BATON ROUGE— Louisiana lawmakers closed the books Monday on a three-month legislative session that saw disputes over the Common Core education standards fizzle into few changes and where balancing the budget was described as the main accomplishment.
In the final hours of work, legislators agreed to an overstuffed construction budget and filled gaps in this year's spending plan.
Many of the session's most contentious issues were decided weeks ago, with lawmakers refusing to jettison the Common Core, raise the state's minimum wage or allow the dispensing of medical marijuana in Louisiana.
Lawmakers completed a $24.6 billion state operating budget for the new fiscal year several days ago, when the House adopted the Senate's version of the spending plans. Money for disabled services will grow, along with dollars for colleges and public schools. State workers will get a pay raise, along with state troopers. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
"We kept the government running for another year, it looks like. It wasn't a session that was loaded with a ton of big changes," said Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The state's current year budget was rebalanced to fill $75 million in gaps in the TOPS college tuition program, the public school funding formula and payments to parish sheriffs for housing state prisoners in local jails. In a final compromise, nearly $3 million was added to spend on local councils on aging around the state.
The final draft of next year's multibillion-dollar construction budget contains $388 million more in projects than the state has dollars to spend, leaving the governor to pick which projects advance.
Gov. Bobby Jindal won passage of most of the proposals on his limited agenda, but few of them were controversial.
"We've had a great session and I would like to thank the Legislature for their hard work. With their help, we have accomplished new achievements for the people of Louisiana," the governor said in a statement.
New legal protections for veterans, tougher laws against human trafficking and shifting new dollars to high-demand programs at colleges and technical campuses weren't expected to run into many roadblocks when Jindal proposed them.
"As far as an agenda that they were pushing and driving, that didn't really exist," Robideaux said of the Jindal administration.
The Republican governor spent many of the session days out of state gearing up for what is assumed to be a likely 2016 presidential campaign. With less than two years remaining in his term, his relationship with lawmakers has grown more difficult.
On his most contentious agenda issue, the governor won passage of a bill to derail the lawsuit filed by a New Orleans area levee board against oil and gas companies for environmental damage to the state. But Jindal couldn't get support for his effort to get more authority over the makeup of the board and removal of its members.
"If there were any winners and losers in this session, oil and gas was the winner," said Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur.
Jindal planned a Monday signing ceremony for the measure killing the levee board lawsuit, but he postponed the signing at the request of the state attorney general, who wanted time to review it. An analysis by legal scholars raises questions of whether the bill might affect lawsuits against BP over the 2010 Gulf coast oil spill.
The session might be defined more by what failed than what passed. Lawmakers rejected bills to expand Medicaid, tighten regulation of payday lenders, cap the state's free college tuition program and lessen penalties for marijuana possession.
"It was a fairly mundane session," Danahay said.
Members of the general public packed committee rooms in greater numbers than usual, but in many instances, they ran into roadblocks from lawmakers and saw their bills shelved.
As they have in many prior sessions, legislators enacted new abortion restrictions. This time, they adopted a Texas-style requirement that doctors who perform the procedure must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
Abortion-rights supporters say the bill, supported by Jindal, will shutter three of Louisiana's five abortion clinics.