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.

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