13 June 2005

Floor action, Jun. 13: HB 40 and HB 688


Would the 3rd time be the charm? Rep. Loulan Pitre’s HB 40, its third session being introduced, is an attempt to avoid having a December general election because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the blanket primary system used in Louisiana constituted a general election and had to take place on the national election date, the first Tuesday after the first Monday. It’s a clever, but cumbersome, bill.

Rep. Peppi Bruneau, as he has for years in committee, brought up the argument that the second-place finisher could outdistance a third-place finisher considerably but not make the general election. Rep. John Alario questioned that someone who won an absolute majority in the primary would still have to face an opponent in the general election. A close loser whose opponent won an absolute majority could actually come back and win the next election. Pitre admitted that these were not very palatable alternatives, but the cost savings and allowing Louisiana representatives to take office when all others did made it desirable. Rep. Donald Cazayoux asked why not go to closed primaries; Pitre said his would be a more incremental approach. He also said it most cases it would mimic a closed primary. “It’s not the most elegant system in the world, but it’s better than what we have now,” he said. Rep. Lelon Kenney brought up the interesting point that U.S. Sen. David Vitter actually would have had to face a runoff in 2004.

Bruneau insisted the present system was more fair, and argued that Sen. Cleo Field’s SB 53 would eventually address this issue by instituting closed primaries. Rep. Charlie Lancaster said this one was worse than SB 53, but better than the present. “We have destroyed the integrity of both major political parties … by keeping it a wide-open madhouse,” he argued. Lancaster argued a vote for this and SB 53 would promote the independence of the Legislature relative to the governor.

The bill failed 23-75.

(Personal privilege: After five minutes the same questions kept coming over and over. Can’t we pay attention?)

The stealth tax, HB 688, got pulled off the calendar. It’s sponsor, Rep. Cedric Richmond, argued it was a tax cut because the landline tax on phones was 5 percent and it would be lowered to 2 percent. But what he didn’t emphasis this 2 percent tax would apply to wireless communications as well. Bruneau pointed this out – “a new tax on cell phones” – and reminded the body that this would be a tax increase of $49 million. He said there was no rational reason to create this tax since there was no use of public property. Richmond said it really wasn’t $49 million, but Bruneau read the explicit phrase from the fiscal note. Bruneau also argued that since money was going to the state in essence by making rebates to new statewide district created on the basis of per phone rather than per population, it was really a tax vote needing a two-thirds approval. But Speaker Salter said his legal advice said otherwise.

Nor did he address the fact landlines were being traded for cell phones, so this would be a new tax increase for a number of people. Rep. Tommy Wright also pointed out that cell bills were considerably higher. The bill failed 26-71.


HB 437 never got called of the calendar. It may well be dead as a result.

TUESDAY: HB 799 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary B Committee; HB 273 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee.

QUOTES OF THE DAY: "I was told it was a technical amendment, so I didn't read it."

Rep. Taylor Townsend, being queried on an amendment offered to his HB 707.

"That was a poor joke."

Speaker Joe Salter, when a member asked the question "what the dollar a pack of cigarettes is going for?" on an unrelated bill.

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