Louisiana Budget

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor's chief budget adviser, left; House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, center; and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, speak ahead of a meeting of Louisiana's income forecasting panel on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's new Republican House speaker rewarded his Democratic supporters with top leadership positions on five subject-matter committees, but kept the key chairmanships on financial and redistricting panels reserved for GOP lawmakers.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, an Ascension Parish Republican who won the leadership position because Democrats backed him in a bloc, announced the full membership breakdown of the House's standing committees late Monday night. Schexnayder previously released information about the tax and budget panels, but hadn't yet detailed the makeup of the other 14 subject-matter committees.

Though Republicans made gains in the fall elections across the majority-GOP House and Senate, both Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez have continued a tradition of bipartisanship in divvying up committee leadership jobs.

Committee chairmen have wide latitude in scheduling hearings on bills assigned to their panels and in deciding how those bills will be debated.

In the House, Democrats are taking the helm of five panels, named as chairmen of the criminal justice, labor, transportation, insurance and judiciary committees — a gain of one chairmanship from the end of the last term.

Republicans — who hold 68 of the House's 105 seats — will be in charge of 11 committees, including the tax and budget panels, along with the committee that will oversee the redrawing of political maps next year.

Perhaps most importantly, Republicans will have controlling majorities on all committees, despite concerns from GOP lawmakers who voted against Schexnayder that he would stack the membership in a way that would help Democrats.

Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue is leading the Appropriations Committee, which draws up the state's annual operating budget. Lafayette Rep. Stuart Bishop is taking the helm of the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees state construction spending and tax issues. And Rep. Stephen Dwight of Lake Charles is chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, which leads the redesign of the state's legislative, congressional and other political districts. All three men were among Schexnayder's top GOP allies in the speaker's race.

Among the Democrats, Baton Rouge Rep. Ted James will lead the criminal justice committee. Lafayette Rep. Vincent Pierre will lead the transportation panel. Plaquemine Rep. Chad Brown will oversee the insurance committee. LaPlace Rep. Randal Gaines will be in charge of the judiciary committee. And Baton Rouge Rep. Barbara Carpenter will chair the labor panel.

Schexnayder, who won a hard-fought competition for the job, took three weeks to unveil his committee decisions. Cortez, a Lafayette Republican backed unanimously by senators, announced his committee makeup quickly after his election, having time to determine the assignments before his election as Senate president.

Cortez named Republicans as leaders of 12 of the Senate's 17 standing committees and gave Democrats — including the head of the state Democratic Party — the chairmanships of five panels.

Like Schexnayder, he kept the budget, tax and redistricting committees firmly in GOP hands, and made sure all 17 of the panels had Republican majorities among the membership, even those with a Democratic leader. Republicans hold 27 of the Senate's 39 seats.

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