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- SB 94 by Robert Barham is a slight alteration of his previous, now withdrawn, SB 12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.