Lawmakers hope session remembered for more than pay increase

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The gates at the political palace are closing. It's the last day of the legislative session and legislators had to finish all work by 6:00 p.m. This is it. Bills are filed and all the rest die.

The bill to give legislators a pay raise undoubtedly caused the most concern and drew the most criticism from voters. Now, legislators are concerned that one issue may overshadow everything else they did these last few months. "I think it's a shame that this pay raise thing seems to have bottled out everybody's memories as to what we did," says Rep. Danny Martiny of Metairie. "The uproar over the way it's been portrayed has been disappointing," says House Speaker Jim Tucker. "It's been a learning process for us all," says Rep. Rick Gallot of Ruston.

Three months and many bills later, legislators are still justifying their pay raise. They passed a bill to double their base pay starting next month and their pay will continue to adjust automatically, in relation to the consumer price index. Governor Jindal has not yet taken action on the bill, but he has said he will not veto it. So, if he keeps his word, it will become law in a few days. "I just hope that whatever happens we can put all of this aside and keep moving the state forward," says Martiny.

"Obviously, there will be discussion about the pay raise. We know that, but a close second is the Stelly Tax repeal," Gallot says. Governor Jindal just signed a bill by Senator Buddy Shaw of Shreveport to give about $300 million back to Louisiana tax payers, starting in 2009. "The greatest success of this session is the largest tax cut in Louisiana history with the repeal of the Stelly income tax," says Tucker.

Legislators also worked to pass education funding, workforce development restructuring, and ethics changes. However, almost every legislative interview conducted in the last few weeks starts with, "Are you going to ask me about pay raises?" Legislators know what has the public involved and frustrated. Hopefully, we'll get past all this hoopla over the pay raise and start focusing on the real issues," Martiny says.

House Speaker Jim Tucker says legislators will likely be back at the Capitol early next year for another special session. So, he says after almost six months straight this year, they've earned their raises and will keep earning them. "We have probably another surplus to deal with. We're hoping for a major economic development announcement; probably have to come back in session for."

Tucker says he can't release any details about what that economic announcement might be. Governor Jindal's press secretary confirmed legislators will not be called back to the Capitol before next year. So right now, many are headed to end of the session parties to unwind.

Governor Bobby Jindal released a statement on the end of the legislative session. He will hold a news conference Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. at the Governor's Mansion to give a session wrap up.

"It's a great victory for the people of Louisiana that we have had so many successes with our legislative agenda in this session. We passed our comprehensive workforce development package to eliminate the Department of Labor and create a Workforce Commission to fill the nearly 100,000 existing job vacancies in our state and work to make our workers the most highly trained in the nation. We passed an agenda to overhaul our mental health care services, increase access to a quality education for all Louisiana children, impose stricter penalties on those sex offenders who prey on our kids, increase children's access to health care, increase teacher pay, and much more. Our key reforms were enacted in this session and all the credit goes to the people of our state who demanded change so that Louisiana would become the best place in the world to raise a family and pursue a great career."

-Governor Bobby Jindal