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With adjustment, session start bill makes sense

From time to time comes a move to alter the regular legislative session schedule in Louisiana, and another such one is afoot. If it’s going to be done, it needs to be done right and for the right reasons.

State Sen. Neil Riser has prefiled SB 5 which would advance the beginning of the state’s regular legislative sessions to the last Monday in January for the even-numbered year general regular sessions, and to the last Monday in February for the odd-numbered year “fiscal only” regular sessions (meaning only fiscal bills, local bills, and five non-local, non-fiscal bills per member may be considered). He argues that with the latest start of a part-time legislature among all the states, too much chaos is created for Louisiana’s budgeting purposes for a fiscal year beginning Jul. 1. It would not change the number of days – 45 of 60 or 60 of 85 – that it meets.

The latter consideration in particular is not a bad thought. But as conceptualized, this will never happen, for it would have the Legislature in session many years the period that it simply cannot be in this state – Jan. 25 through Mar. 9, the potential days given the liturgical calendar that would encompass the entirety of the Carnival parade season, generally considered to last two Fridays before Ash Wednesday through Mardi Gras. Riser, from rural north Louisiana, may be forgiven for not realizing the depths to which Carnival enthralls southern state legislators and therefore will have at least a third of the Legislature against the constitutional amendment needed to accomplish this change.

At the same time, however, a minor tweaking of the schedule may be in order. Starting an even-numbered year session on the third Monday in March – never earlier than Mar. 15, nor later than Mar. 20 – would miss Carnival, and odd-numbered sessions never threaten it. Even a week could be a big advantage to getting the budgetary house more in order for the Jul. 1 new fiscal year. Starting the second Monday in March would interrupt Carnival only once every 84 or so years, so even that could be lived with (that Mar. 8 the Legislature could get its initial business out of the way, then adjourn until Mar. 10), so a two-week advance would be even better.

That still may not placate naysayers like state Sen. John Alario, who may complain this alteration cuts into tax preparation season, among other things, too much. Of course, if any legislator finds his public service too much of a burden on his real job, we thank him for his service and he may resign. And to suggest that the May deadline for budgetary estimates is sacrosanct, which also could be changed, is a red herring as a criticism.

This small change should provide some benefit with no real costs, and Riser’s bill should be amended to reflect as such.

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