Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, shows the strain of listening to endless testimony and debate during the ongoing regular session, which, in concert with this year's two special session, will be the longest running in the state’s history. Credit: Justin DiCharia.
When the 2016 Louisiana Legislature, beginning its second special session Monday, withdraws on June 23 from its Statehouse entrenchment, it will have served 19 consecutive weeks, the longest weekly stretch in the legislative branch’s 204-year history.
Starting Feb. 14, it will have spanned three seasons of the year.
Research by Manship School News Service and information supplied from State Archivist Bill Stafford and the Legislative Research Library revealed lawmakers will have spent more consecutive weeks in Baton Rouge this year than any other body of Louisiana legislators since they first convened in 1812.
The House of Representatives did have three, four-day weekends since assembling – in between the first special and regular sessions, as well as long Easter and Memorial Day weekends. The Senate had two four-day breaks -- after the special session and for the Easter holiday – not to mention frequent three-day weekends.
In modern times, extended weekends have been routine until the end of a session.
The Louisiana Constitution sets the opening and closing dates of regular sessions, but it’s the governor who calls and sets the duration, not to mention the agenda, for special sessions. The upcoming special session is limited to 18 days.
Some legislators expressed dismay at the circumstances requiring them to stay so long this year, a legislative span that will cover three seasons of 2016 when it ends on June 23.
“It’s unfortunate the way we have to make history,” said Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria.
Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, said this year’s legislative sessions – two special and one regular session -- are some of the most challenging in his more than 40 years in the Legislature.
Thompson compared the “awesome” fiscal problems the state faces this year to the similarly fearsome problems the state faced after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. “This is a fiscal storm we’re facing, rather than a hurricane.”
Thompson noted the Legislature spent many consecutive weeks working under former Gov. Buddy Roemer, as well. Records show the body met for 14 consecutive weeks in 1989 and 15 consecutive weeks in 1991.
Legislators in 1960 and 1961 spent 15 weeks in back-to-back extraordinary sessions as they grappled with how to prevent or circumvent racial integration of schools. House Resolutions from the time speak candidly of separate public educational institutions by race.
In the span of a year, between 1934 and 1935, the Legislature was called into seven separate executive sessions. Lawmakers then, however, had as much as a month and a half break in between those sessions, as opposed to today’s run-on gatherings.
Some legislators expressed their frustration via social media. Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, wrote on his Facebook wall: “Well, I just thought we were going to get to come home on June 6. But Noooooo! ... I promise I still practice law but my business is on life support!!”
The 12-week regular session ends Monday at 6 p.m., but the year’s second special session, called for 18 days, will begin 30 minutes after the regular adjournment. The regular session was preceded by a three and a half week special session that was convened on Feb. 14.
Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said the long session is hard on legislators who have jobs outside of the Statehouse and those who have small children back home.
“If I’m not at my (non-legislative) job, I’m not making money,” said Landry, who operates a petroleum landman business.
Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, said legislators need to keep pushing, since the people of the state are relying on them.
“We’re not dead tired,” she said. “We don’t have a choice but to perform.”