Prospects for Louisiana special session dim as hospital begins to close

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October 15, 2012

Louisiana

By Phil Sletten

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana: Supporters of a special legislative session to amend Governor Bobby Jindal's budget cuts are encountering opposition in their efforts to reconvene the legislature. Some in the legislature, including Independent State Representative Dee Richard, are concerned about the lack of information provided by Governor Jindal regarding unilateral and substantial deviations from the budget that passed the legislature, most notably cutting approximately $480 million from the Louisiana State University hospital system.[1] Due to these cuts, the Southeast Louisiana Hospital has begun the process of closing down. Patients are being transferred to other hospitals around the state.[2]

These cuts came as a result of higher matching requirements for Medicaid funding from the federal government. This increased matching requirement led to an $859 million shortfall in the state budget. Governor Jindal made the cuts to the hospital system, as well as closing a prison in DeQuincy, without consulting with lawmakers or warning local officials.[1][3] About 1,500 jobs in the LSU hospital system would no longer be funded if the cuts go through completely.[4] Lawmakers did not provide contingency funding in the budget for the drop in Medicaid matching funds before they closed their last legislative session.[4]

Representative Richard has to collect 35 signatures from members of the Louisiana House of Representatives and 13 signatures from Louisiana State Senate members, or a third of the membership in each chamber, to gain the necessary support to call a special session. A majority of lawmakers would then have to vote to support the session before it could begin.[4] Richard has gained a sizable following of legislators, including Representatives Austin Badon, Jr. (D), Cameron Henry (R), Jerry Gisclair (D), Brett Geymann (R), and Stephen Pugh (R) as well as State Senators Ben Nevers (D) and Jack Donahue (R).[4][5][6] However, considerable opposition to the legislative session has mounted, including President of the Senate John Alario (R), State Speaker of the House Charles Kleckley (R), Representatives Anthony Ligi (R), Helena Moreno (D), and State Senator Jean-Paul J. Morrell (D). A survey of state legislators found that most thought the political will to call a special session was lacking.[6][4]

Representative Richard has until October 25 to collect the necessary signatures for his petition. If successful, the legislative session would be called on November 26, 2012 and last no more than 15 days.[1] Governor Jindal could veto any legislation that comes out of the session, suggesting that legislators might focus on passing material with a two-thirds majority to override any veto. Estimates for the cost of a 15 day special session range from $875,000 to $1.2 million, but some have identified the possibility that the session could be absorbed into the budget for the legislature, meaning taxpayers would pay nothing extra for the session.[4][7]

Under the current Louisiana Constitution, the state legislature has never called itself back into session without the Governor of Louisiana's support. The state legislature called itself back into session in 2011, but Governor Bobby Jindal was supportive of that effort.[1]

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