Beaullieu, Coussan and Goudeau joined Emerson in voting to reject, Pierre voted nay and Bishop and Bryant abstained. The Senate passed the amended version just the day before, 37-1.

Also rejected, 66-33, were Senate amendments to HB498 by Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, which is designed to ban discrimination by the state government or officials against citizens “on the basis of vaccination or immunity status.” It was amended twice by Senate Judiciary Committee A and twice on the floor before it passed the Senate Monday 26-10.

Beaullieu, Coussan, Emerson and Goudeau voted to reject, Bryant and Pierre voted against rejection and Bishop was recorded as absent—as was Speaker Clay Schexnayder.

Voting to concur on amended bills occupied both houses almost all day Tuesday after they both went into session at 10 a.m. There were 67 bills scheduled for concurrence on the House order of business and 30 on the Senate digest. Most were quickly agreed to with few or no nay votes.

Rejecting amendments with three days left in a session is a gamble, somewhat like an onside kick in football. The authors are gambling that there will be time for the House speaker and Senate president to appoint three conferees each to a conference committee; that the committee, often working over lunch or by midnight oil, can agree on a compromise version quickly; and that each house has the time to give the conference report final approval.

At 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Cortez began receiving messages from the House about the bills requiring conference committees and started appointing conferees. When the Senate adjourned at 4 p.m., he exhorted senators to “work this afternoon and tomorrow” to finalize those bills. 

Cortez appointed himself and Sens. Rick Allen, R-Port Allen, and Gary Smith, D-Norco, to the conference committee on his sports betting bill; and Sens. Fred Mills, R-Parks, Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, and Boudreaux to the conference committee on Emerson’s abortion reporting bill.

He mentioned that action is still pending on several important spending bills, including Schexnayder’s bill to disburse the funds received from the federal government under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. 

Also hanging fire in the Senate is Bishop’s HB2, the $5 billion capital spending bill, as well as SB274, Bishop’s constitutional amendment on income tax reform, and SB278, its enabling legislation.