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Education, retirement highlight legislative session starting Monday

The Times-PicayuneMarch 11, 2012

BATON ROUGE -- Lawmakers will convene Monday in the Capitol to begin a legislative session to consider what Gov. Bobby Jindal described Friday as "a very aggressive agenda" that includes overhauling the state's education and pension systems and approving a state budget. Lawmakers have filed more than 1,500 bills to consider during the session, which starts at noon and, by law, must end by 6 p.m. on June 4.

Casting its shadow over all the issues of the session will be House Bill 1, which establishes the state budget for the next year. Jindal's $25.5 billion proposal would cut about 6,370 state jobs, 2,720 of which are filled, and calls for privatizing portions of state government.

Top on the privatization list are the Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport and the J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center in Pineville, which would be combined and sold to a private firm. The plan also calls for closing mental health facilities in Tangipahoa and Shreveport and outsourcing a portion of the office that oversees benefits for state employees.

Higher education funding would remain stable in the budget and the Department of Health and Hospitals would see an increase, paid for in part by one-time money, that would be used to tap additional Medicaid money that is available from the federal government.

The plan also anticipates the expiration of tolls on the Crescent City Connection, the privatization of the Algiers, Gretna and Chalmette ferries and the elimination of ferries Reserve and White Castle.

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