29 April 2005

Legislative regular session through 4/29/05

Now that the session has started, the Log will expand somewhat. There’s still a few more days for bill filing to occur and that will be reported upon, in terms of good and bad bills. In addition, the status of good and bad bills will be updated, with a scorecard on their fates periodically published. Also, warning will be given as to when these bills are coming up for consideration at some point in the legislative process. It should be noted that 40 House and 21 Senate bills were designated as good bills, while 40 House and 18 Senate bills were designated as bad bills. You may search previous entries in the Log by bill name to find out more information about a specific bill.

THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: HB 331, despite caterwauling by unions, got a warm reception and passed the House Retirement Committee unanimously with slight amendments (basically pushing back its effective date six months). It awaits floor action.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD: HB 21 also saw no opposition and was passed out of the House Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee. It awaits floor action. By contrast, SB 190 was heard by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and got a lukewarm response for reasons different than my criticisms. It was tabled.

MONDAY: SB 7 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Retirement Committee; SB 23 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee; SB 44 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Finance Committee; SB 120 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee; HB 360 is scheduled to be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee; HB 441 is scheduled to be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee; HB 560 is scheduled to be heard by the House Appropriations Committee; HB 603 is scheduled to be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee; HB 604 is scheduled to be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee; HB 631 is scheduled to be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee; HB 632 is scheduled to be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee; HB 691 is scheduled to be heard by the House Way and Means Committee

TUESDAY: SB 323 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary C Committee.

FILING BILLS THAT ARE THE GOOD: Sorry, with only 10 new bills introduced (all in the House) this week, none ended up qualifying.

AND THE BAD: John Alario’s HB 815 isn’t even half a loaf. It raises sales taxes on certain items now exempt and dedicates their proceeds to pay raises to educators. At least outside of colleges, other educators have done nothing to deserve raises at this point so this is an unnecessary tax. It only partially restores some itemized deductions from state income taxes from federal income taxes rid by the Stelly Plan; much better bills are out there bringing it all back (this bill is the companion to his bad HB 590).


Total House introductions: 820; Total Senate introductions: 330

Total House good bills: 40; Total Senate good bills: 21

Total House bad bills: 41; Total Senate bad bills: 18

Total House good bills assigned to committee: 4; Total Senate good bills assigned to committee: 2

Total House bad bills assigned to committee: 9; Total Senate bad bills assigned to committee: 1

Total House good bills passing committee: 1; Total Senate good bills passing committee: 0

Total House bad bills passing committee: 1; Total Senate bad bills passing committee: 0

24 April 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Prefiled bills -- Week of Apr. 15, 2005 (House only)

THE GOOD: Since there are so many house bills, many can be put into categories because they address substantially the same things:

  • Changes in the homestead exemption and property taxes: Tim Burns' HB 237 would provide property tax payers with more protections against arbitrariness in assessments. Peppi Bruneau's HB 248 would prevent property taxes from increasing faster than the Consumer Price Index, with Mike Strain's HB 539 being similar. Also limiting increases is Jeff Arnold's HB 273 and Ken Odinet's HB 555. Pete Schneider's HB 335 and John Alario's HB 557 and HB 712 would prevent property tax roll-forwards entirely, with a fall-back to his HB 585 trying to limit assessment increases (but see below).
  • Changes in income taxes for individuals: Billy Montgomery's HB 229 undoes the damage from the Stelly Plan by returning individual rates to thier prior levels while his HB 246 would cap them there. Taylor Townsend's HB 328 restores "excess" federal deductions from counting against income on state income tax, as does Rick Farrar's HB 421, and Gary Beard's HB 656 does something similar; while Steve Scalise's HB 495 concerns deductibility of all deductions; Hunter Greene does everybody better with his HB 545 that lowers rates back and restores deductions, with his HB 546 repealing the gift tax to boot.
  • Changes in corporate income taxes: Burns' HB 456 stops the double-taxation of corporations, dividends and interest, while his HB 622 removes them from computation of Louisiana's onerous, additional franchise tax.
  • Funding for I-49: Montgomery's HB 654 carries the water to use unclaimed funds to back funding of I-49; Mike Powell's HB 676 carves out funding for I-49 completion out of the Transportation Trust Fund (without raising taxes; see below).

Among others, Shirley Bowler's HB 232 would amend the Constitution to much more narrowly define the powers of the Secretary of Agriculture while Kay Katz's HB 435 would force him to follow administrtaive law in adjudications; Wayne Waddell's HB 259 prohibits bond request approvals for projects under litigation except by unanimous agreement (which would have saved Shreveport citizens some grief); Bobby Fauchuex's HB 691 would discourage use of emergency medical servives as a primary health care provider; his HB 337 would change the election of state officials to the same time as presidential elections, while Charlie Lancaster's HB 358 would change the nature of congressional primaries to closed, and Powell's HB 415 saves the state and local governments money while encouraging more voter participation by getting rid of the January election date; less government is better government and Mert Smiley's HB 386 fits the bill as it abolishes state boards, commissions, authorities, and districts; Schneider's HB 311 would make the retirement system for most state employees more effiient; Greene also wants to get rid of registration fees for many vehicles with HB 568 (but see below); Burns' HB 613 will provide some relief to students trapped in failing schools with vouchers; and Yvonne Dorsey's HB 694 would tighten ethics reporting for state legislators, while Robby Carter's HB 728 would do the same for officials of retirement systems.

Yet the standout bill out of all of these, some very fine pieces of legislation, is A.G. Crowe's HB 242 which tries to discourage the use of abortion as birth control by requiring counseling whenever it is soought. There's no more fundamental freedom than the right to life, and any legislation that prevents further deaths is essential to pass this session.

THE BAD: Same thing here, let's start off with some categories before getting to some others:

  • Changes in the homestead exemption: Alario's HB 582 would amend the Constitution to double the homestead exemption to make the state's tax structure even less efficient while his HB 583 would amend the Constitution to allow it to rise every year.
  • Changes in sales and use taxes and fees: Montgomery's HB 292 increases the retail gas tax a penny and dedicates it to funding I-49 with his HB 191 chipping it into the Transportation Trust Fund. Arnold's HB 219 allows increases in fees charged by the Motor Vehicles Office, while Greene's HB 553 simply amends the Constitution to raise registration fees on vehicles. Bryan Hammett's HB 436 and HB 437 raise taxes on liquor and cigarettes, respectively, his HB 608 tosses in other forms of tobacco, and his HB 502 does it on video poker machines. Not content with this, Hammett also wants to raise taxes on certain motor fuels with HB 599. Karen Carter joins him with HB 810 on tobacco. Alario's HB 590 asks to amend the Constitution to allow the state to raise sales on food and utilities taxes to dedicate to teacher pay. Sydnie Mae Durand's HB 802 would raise taxes on health care providers who would then naturally pass them on to consumers
  • Tax credits and breaks for certain entertainment-related activities: Scalise's HB 250 continues corporate welfare for movie makers past this fiscal year, and his HB 291 continues their prefential sales tax treatment. And he wants to expand it; his HB 603 and HB 604 do that for digital interactive media. And why not add electronics manufacturers with his HB 632. Scalise isn't done with corporate welfare: if you love the Saints' deal with the state, you'll like his HB 441 which gives tax breaks to the New Orleans Zephyrs AAA baseball club. Not to be outdone, Carter joins him with HB 673 and adds HB 631 for sound recording companies. Joel Robideaux's HB 649 isn't quite as obnoxious as Scalise's altogether for movie makers, but it still allows the porgram to continue. Even Hammett jumps in with his version, HB 731.
  • Employment practices regulation: Charmaine Marchand's HB 275 asks us to amend the Consitution to stick in a job-killing state minimum wage. Juan LaFonta's HB 317 wants us to put into place a law primarily aimed at duplicating Constitutional and state civil service protections dealing with state employment, while Derrick Shepherd's HB 571 does the same for the private sector. Willie Hunter's HB 444 manages to both claim some form of employment discrimination (against women) is going on and to force some kind of monetary remumeration.

Among bills outside of these categories, Dorsey's HB 360 exempts teachers from state income taxes even though they remain adequately compensated for their level of performance; Alario's HB 560 takes a step backwards by requiring less public information be made available on the executive budget; Marchand's HB 575 would destroy Louisiana's education accountability measures by making graduate exit exams useless; Powell's HB 588 is the right idea done in the wrong way by amending the Constitution to increase teachers' salaries from "excess" funds but takes budgetary flexibility away from the state by locking these in if Louisiana salaries are below the regional average; Gil Pinac's HB 690 tries to prevent consumers from getting lower prices on motor fuels, while Townsend's HB 763 threatens to do the same; Cedric Richmond's HB 799 makes Armstrong Airport a mini-McCarran International with gambling; and Rick Gallot's HB 678 very arrogantly tries to raise state officials' salaries at a time of big budgetary shortfalls, abill that many weeks would have won the award as the worst on chutzpah alone.

But the worst bill of the week is Richmond's HB 688. Not only does it promise to create a 2 percent excise tax on telecommunications services that taxpayers will foot, but it creates a whole new statewide commission with significant powers and bureaucracy to boot, removing much local oversight of telecommunications. Whereas most legislators were content merely to raise our taxes, he throws in bigger government as well.

THE UGLY: Just like with the Senate, this bill wins for picky reasons. HB 401 comes from Jim Tucker and actually is fairly noncontroversial. It garner this dubious distinction because in part its reason for filing is to correct typographical errors in the Revised Statutes.

SCORECARD: 810 House prefiles (including 3 budget bills), 22 withdrawals; 330 Senate prefiles, 17 withdrawals.

16 April 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Prefiled bills -- Week of Apr. 15, 2005 (Senate only)

SPECIAL NOTE: The last week of prefiling always is madness, especially now with the liberalized rules reagrding it in "fiscal-only" sessions. Thus, this week's edition will concentrate on Senate bills, and next week on House bills filed this week.

THE GOOD: With almost 250 bills (three times the previous total combined) prefiled bills hitting the Senate this week, there'a a long list of contenders for this honor:

  • SB 94 by Robert Barham is a slight alteration of his previous, now withdrawn, SB 12
  • Joe McPherson's SB 105 and SB 106 which would eliminate the ability of local taxing authorities to roll forward millages, leaving that in the hand of a vote of the people in the jurisdiction
  • SB 120 by Jay Dardenne authorizes a deduction for unreimbursed medical and dental expenses claimed as an itemized deduction for federal income tax purposes
  • SB 146 by Diana Bajoie is the one which implements Gov. Kathleen Blanco's desire to see "healthy" snacks and drinks sold in schools
  • Bajoie's SB 154 phases in a tax deduction over 10 years eventually to 10 percent for charitable giving, undoing one damaging effect of the Stelly Plan
  • The best senator in the state (who just happens to be my own) Max Malone's constitutional amendment SB 202 forces voter approval of roll-forwards in years of property reappraisals and during other years by the current system of requiring a public hearing of the taxing authority (which is not as good as SB 105 and SB 106 but if both can't get through, this bill would be an acceptable last resort), and its companion SB 254 which changes the law to match
  • SB 300 from Mike Michot allows ambulance services to collect from prior customers who did not pay fully their charges funds from their income tax refunds, if any -- a necessity because of the relatively high percentage of near-indigent people who use these services as transport to or as their primary health care provision in non-emergency situations
  • Lydia Jackson's SB 323 starts to clean up the problems faced by the state's erratic indigent defense system, by clarifying operations and governance, tightening eligibility standards (I think -- it's hard to tell who gets covered by the current, broad definition of "indigent"), and setting the reimbursement fee at a uniform $35

But, almost unbelievably, the best bill is another of Bajoie's, SB 175, would actually raise the income tax brackets at which rates kick in. In other words, it would provide a decrease in the income tax rate for most people (depending on how a perosn's deductions are figured, and higher middle class and above people would still pay at the top rate). I looked far and wide for a catch to this, Bajoie's suddenly acting like a Republican, but it escapes me to this point.

THE BAD: And there's no shortage of bad bills, either:

  • Michot came up with a trio of clunkers regarding SB 113, SB 114 and SB 262, extending corporate welfare to the movie industry and adding in some others, where the ineffectiveness of the movie tax credit program has been demonstrated elsewhere.
  • Dardenne makes a similar mistake with SB 136, and Ann Duplessis jumps on this bad bandwagon too with SB 206 and SB 252
  • Francis Heitmeier's SB 163 foolishly doubles the homestead exemption, to make even more inefficient the state's tax structure
  • Clo Fontenot's SB 176 is so bad it would have won almost any given previous week, forcing a property tax increase (except in Orleans Parish) to give additional money to school systems for teacher raises which are far from proven to be necessary
  • Also horrible enough to win most weeks is Don Hines' SB 228 which is a raid on the Budget Stabilization Fund to encourage more of a grasshopper rather than ant fiscal strategy
  • Not content with supporting corporate welfare for the entertainment industry, Duplessis also is wanting to give it to the rubber industry too in SB 246 -- instead of specific tax breaks, the state needs to concentrate on total fiscal structure reform to stop milking corporations dry and stifling economic development
  • Bajoie gives away and then she takes; SB 275 would create a transportation district around New Orelans which is not a bad idea, but giving it the power to tax without somehow taking away the ability of the subgovernments from doing so for that purpose is a bad idea and invitation for raising taxes
  • Cleo Fields' SB283 tries to undo progress made in education improvement by taking the teeth out of its accountability measures by not enforcing consequences of failing standardized tests for purposes of passing a grade level, for three years

But the worst is Sharon Weston Broome's SB 190 which actually does have laudable parts. It tries to bring order to what is the chaos of the state's health care system regarding people with developmental disabilities (the politically correct term referring to the mentally retarded and physically handicapped). Anything in this regard probably will save money and make life easier for people who must deal with this sytem.

The problem comes with the content of just a few paragraphs, which essentially indicate that if your family has such a person using state services and you do not live in poverty, the state is going to come after almost all of your assets to "pay it back," even after that person is dead. This is an extension of current policy which is not recorded as a statute, and expands on it. In short, if bad luck strikes somebody and they have no insurance for that eventuality or it is insufficient to care for that person's need, the state will take almost everything of value from that family (the bill reads like it will even go farther than federal standards for Medicaid eligibility, which at least allow these family's to own a home, vehicle, and furnishings).

Bad fortune of this nature doesn't respect a family's socioeconomic status, and can produce bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just to sustain somebody and give to him a decent quality of life. Why should people who have worked hard and saved and invested for themselves and their posterity get suddenly wiped out before the state will help them, while those who do not have such resources, many of whom chose not to pursue strategies that would have accumulated wealth for them, are taken care of at no cost by the state. It is this mentality that spawns the use of expensive, specialized strategies for family's to preserve their assets in cases of calamity, which not everybody can do. This bill should be amended to cover everybody hit with such bad luck at low or no cost to be fair. Otherwise, it could could cause tremendous misery to tens of thousands of Louisianans.

THE UGLY: There is only one reason that SB 212 by Rob Marrioneaux earned this status, and that is I cannot understand what it really means. If we define "prayer" as a supplication to the Deity, I cannot imagine anybody would propose a bill to make someone pay a fee for "prayer" for civil juries. Astute readers may note that these postings have a comment function: if somebody really knows what's going on here, please leave an explanation. (UPDATE: C.B. Forgotston tells me "prayer" is asking for a jury trial. Can't the legislative digest writers at least mention that legal terminology -- probably not, for C.B. also warns me that they don't always even write accurate summations of the legislation, much less explain it all adequately.)

SCORECARD: Thankfully, pre-filing is over. If history is any guide, we've seen at least half of the bills that will be filed get filed early. The final tally is House prefiles 810 (including 3 budget bills), 22 withdrawals (sadly, one of those being HB 94, the Apr. 1 Good Bill of the Week); Senate prefiles 330, 17 withdrawals.

09 April 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Prefiled bills -- Week of Apr. 8, 2005

THE GOOD: It's almost session time so the number of bills is increasing, and with it a number of good ones made for some stiff competition -- and a surprise winner -- this week:

  • Sen. Jay Dardenne's SB 82 keeps the public promise he made weeks ago to eliminate the ethics loophole that allows lobbyists to provide tickets to sporting and cultural events to policy-makers.
  • Rep. Tim Burns' HB 173 would do several things, but most importantly restrict the amount of roll-forward of taxes after assessment to the change in the Consumer Price Index from the previous alteration.
  • Sen. Nick Gautreaux's SB 72 drops the corporate franchise tax for assets less than $100,000, giving small businesses a boost of $150 a year by forgoing this needless tax.
  • Sen. Criag Romero's SB 64 ordinarily might win, as it undoes the damage caused by the Stelly Plan in restoring rates for payers to their previous lower levels unless the plan lowered them and in restoring the ability to use federal income tax deductions in excess of the standard deduction to have lower taxable Louisiana income.

But the unexpected winner, because he is much more likely to be the author of bad bills, is Sen. Cleo Fields' SB 53. This bill should be greeted warmly by poltiical parties, for it creates closed primaries for Congressional elections and, in doing so, restores the general election date in the state to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in even-numbered years. The latter aspect will alter the late start that some Louisiana electees get because the blanket pirmary system the courts force to have its general election/runoff later than the national election date.

Creating primaries where only registrants of the party can vote for the party's candidates (and in an runoff for the nomination, the bill provides), attaching a "sore loser" provision (meaning a defeated priamry candidate cannot run in the general election which only requires a plurality to win), and allowing parties to prevent nonaffiliates ("no party" or independent registrants) from voting in these contests will make the weakest state political parties in America more meaningful again by letting them have some control over nominations for the general election.

Of course, this potentially hrams the Democrats because the blanket primary system doesn't penalize party registrants for voting for another party's candidates; in this system they could not and many white Democrats would switch to the GOP, almost eliminating the so-called "conservative" Democrat. Then again, that breed is pretty much gone at the Congressional level anyway, and the only one out there that even can pretend that any more, U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, will likely be defeated anyway in 2006 as he fights for reelection in a district that voted 58 percent for Pres. George W. Bush last year.

THE BAD: Ordinarily, HB 183 by Rep. William Daniel would be a loser here. On the heels of Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom's power-grab based on the idiotic Unfair Sales Act of 1940, this bill would single out and punish the sale of motor fuel below its presumed "minimum" price. Not to sound like a broken record, but the research shows that the costs of such legislation always exceed the benefits, so why make the bad situation Odom has created worse?

But double-barrelled action by Rep. Karen Carter, HB 162 and HB 163 are even worse. The former reduces rates for insurers who put their required premium money into women- or minority-owned banks. This is a new one on me; I've never heard of insurer's trying to discover the race and gender of a bank's owners and putting money in with them as opposed to whoever offers the best rates. Why should these groups get preferential treatment and white males get discriminated against? The latter merely jacks up fees on some insurers which, either will be passed along to consumers or, if disallowed by the Insurance Rating Commision, will be yet another discouragement for insurers to write policies in the state, so the citizenry pays for these hidden taxes regardless.

THE UGLY: No stranger to this category, Rep. Mickey Frith in HB 127 wants to put crawfish theft into a category all its own, separate from all other forms of livestock theft. It gets pretty specific -- categories range from up to $300 worth, $300-500 worth, and above $500. If this law passes, make sure your theft is below $300; otherwise, you become a convicted felon (even if a "relative" felony, meaning a lower penalty not requiring hard labor may be sentenced, although with the politicization in this state, who would take the chance?) and its worse if you're a serial convictee on ths charge. Just one question -- why go to all the trouble of making this an exception? Maybe it's because the bill does actually lower the penalties of this offense relative to the other "livestock theft" instances as specified in R.S. 14:67.1. But why do that -- make this a lesser crime, so to speak than other similar things? Again, it's the micromanaging that usually makes for an ugly bill.

(Although I must admit I was tempted to give this award to Rep. Loulan Pitre's HB 154 which would make it illegal for certain municipalities -- having less than 25,000 people -- to outlaw the selling of fish on their byways and alleys, but reading that one made me smile which legislation almost never does -- more likely it makes me cry -- so I waved off the foul.)

SCORECARD: 184 House prefiles (including 3 budget bills), 5 withdrawals; 82 Senate prefiles, 5 withdrawals.

01 April 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Prefiled bills -- Week of Apr. 1, 2005

THE GOOD: There were a couple of strong anti-corruption, anti-get-along-go-along bills introduced in the Senate that contended for this honor this week. SB 43 defangs the unaccountable Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority's ability to dodge public bid laws, courtesy of James David Cain, Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom's biggest legislative critic and increasingly trying to lead the Legislature to quit making the state Odom's plaything. SB 44 by Art Lentini goes after the activities of the second-most arrogant politician in the state, Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley, by increasing accountability in purchase of state vehicles by officials.

But top marks this week go to HB 94 by Rep. A.G. Crowe which wants to put forward a constitutional amendment to make tax millage roll-forwards permissible only by unanimous consent. Presently, when reassessment of property occurs, if a higher amount of property tax dollars in a jurisdiction occurs, local governing authorities can take advantage of that additional revenue only if two-thirds of their memberships approve. This is to prevent reasessments done to flush automatically cash into government, essentially triggering a tax increase on people who hold property that have not improved it.

Unanimity is a proper goal because in the use of property taxes by local governments, a vote of the people is required to assess the millage in the first place. A roll-forward essentially causes a tax increase without direct input by the people. Without that, local governing authorities should be held to the highest possible standard before allowing a roll-forward, and that would be unanimity. And that already in effect is the requirement for sheriffs, since those jurisdictions are governed by a single executive instead of a legislative body.

THE BAD: SB 47 would aggravate the most underreported problem in state finance, the obsession of a few politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, contractors, and developers with building lake after lake. Moon Griffon and The Dead Pelican have been in the forefront of bringing this to the attention of the state's taxpayers, man-made lakes costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars with no real value to anybody outside of a very select few. In this instance, Sen. Robert Barham's bill would grant the Morehouse Parish Lake Commission to levy taxes, issue bonds, and incur indebtedness.

This is the first step in expanding powers of a government organization to build another unneeded lake in the state. Too many are out there or on the drawing board already; stopping this bill will neuter the ability of at least one more to be foisted upon the state's taxpayers.

THE UGLY: Of course HB 87 can be seen as a well-meaning bill. Rep. Diane Winston's legislation would create a sales tax exemption for materials bought by Habitat for Humanity in the construction of its sweat-equity, donated houses. As laudable as this may be, what makes ugly bills ugly is they carve out exceptions that serve some special interest, even a valuable one, make more confusing the law, and beg the quesiton why other similarly-situated interests don't get the same treatment.This would join a list of 50-odd activities exempted in RS 47:305, but what about organizations that do things like Habitat for Humanity? Maybe not just houses, but perhaps other projects that have a charitable purpose? Once you make an exception, you can't deny others, and the definition grows of what qualifies, the slope gets slipperier, and the tax code and administration of the exception becomes more jumbled and complicated than ever.

SCORECARD: 114 House prefiles (including budget bills), 3 withdrawals ;47 Senate prefiles, 2 withdrawals.