Senate passes avalanche of minor bills, constitutional amendment in rare Sunday session

Louisiana State Capitol
Photo by Travis Gauthier

With the 6 p.m. Thursday deadline for the 2021 regular session looming like the headlamp of an approaching train, Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, called a rare Sunday session to push through an avalanche of House bills, including several by Lafayette lawmakers.

The three-hour afternoon session was devoted to non-controversial measures unlikely to generate lengthy debate. Under a Senate rule used Sunday by consent, members could defer action on a bill on the digest, no questions asked, simply by pushing an “object” button at their desks.

Dozens of bills were deferred this way Sunday, including HB423 by Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, which would require hospitals to compile quarterly reports on people treated for abortion complications and submit them to the Department of Health. It passed the House 82-14 on May 12

Emerson had more luck with her HB421, which authorizes local school boards to establish “learning pods” for small-group instruction for public school students. It sailed through the Senate 36-0, without amendments, so it’s on its way to the governor. It passed the House 98-0 on May 12.

Perhaps the most consequential measure passed Sunday was HB315, a constitutional amendment by Rep. Jonathan Goudeau, R-Lafayette, that would permit state employees to participate in the political campaigns of “immediate family members.”

The Senate approved it 35-0, but the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee added an amendment greatly expanding the definition of “immediate family.” Goudeau’s original version, which passed the House 92-4 on May 19, defined it as a parent, grandparent, child, a child’s spouse, grandchild or grandchild’s spouse and siblings and their spouses. The Senate committee added a candidate’s or a candidate’s spouse’s stepparents, stepgrandparents, stepsiblings and their spouses, stepchildren and their spouses, stepgrandchildren and their spouses and half-siblings and their spouses.

Cousins still didn’t make the list.

The bill now goes back to the House, where Goudeau can concur in the amendment or reject it, but with three days left there is scant time for a conference committee and final vote in both houses. If re-approved by the House, it will be on the ballot for voter ratification on Nov. 8, 2022.

The Senate also unanimously approved HB351 by Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, making the late Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” the “official state cultural song.” It passed the Senate 36-0 and the House 101-1 on May 27. The Senate added no amendments.

One of the few Senate measures passed Sunday was a resolution, SR192 by Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, that requests the Lafayette Economic Development Authority to develop and implement a “comprehensive economic development plan” for North Lafayette.

Pierre has a related House bill, not a resolution, HB519, that would have expanded and restructured the North Lafayette Redevelopment Authority, but it has stagnated in the House Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee without being heard since the beginning of the session on April 12.

“We’re going to do everything we can to pass all the House bills tomorrow,” Cortez said upon Sunday’s adjournment. “We should be able to get everything done by Thursday.”

By “everything” he means all the conference reports on bills passed in differing versions by the two houses that were hammered into one version in conference committees. The Senate was to reconvene at 9 a.m. Monday and the House at 10 a.m.