(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Legislature approved a $100 million-plus spending bill Thursday, though at least one member said he didn’t know how some of the money would be spent.
House Bill 39 dedicates $85 million to the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, which has run out of money during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Louisiana Workforce Commission has borrowed at least $11 million from the federal government so far to pay for legally required benefits and expects to borrow about $233 million by the end of next August.
The bill also includes $5 million for tourism promotion, $5 million in aid for local governments, $3 million for the Louisiana Public Defender Board, and $1 million to the LSU Health Sciences Center for COVID-19 testing, House Appropriations Chairman Jerome Zeringue said.
It also includes about $20 million in small local allocations that Zeringue described as infrastructure, drainage, and help for law enforcement and fire fighters. Some of the spending House members balked at on Wednesday remained, while others were stripped out and replaced with new spending.
Rep. Tony Bacala, a Prairieville Republican, complained about only having a few minutes to review the bill before voting on it and urged his colleagues to delay their vote until later in the day.
“This is a confusing process,” Bacala said. “Do you really know what’s in this bill?”
The House voted 87-13 to approve the changes hammered out by the joint House and Senate conference committee and send the bill to the governor’s desk. Bacala ultimately voted for the bill, according to the posted roll call. The Senate approved the bill 31-0.
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday afternoon declined to say whether he supported any or all of the local appropriations. At the time, there had not been a final vote on the bill, so he had not had a chance to review the final version.
Edwards has the option of eliminating certain allocations through his line-item veto. He endorsed legislators’ efforts to shore up the unemployment trust fund.
“There are some other things that we know to be really important and to be a priority for the state,” he said. “If those things are in the bill, it’s certainly a whole lot easier to accept some of the other things that might be in the bill.”