Louisiana adjourned its 2018 regular session sine die on May 18, but then held two special sessions with brief breaks between them. Lawmakers also held a two-week special session in February. Governor John Bel Edwards (D) finished acting on the bills sent to his desk on June 25, one day after the third and final special session adjourned. Governor Edwards called each of the three special sessions to take up tax and budget matters.
- Lawmakers entered the year facing a July 1 deadline to plug a $650 million hole in the state budget due to the expiration of a two-year, 1-percent sales tax increase enacted in 2016. The Republican House and Senate majorities reluctantly agreed to the tax hike at the time due to a $2 billion shortfall. Consequently, GOP leaders were not inclined to renew the temporary tax to avert this year’s fiscal cliff.
- Unlike most states, Louisiana lawmakers are not permitted to deal with taxes in regular sessions held in even-numbered years. Therefore, Governor Edwards was forced to call special sessions to allow legislators to adjust sources of revenue instead of adopting a budget that fixed the shortfall through spending cuts, which had already been cut drastically in recent years due to persistent budget shortfalls. Edwards also cut the 2018 regular session two weeks short to allow more time to focus on the state’s fiscal problems.
- After weeks of looking at spending cuts and various alternatives, legislators reached an agreement in the third special session to extend .45 percent of the previous 1-cent sales tax hike. The bipartisan deal extends the sales tax for seven years to provide a stable revenue stream and help the state end a cycle of massive annual budget gaps.
- In conjunction with the sales tax deal, lawmakers adopted a $29.5 billion budget that retains the state’s popular TOPS college tuition program, provides some employee pay raises, and prevents cuts to health services.
- Other than taxes and budget items, legislators used the regular session to adopt measures expanding access to medical marijuana and a controversial ban on abortions 15 weeks after conception, which conservative Democrat John Bel Edwards signed into law on May 23. The new law is tied to a nearly identical 15-week abortion ban adopted in neighboring Mississippi, which is currently on hold in federal court.
2018 will be a relatively quiet year for voters in Louisiana. Governor Edwards is not on the ballot this year, nor are any state legislators. All House and Senate seats will be up for election in 2019, as will Governor Edwards. The only statewide race on the ballot in Louisiana in 2018 is for Secretary of State. Former Secretary of State Tom Schedler (R) resigned on May 1 amid a sexual harassment scandal. Several members of the state legislature are running to take his place.