BATON ROUGE, LA — After the state legislature closed the 2013 regular session, lawmakers said they worked together better than they had in years.
The leader of the House Democratic Caucus believes Governor Jindal deserves much of the credit for that.
According to Rep. John Bel Edwards, a group of fiscally conservative Republicans, who became known as the Hawks during the session, reached out to Democratic leaders well in advance of the session to explain the bills they would introduce, and talk about their concerns over spending issues.
"We started that communication and developed a bond of trust and common understanding," Rep. Edwards (D-Amite) said.
That understanding was further tested when Gov. Bobby Jindal announced a budget plan that eliminated the state income tax, and replaced it with a higher sales tax.
"It's no small matter that on the very first day of the session, that Gov. Jindal was forced to withdraw that plan," Rep. Edwards said.
When Gov. Jindal pulled his proposal, he asked legislators to come up with a replacement. Rep. Edwards said the governor was uninvolved in budget negotiations during the session.
"But it happened to be very beneficial," he said. "Because the legislature was able to work independently. And we were able to make really great strides at establishing relationships in the House of Representatives across party lines, and ended up benefiting the people of Louisiana."
Gov. Jindal chose not to comment Thursday, but when he spoke about the budget agreement the day before, he was pleased with the result.
"I want to praise the legislators," he said. "I know they worked very hard on this budget throughout the entire process. I think the result is a very good budget for the people of Louisiana."
As the session closed Thursday, members of the house applauded, and gave each other hugs in congratulations. Edwards believes the improved communication between Democrats and Republicans will make for a better understanding between the two sides in years to come.
"We look forward," he stated, "to continuing to work with the Hawks and other Republicans, as we move down the road to face the challenges that are before us."
Even Gov. Jindal, whose most ambitious plan was defeated before it even had a chance, looked back positively on the work done at the Capitol.
"I think every session's got its challenges and its rewards," he said Wednesday. "I think it was a very good session for the people of Louisiana."
The issue on which House Democratic leaders seemed most disappointed was expanding Medicaid. None of their efforts to bring more federal money for health care for low-income residents gained much traction.
That was due in part to Gov. Jindal, who threatened to veto any Medicaid bill, saying it, "would result in up to $1.7 billion in new costs, [and put] 41 percent of our people in the Medicaid program. It was obviously a major issue this session. And I think the legislature has made the right decision now, in consistently rejecting the Medicaid expansion."
Nearly 400,000 people in Louisiana would have qualified for additional health coverage if the Medicaid expansion had passed.
"These are the working poor," Rep. Edwards argued. "That's who we're talking about. And our federal taxes are not gonna go down if we reject these dollars."
Rep. Edwards said he thinks Medicaid Expansion will pass in Louisiana in the future. He said health care providers and business owners would eventually put too much pressure on the governor and other opponents.