Gabe Firment: 2022 Regular Session Recap

It’s been a busy few months for the state legislature, with a regular session, two special sessions, and a veto session having occurred since February 1st. We recently concluded the second special session of the year that was called by Governor Edwards in response to a ruling by a federal district court judge to re-draw our congressional boundary maps to include two majority minority districts. However, the Legislature adjourned without approving any new congressional maps, and the matter will ultimately be settled by the courts. Now that I have escaped the traffic and concrete jungle that is Baton Rouge and returned to the piney woods of District 22, I have finally found the time to recap the most significant accomplishments and disappointments of the 2022 Regular Legislative Session that adjourned June 6th.

There is little doubt that this session will be remembered primarily for the historic investments in education and infrastructure, fueled in part by the influx of federal pandemic aid that flowed into the state coffers.  House Bill 2, the capital outlay budget, included over $50 million of funding commitments to Northwestern State University for the replacement of Kyser Hall, the construction of a Health Performance Center, and the renovation of Roy Hall. The Legislature also provided K-12 public school teachers with a $1,500 annual pay raise, and support staff with a pay increase of $750 yearly.  Higher education was a huge priority, with record investments made for faculty pay raises, building maintenance, and tuition assistance.

District 22 has already benefited greatly from legislation passed in 2021 that established the Water Sector Program and the GUMBO Grant program to address critical water and sewer needs, and to expand access to affordable and reliable high speed internet throughout rural Louisiana. The 2022 budget includes a $450 million allocation to the Water Sector Program to shore up debilitated water and sewer systems, and $90 million to GUMBO for rural broadband. With the federal government recently announcing that Louisiana will receive an additional $176.7 million for rural broadband, we are well on our way to bridging the digital divide that has held back so much of our state that does not currently have access to high speed internet.

Other important investments made by the Legislature include $500 million to shore up the Unemployment Trust Fund depleted during covid, $175 million to the state’s Rainy Day Fund, $70 million towards state pension plan retirement debt, over $100 million towards highway preservation, and several hundred million for mega-projects such as new bridges in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles.  Perhaps most importantly, the Legislature made all of these important investments without raising taxes or creating recurring expenditures with this one-time influx of funds. However, I was disappointed that we were not able to take even modest steps to prepare for the decrease in revenue that we know will occur when the $.45 sales tax expires in 2025 and when vehicle sales tax revenue begins flowing to fund roads and bridges instead of into the state general fund. The House of Representatives passed legislation to begin phasing out the $.45 sales tax and return surplus funds to the taxpayers, but the bill was killed by the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs committee.         

The Legislature overwhelmingly passed SB44 by Sen. Beth Mizell – the Fairness in Women’s Sports Bill – that simply prohibits biological males from participating in girls and women’s sports. Governor Edwards vetoed the bill last year, but he decided to allow the bill to become law this year by taking no action to sign or veto the legislation. We easily passed two bills – SB342 by Sen. Katrina Jackson and SB388 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt – that position Louisiana as the most pro-life state in the nation in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade in the coming weeks. Gov. Edwards has been consistently pro-life throughout his time in office, and I expect him to sign both of these bills. 

I was disappointed that several legislative instruments the House of Representatives passed to the state Senate failed to progress, including HB37 that would have affirmed our constitutional right to carry a concealed firearm; HB811(“Zuckerbucks Bill”) that would have prohibited the use of private funds for use in elections; HB47 that would have required Louisiana schools to inform students and parents about exemptions from school immunizations; and the aforementioned HB438 that would have phased out the $.45 sales tax and returned hard-earned money to taxpayers. Despite these disappointments, I still feel that the regular session was a success and we laid the groundwork for passing more common sense legislation in the future.

It is a pleasure to serve you as District 22 state representative, and I encourage anyone who may have a question about legislation or any other issue to contact me at (318)765-9606, (318)201-6769, or at gfirment@legis.la.gov. Thank you and God Bless.