“Members, It Is 12 a.m.”

It’s called a photo finish for a reason, not that the House, Senate and Edwards Administration would need photographic evidence to help sort through the overnight results.

The year’s second special session came to a screeching halt in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, with the Capitol’s players and the state’s policy needs scattering under the force of impact. The next few days will center on what exactly happened, from the content of the bills advanced late in the evening to whether the House ever had 70 votes to begin with for a sales tax boost. But the present moment provides an opportunity for a mindful glance back at the session timeline that mattered most — alongside our notes and character sketches from the midnight special’s last gasp.

LaPolitics staff writer and photojournalist Sarah Gamard spent the final four hours of the special session behind the lens to bring these visuals to life. Her charge brought us to the Senate chamber at around 8 p.m., where both of the Legislature’s budget chairmen were expected to meet to discuss freeing the state’s spending plan from its special session cage.

Sitting in the rear of the chamber on a long bench reserved for members and their guests, Appropriations Chair Cameron Henry and Finance Chair Eric LaFleur reviewed a packet of papers ahead of sending a budget document to the governor. Seeming at ease for most of the exchange, the men eventually moved their conversation against the Senate’s rear marble wall. Each passing minute added animation to their body language. “LaFleur is challenging Henry,” tweeted The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges as more eyes in the vicinity took notice. “Doesn’t look good.”

This was also around the time Senate President John Alario huddled with different groups of senators, speaking quietly as eager listeners leaned in to get the download.

Privately, Alario begins to share his doubts about the House blessing a deal. As the buzzing of differing conversations underscored the uncertainty and senators inched toward 9 p.m., Alario brushed his hand across his face before refocusing on his colleagues with tired eyes.

Lobbyists know how to hurry up and wait. And wait they did as lawmakers endeavored for the equivalent of a Christmas morning miracle. LABI’s Camille Conaway and Jim Patterson, seated in the rear, passed such a moment with former St. Martin Parish President Guy Cormier.

Soon enough, they’ll be able to do it again. The year’s third special session is coming. It’ll likely start over the next seven to 10 days (or so) and end “several days” prior to June 30. But don’t look for comfort in that wiggle room leading up to July 1. No matter how you slice it, the term’s seventh special session will be the last for this fiscal year. When that one is done, the whole enchilada is done.

Sen. Francis Thompson joins a growing herd of senators behind the back row of chairs on the chamber’s floor. When Gov. John Bel Edwards delivered his session-closing remarks to reporters later that evening, well after the midnight hour, he gave his most prominent thank-you nod to the Senate.

"Every single Republican voted for (the budget) and every member of the Democratic Caucus voted for the bill,” Edwards said. Put another way, the administration still has some good friends in the Senate.

Consultant Lionel Rainey visits with GOP Delegation Chair Lance Harris on the side of the House chamber Monday evening. Many lawmakers spent the better part of this stretch of time trying to guess whether Harris would allow his sales tax legislation to come up for a vote.

This term started with a looming question about what to do with the state sales tax structure, and as this same term passes its midway point, that very question persists. The upcoming special session will not be the exception.

Never count out Rep. Katrina Jackson. She filed a mundane tax credit bill that was transformed into the vehicle that carried the supposed deal-sealer for those who walked the line on sales taxes. Her legislation, which was ultimately adopted, picked up a hitchhiker in the Senate in the form of an increase in the earned income tax credit. While that issue saw the light of day, the sales tax question died on the vine.

Will that goodwill transfer over into the next special session? Or did EITC fans simply get a political freebie? (What was different this go around on EITC? Involved players point to the Louisiana Budget Project, which took on an enhanced role advocating for the tax credit.)

As legislation either stalled or advanced Monday evening, it became obvious that the two surviving sales tax bills would pit the authors — and their allies — against each other. So back and forth GOP Delegation Chair Lance Harris and Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger went, from pointed questions and curt debate to procedural moves and political rhetoric.

“I didn’t plan to be in this position,” Leger said quietly before presenting his own bill to the chamber for the first time last night.

The matchup also brought to mind the perennial blame game that has the House blaming the governor and the governor blaming the House and the Senate wondering what it did to end up in the middle position of this barnburner of a term.

Of the House, Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters this morning that the most recent special session was a “total collapse of leadership." More directly, he identified a “minority in the House” that serves as a “distinct, hardcore caucus of no.” In honest reflection, it’s difficult to see how any one faction or side walked away a winner.

To be certain, the biggest mistake made by anyone in the Capitol during this dreaded special session came at the hands of lawmakers when they approved their own budget, but NOT the state budget. Should inaction become the norm heading into the next fiscal year, the Legislature taking priority over the state won't be the best re-election look. The curiosity surely wasn’t missed on the governor, who told reporters, "Oh, by the way, the Legislature's budget is fully-funded right now."

Anti-tax and smaller-government fans found a hero in Rep. Alan Seabaugh Tuesday evening. Fresh off the vetting process for a federal judgeship, Seabaugh created a social media buzz almost immediately after he played out the clock during the House’s closing moments.

Boosters called it a minutes-to-midnight filibuster and credited Seabaugh with blocking what they viewed as an unneeded tax increase. (Democrats and JBE believers, meanwhile, offered entirely different opinions... For more than, find the photo of Sen. Karen Carter Peterson below.)

A Political Sketch of Andy Anders

With a giant, unlit cigar planted in the side of his cheek, the dean of the House took heavy steps down the gentle incline of the chamber’s floor, each footfall perhaps betraying the weight of one disappointment after another this term. But it wasn’t all that bad. Representative Andy Anders was headed home to northeast Louisiana with his old soul and fresh cigar, which meant his heart and his headlights were pointed toward the region that gave us Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart.

It was just minutes after midnight, June 5, and the House’s membership was spilling out into Memorial Hall, the marbled hallway along the Capitol’s west side, and down the restricted access elevators that were located on the first floor. Representative James Armes joined the outgoing tide while shaking his bald head and covering it with a hunter’s orange baseball cap. He was westbound, aiming for the Beauregard-Vernon area. Placing his own Saints lid atop his head, freshman Representative John Bagneris simply embraced the urge to be pulled back into the orbit of his native Orleans.

And then there was Anders, the occasionally soft-spoken legislator who had carved out a policy niche on agriculture while cultivating a friendly reputation and a rarely understated passion for all things rural. The thought of returning to Baton Rouge for the year’s third special session — also the term’s seventh — was clearly not sitting well with Anders. But unlike Armes and Bagneris and 102 other representatives, Anders had been permitted to speak the special session’s final words from the floor that evening.

Before hope was abandoned and home became the priority, Anders was recognized by the speaker to make a motion to adjourn sine die (Latin for “without day”). Anders collected himself before expressing frustration and discontentment. As the House dean, the body’s most senior member, Anders stressed upon his colleagues that things had never been worse. The gridlock, the animosity, the bitterness — all of it had tanked another special session.

“When you get home,” Anders said in his unmistakable country twang, “you think whatcha done.”

Before the upper chamber retired for the evening, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, the chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, seized the microphone for an in-the-moment speech that included a critique of media coverage, harsh words for the House and warnings for citizens relying on government services.

In regard to the session-stopping performance by Rep. Alan Seabaugh in the House, she said, “I suspect you think you were representing your district well. I would offer to you that you were not, and the reflection of what you did was really disrespectful to the people of Louisiana. I hope tomorrow you make an apology.” Peterson later added, “This is one of the most embarrassing moments in the 18 years of my legislative career.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards isn’t sure if he’ll veto the special session budget. Politically, giving it some extra thought is a wise move, even if the governor previously vetoed a similar spending plan that the regular session yielded. Another torpedo via JBE’s pen could make the next session all the more difficult due to the need for another budget.

When pressed by reporters early Tuesday morning, Edwards said he would explore all of his options — a review that will no doubt include a conversation about the always-valuable line item option.

In related news, keeping it simple, like avoiding another final passage vote on the budget, should be a recurring theme for the administration as it approaches the next session. To that end, it sounds like the next call will be more narrowly drawn, to accommodate for what should be a shorter gathering.

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