Rep. Thomas Pressly (R) District 6 reflects on the Regular Session

Coming to Baton Rouge for session on March 9th, our state capitol was full of energy, optimism, and excitement. The Revenue Estimating Conference, the group of economists charged with telling legislators the amount of money the state is expected to collect in taxes, reported that Louisiana expected a nearly $500 million surplus. The legislature, which included nearly 40% of us gaveling in for the first time, were excited for the opportunity to bring new ideas and a new vision of the future. Prior to session, I filed bills, continued learning names of members, and was assigned three committees – Civil Law, Health & Welfare, and Judiciary – on which to serve, and created a goal of building a personal relationship with each of my colleagues in the House. As the gavel struck the first day of session, I could barely contain my excitement to help move Louisiana forward with policies which would help create more jobs, better opportunities, and higher wages throughout Louisiana, and particularly in northwest Louisiana. While these goals and my long-term optimism for our state remains, challenges arose quickly during this session as COVID-19 hit Louisiana.

On March 16th, the Legislature recessed for nearly two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While we were back in our home districts, conference calls, zoom meetings, and emails were nearly constant during the day, helping to keep us informed. In an effort to keep my constituents informed, I spent a significant amount of time on social media – particularly Facebook – sharing the information that I knew and answering questions of constituents. Skype calls with groups, radio interviews, and op-eds were also constants on my daily to-do list. While the challenges created by the crisis were – and continue to be – significant, my hope is that by providing as much information as possible to the public, some of the fears and anxiety were reduced.

As the federal and state programs addressing the personal financial crisis caused by the shutdown rolled out, Laurie Kerr, my administrative assistant and I went to work answering calls and emails and worked to get answers for constituents from state agencies. I am very grateful to Laurie for her help and want each of you to know that our office is always available to answer your questions, listen to your concerns, and to help navigate your needs with state agencies.

On May 6th, the 104 members of the state legislature gaveled back into session to resume our work, while keeping the loss of life and those that were sick with the virus on our minds, including our colleague, Representative Reggie Bagala who passed away from COVID-19 during the legislative recess.

As legislators, it was important for us to begin to get back to work to help our constituents move forward from this crisis. Our focus during the session remained on creating better economic conditions for our state, which included tort reform. This was one of the major topics on the campaign trail and a hot topic throughout Louisiana due to our state having the 2nd highest rates in the country. Dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, creating a state budget, and properly allocating the CARES Act dollars were also high on the to-do list. In the shortened session, three of the bills that I authored were considered by the legislature, HB 313 which provides for the recognition of separate legal personalities among affiliated corporations and other business entities, HB 805 which ratified the Governor’s executive order suspending legal deadlines during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and HB 826 providing limitations for liability due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Each of these bills made it through the legislative process and to the governor’s desk for signature. HB 805 was signed by the governor earlier this week.

On June 1st, the regular session of the legislature ended and the first special session began. Our focus in the special has been mainly on the state budget. While the final bill has not passed as of the writing of this article, there is no doubt we will see yet another increase in our state budget due mainly to federal dollars being allocated for the Louisiana Department of Health. The dollars provided by the federal government for next fiscal year were significant and are not expected to continue next year. Our legislative body will be tasked with finding savings wherever we can in order to ensure that Louisiana continues to balance the budget in the years ahead.

While this session was far from normal due to COVID-19, the foundation of knowledge and relationships that have been built with colleagues by going through this crisis together are building blocks for the future. My optimism for the future of Louisiana remains high – thanks to the people of our great state. Louisianans are resourceful, friendly, and willing to work hard. I have found the same in the representatives who were elected to serve in the capitol. There is no doubt that our state will face significant challenges ahead – particularly with the state budget – but I am confident that Louisiana’s best days are ahead.