2015 Louisiana Legislative Session: Coastal Wrap-Up

By Cynthia Duet, Deputy Director, Audubon Louisiana

The 2015 session of the Louisiana Legislature has comeState Capitol to a close. Although the last two months have been filled with difficult decisions for lawmakers trying to balance the state budget during this important fiscal session, bills related to coastal restoration projects, programs and funding remained the primary focus of Mississippi River Delta Coalition policy staff.

The Louisiana Legislature demonstrated continued commitment to coastal restoration and protection issues by passing HCR1 –  the resolution that allows for passage of the 2015-2016 Coastal Annual Plan. The plan is the funding report and projections document that shows where, when and how funding will be expended on restoration of the coast for protection of the people, wildlife and industries of Louisiana. The resolution was sponsored by Representative Gordon Dove, Chairman of House Natural Resources Committee, recognized as a long-time coastal supporter from the Terrebonne area. He is now wrapping up his last term in the House.

There were many items monitored this session that either did or would have had an effect on the coastal fund and coastal habitats.  Some of the highlights are noted as follows:

There were several bills that, due to the state’s budget crisis, were being contemplated early in the session as a way to free up money to balance the $1.6 billion budget hole. The two bills proposing to remove constitutional protection for key funds failed to make it out of legislative committees. Fortunately, these items did not gain traction and the budget issues were handled in other ways, for now. However, there remains a need to stay ever vigilant during future sessions. The discussion about whether funds should be protected under the constitution or be free for lawmakers to apply to other uses will likely continue as the state grapples with expected budget challenges in the coming years.

In summary, as the 2015 fiscal session wrapped up, much concern still remains regarding the state’s budget, and the likelihood remains high that a special session may be called by the new administration at the beginning of 2016 to look for solutions. Amidst the obvious difficulties, coastal protection and restoration projects remain on the course that they have been on for several years, and the funding of projects from RESTORE Act and the GOMESA are closer than ever to becoming a reality to repair our damaged coastline.

For more information on the projects that can save Louisiana’s coast, please visit: http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/restoration-projects/map/.