31 March 2006

Legislative regular session through Mar. 31

The House didn't do much in committee this week to start bu the Senate did get going in that respect. And some more bills should trickle in for the next few weeks.

THE BAD: HB 1129 by Rep. Francis Thompson makes it easier for the state to blow money on dubious economic development schemes that seem to be more about transferring money to certain interests. HB 1130 by Rep. Cedric Richmond would allow for the creation of many new government agencies with the power to assess fees and take on debt and all the patronage that entails for the pruposes of economic development that already can be done (if it needs to be at all) elsewhere. His HB 1136 would increase the state’s liability for its last-resort homeowner’s insurance, meaning the state could pass it on to private insurers thus consumers.

MONDAY: HB 1129 is scheduled to be heard in the House Appropriations Committee.

THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: SB 18 was reported favorably; SB 150 was reported favorably.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD: SB 291 was reported favorably with minor amendments.

(Note: some numbers will fluctuate because of similar bills. If more than one similar bill makes progress, all will be recorded. However, if any ever become legislation, there should be no duplication; only the fate of one of them would be reflected at the end.)

Total House introductions: 1136; total Senate introductions: 634.

Total House good bills: 28; total Senate good bills: 12.

Total House bad bills: 16; total Senate bad bills: 17.

Total House good bills heard in House committee: 0; total Senate good bills heard in Senate committee: 3.

Total House bad bills heard in House committee: 0; total Senate bad bills heard in Senate committee: 8.

Total House good bills passing committee: 0; total Senate good bills passing committee: 2

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

29 March 2006

Committee action, Mar. 29: SB 291

SB 291 would not require a registered voter to request an absentee ballot. Instead, when there is a declared state of emergency the secretary of state automatically would have forwarded ballots to last known addresses of registrants in that area. Author Sen. Cleo Fields brought in a special guest testifier to the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who argued that the current process was not designed for the norm, absentee being the exception, but now for hundreds of thousands it was the norm. “Exiled” voters, as he called displaced citizens, did not have the same access, so, in essence, they had to be spoon-fed under these extreme conditions.

Sen. Reggie Dupre said he had been supportive of efforts in the last special session to loosen voting requirements, but said doing this meant the 4/22 elections could not go off in time. Fields said this wouldn’t have to apply for that, but it should be there for the future anytime a state of emergency was declared. Jackson said fairness, not date, was important, and receiving the ballot made it fair. Also there to testify, President Pro Tem Diana Bajoie said fariness could be compromised without this -- leaving open the question whether passage could create legal liability for the state. This was a concern raised by Sen. Chris Ullo, bothered by “equal access,” saying mail under these conditions was unreliable. He would be more comfortable with having the enacting date to June. Fields said there wasn’t equal access now, but Ullo did not see this bill accomplishing that. Committee chairman Charles Jones said it was about shortening the process.

Sen. Jay Dardenne’s questions were more on specific legal matters. He pointed out that all the legal wrangling (some initiated by Fields himself) had the courts all approving the elections as now organized without this bill. Fields maintained this bill had nothing to do with the suits. Dardenne thought swift passage with the bill amended to make it take affect immediately would impact the 4/22 New Orleans election, which Fields disagreed. Dardenne pointed out that this privileged a separate class, since the normal process required a request. Fields said it was justified because it was not a “choice” to be displaced. Dardenne wondered why it was any more effort to request a ballot for this class than the established ones (students, military, travelers) – choice had nothing to do with ability to request a ballot. “We have a reasonable mechanism in place,” he stated.

Dardenne also pointed out that the bill would force the secretary to commit an illegal act, that FEMA information could not be released to local registrars. Fields said FEMA said it would allow releasal of information if state law would allow it. Dardenne pointed out there was no guarantee that the ballot would go to willing recipients actually who is that registered voter. To which Jackson tried to imply this all created a new kind of poll tax.

After a lunch recess, a posse of black Democrat legislators, liberal interest group advocates, and an actual citizen, expressed their support for the legislation. State Rep. Cedric Richmond said people were moving around too much to be able to get communications from the state, said he thought the courts would order another election unless they “erred on the side of caution.” State Rep. Charmaine Marchand asked “why are they making it so hard for us to vote,” saying the unsolicited mailing would “give people the right to vote” and would abrogate that otherwise. Several testifiers echoed the refrain that the mail was too slow, that the process was too complex (seeming oblivious to the argument that no one has ever complained before about the process before which has been in place for decades, implying that displaced people were somehow more stupid than others).

Dardenne asked why the law said registrars were to send ballots to people from their parish outside of it, but also to those from elsewhere in his parish, raising the specter of people getting more than one ballot but perhaps others not at all, creating plenty of confusion for registrars. Fields said he thought the language was clear.

Ullo offered an amendment to make the bill effective no earlier than Jun. 1, 2006 – after the New Orleans elections but before other elections in which this bill could bring partisan advantage. Ullo said he would vote for the bill only if it took affect after the New Orleans elections. Fields removed his objection to it and it passed without objection. They also passed without objection an amendment that appeared to address Dardenne’s complaint. But, later, Ullo wanted to know what Fields would do if his amendment was stripped. Fields said he would not work to take it off, but would still vote for the bill.

With that, the vote was called. Dardenne (the only Republican) and Sen. Noble Ellington voted against it, while Fields, Dupre, Jones, and with Ullo casting the decisive vote, voted for it, passing it.

“I have a bill to let you do that again”
Jones, referring to his SB 293 which extends for a year legislators’ terms , when Dupre recounted a story about how he served an extra year on the Terrebone Parish Council.

“The ‘whereas’ and ‘therefore’ do not correspond”
Said repeatedly by Jackson, perhaps the most logically understandable thing he uttered the entire day.

24 March 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Prefiled House bills -- Week of Mar. 18, 2006

And now continuing from last week, turning to the House bills prefiled by Mar. 18:

THE GOOD: HB 253 by Rep. A.G. Crowe would make it more difficult for government entities to circumvent open meetings laws. HB 301 by Rep. Tim Burns would create a voucher program enactable by districts in certain circumstances. HB 331 by Rep. Mickey Frith would limit the number of days on which a local government could schedule an election, saving money. HB 361 by Rep. Charlie Lancaster extends existing campaign finance law to special elections to the Legislature. HB 416 by Rep. Karen Carter would make the insurance commissioner’s job appointive. HB 428 by Rep. Jim Tucker would establish term limits, three consecutive, on all elected executives except for the governor which would remain at two. HB 429 by Rep. Hollis Downs would make the secretary of state’s job appointive (similar bill: HB 786). HB 481 by Lancaster would enable people with degrees and certification in certain professions to be issued regular teaching licenses without having to go through the usually-unnecessary teacher certification process. HB 562 by Rep. Mike Powell would give the electorate the chance to ratify any salary increase of legislators for it to go into effect. HB 568 represents Rep. Mert Smiley’s continuing efforts to clean up never- or seldom-used state entities with their abolishment (similar bill: HB 791). HB 604 represents another effort by Powell to get rid of the useless January election date. HB 850 by Rep. Gary Beard would strengthen ethics laws regarding disaster-related contracts. HB 909 by Rep. Peppi Bruneau would decrease voter registration fraud opportunities. HB 987 by Rep. Ernie Alexander would create incentives for all eligible citizens to get a high school diploma by refusing them all government social service benefits but medical care without one, phased in over time. HB 990 by Rep. John LaBruzzo would make legislators related to a tax assessor ineligible to vote on legislation regarding assessors. HB 1118 by Rep. Bobby Faucheux essentially lowers the state sales tax by one percent on tangible personal property at retail.

THE BAD: HB 194 by Rep. Willie Hunter would artificially raise the minimum wage and kill off jobs (similar bills: HB 283). HB 385 by Rep. Cheryl Gray would allow government to interfere in the residential rental market after a disaster. HB 489 by Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock would scale back the residency requirement for voting registration from 30 to seven days and strip out anti-fraud measures. HB 644 by Rep. John Alario increases the homestead exemption to $150,000, further undermining local government finance. HB 668 by Rep. Arthur Morrell would loosen ethics requirements for legislators in accepting campaign contributions. HB 741 by Cedric Richmond would make it possible for Orleans Parish to require local hiring for government contracts, creating patronage opportunities ripe for abuse. HB 818 by Jefferson-Bullock would render meaningless the entire concept of “residency” for registration purposes. HB 821 by Richmond would increase crime by removing capital punishment as a sentencing option. Rep. Juan LaFonta tries to resurrect adding unnecessary, duplicative legal protections in state government actions with his HB 853. HB 1088 by Rep. Charmaine Marchand would have state taxpayers subsidize candidates for office and violate individuals’ privacy by having the secretary of state release known addresses of displaced persons.

THE UGLY: HB 213 by Rep. Rick Gallot allows Grambling State University to sell some land in Florida to a certain individual; why does the Legislature have to get involved with this? Do we really need yet another licensed occupation in the state – HB 259 by Speaker Joe Salter creates it for “automotive glass repair technicians?” HB 501 by Rep. Gil Pinac reduces qualifications and adds fees to get certified as … an “interior designer” (no joke). HB 547 by Rep. Troy Hebert would prohibits the governor, governor-elect, and candidates in the general election for governor from taking action to influence the selection of legislative officers and legislative committee officers – it’s not a bad idea, but entirely unenforceable. And, do we have to have a state song just for hurricane recovery with HB 796 by Rep. Danny Martiny? And must we bring into state law quibbles over the definition of “Cajun,” as in HB 1102 and HB 1117 by Rep. Karen St. Germain?

Prefiled bills in the House that are essentially similar to others already filed: HB 136 (HB 172, HB 760), HB 116 (HB 201, HB 334, HB 514, HB 642, HB 656, HB 701, HB 724, HB 752, HB 874), HB 28 (HB 239, HB 330, HB 640, HB 992), HB 132 (HB 243, HB 582), HB 59 (HB 427), SB 175 (HB 462), SB 167 (HB 490), SB 18 (HB 505), SB 437 (HB 641), SB 526 (HB 709, HB 726), HB 44 (HB 815), SB 513 (HB 1028), HB 161 (HB 986) SB 544 (HB 1032). In reporting the scorecard below, all related bills will count as just one.

Total House introductions: 1123; total Senate introductions: 632.

Total House good bills: 28; total Senate good bills: 12.

Total House bad bills: 13; total Senate bad bills: 16.

19 March 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Prefiled Senate bills -- Week of Mar. 18, 2006

Prefiling is over, which means each legislator can only file five more bills each. It also means a lot of duplication (32 so far for tightening restrictions for what purposes government can seize private property, for example). Here are bills prefiled in the Senate which duplicate in essence others mentioned in last week’s prefiled list: SB 18 (SB 150, SB 294), HB 116 (SB 271), and HB 44 (SB 410).

This week will review prefiled bills from then past week only in the Senate:

THE GOOD: SB 87 by Sen. Charles Jones would create closed primaries (open to independents, by option of the parties involved) for state elections (similar bill: SB 287). SB 175 by Sen. Willie Mount would prohibit any person appointed or elected to a board or commission within the executive branch of state government to serve in such position for more than three consecutive terms, and her SB 176 would do the same for constitutional state commissions. SB 235 by Sen. Max Malone would place limits on campaign contributions made by entities subject to regulation by the commissioner of insurance and public service commissioners to those officers. His SB 275 and companion SB 277 would remove the loophole that allows term-limited members of one house of the Legislature to immediately run for a seat in the other. SB 382 by Sen. Jay Dardenne prohibits gifts from lobbyists to elected officials and removes the cultural or sporting event ticket loophole that allows lobbyists to give these. SB 415 by Sen. Tom Schedler would create a commission that would speed transformation of long-term health care in Louisiana from an institutional bias to one emphasizing independent living. Regrettably, since the state won’t try to reduce its unfunded accrued liability for state retirement funds, SB 526 by Sen. Walter Boasso will make the state’s retirees take up some of the slack by increasing their contributions. SB 544 by Sen. Edwin Murray would get the Orleans Levee District out of the non-levee business by transferring those functions to New Orleans.

THE BAD: SB 69 by Sen. Ben Nevers would permit more government control over choices by businesses that should be left up to the marketplace, by forcing businesses (even nonprofits) to contribute a certain amount of money to employee health care. SB 98 by Sen. Derrick Shepherd does the same in reference to discrimination by “perceived” sexual orientation, which would include forcing religious organizations to follow the same (similar bill: SB 347). SB 166 by Jones would allow people who have not been positively identified as registered voters between certain dates to be given absentee ballots even if they did not request them, opening up tremendous fraudulent voting possibilities (similar bill: SB 291). His SB 167 also would discourage voter responsibility and create a logistical nightmare by allowing voters to show up at any polling place not their own and still be allowed to vote. SB 273 by Jones would undo term limits on members of the legislature. SB 278 by Sen. Cleo Fields would create same-day voter registration which would increase the possibility of voters not genuinely residents of a constituency to influence elections in that jurisdiction. His SB 280 would means-test the TOPS program, discriminating against academically-superior students just because their families are above the poverty level. Jones’ SB 293 and SB 301 would extend state elected officials’ terms a year without any compensation to the people such as including SB 275 and SB 277 as part of it (see above). Fields’ SB 433 and SB 437 attempt to make permanent and statewide the temporary legislation that removed ballot security provisions for the upcoming Orleans Parish election. His SB 439 would water down school accountability and education quality by forgoing any meaningful role that testing would have to motivate better performance out of students. SB 513 by Sen. Robert Barham allows legislators of long service, including those term-limited, after leaving office (voluntarily or otherwise) to jump on the gravy train of state health benefits. SB 602 by Murray provides a backdoor method to funnel more money to government by taxing telecommunications subscriber lines. SB 613 by Sen. Sherri Smith Cheek is a retry of her failed 2005 legislation that would make a matter of state law procedures that favor wasteful institutionalization-based rather than efficient community-based long-term health care. SB 625 by Sen. Clo Fontenot allows continuing the ridiculous practice of licensing of florists.

THE UGLY: SB 138 by Nevers wants to jack up the per diems received by members of the Tangipahoa Parish Planning Commission to a minimum of $60 a day and almost doubling the number of occasions they can get up to $100 a day to 28. This could increase the amount money a member gets seven-fold over a year. Why is this necessary? Ditto for SB 558 by Sen. Noble Ellington, which defines what “catfish” are. Ditto again for SB 573 by Sen. Nick Gautreaux which defines “Cajun” for commercial uses.

SCORECARD: This will be published next week after a review of all House bills prefiled ending Mar. 17 are reviewed.

11 March 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Prefiled bills -- Week of Mar. 11, 2006

If it seems like we just had a session of the Louisiana Legislature, well, you’re right, and here come the pre-filed bills for the 2006 regular session. But first, let’s get the final scorecard from the 2006 1st Extraordinary Session:

Total House introductions: 99; total Senate introductions: 58.

Total House good bills: 11; total Senate good bills: 2.

Total House bad bills: 11; total Senate bad bills: 4.

Total House good bills heard in House committee: 5; total Senate good bills heard in Senate committee: 2.

Total House bad bills heard in House committee: 4; total Senate bad bills heard in Senate committee: 2.

Total House good bills passing House committee: 4; total Senate good bills passing Senate committee: 2.

Total House bad bills passing House committee: 4; total Senate bad bills passing Senate committee: 2.

Total House good bills passing the House: 4; total Senate good bills passing the Senate: 2.

Total House bad bills passing the House: 3; total Senate bad bills passing the Senate: 2.

Total House good bills heard in Senate committee: 3; total Senate good bills heard in House committee: 2.

Total House bad bills heard in Senate committee: 3; total Senate bad bills heard in House committee: 2.

Total House good bills passed by Senate committee: 3; total Senate good bills passed by House committee: 2.

Total House bad bills passed by Senate committee: 3; total Senate bad bills passed by House committee: 2.

Total House good bills passed by Senate: 1; total Senate good bills passed by House: 2.

Total House bad bills passed by Senate: 3; total Senate bad bills passed by House: 1.

Total House good bills advancing to the governor: 1; total Senate good bills advancing to the governor: 2

Total House bad bills advancing to the governor: 3; total Senate bad bills advancing to the governor: 1

Total House good bills signed by governor: 1; total Senate good bills signed by governor: 2

Total House bad bills signed by governor: 3; total Senate bad bills signed by governor: 1

And now, on to the regular session …

THE GOOD: HB 28 marks another attempt by Rep. Peppi Bruneau to make it constitutionally impermissible for state governmental entities of any kind to expropriate private property to turn over to another private entity for economic development purposes (similar bills: HB 29, HB 82, HB 84, HB 95, HB 131, HB 148, SB 1, SB 4, SB 8, SB 21; SB 27). HB 44 by Rep. Bodi White is a constitutional amendment to allow the new city of Central to opt out of the low-performing East Baton Rouge Parish school district, like its counterparts in the parish. HB 58 by Rep. William Daniel creates more openness to public records in regards to hiring of people in government with policy-making duties and prohibits oral contracts used in their place. HB 59 by Rep. Kay Katz shortens the state’s nation-longest polling hours by two to better keep elections commissoners’ positions filled. HB 89 by Rep. Eric LaFleur expands protections for victims of crimes by giving them greater latitude to use deadly force. HB 99 by Rep. Mike Walsworth abolishes the office of lieutenant governor and transfers its sparse functions elsewhere. HB 108 and HB 109 by Bruneau tighten lobbying requirements. HB 116 by Rep. Tim Burns has another go at consolidating Orleans Parish government. HB 132 by Burns puts pro-life restrictions on abortion (similar bill: SB 33). HB 136 by Rep. Troy Hebert strengthens Second Amendment rights during declared emergencies. HB 161 by Bruneau would consolidate higher education management into one board. SB 18 by Sen. Cleo Fields would create closed primaries for congressional offices. SB 25 by Sen. James David Cain would make American flag burning a crime.

THE BAD: HB 126 by Rep. Joe Toomy would provide for salary increases for practically every judge in the state when the option is present for judge who don’t like their salaries to resign and allow any of a multitude of candidates who like that salary level to get elected in their stead. HB 144 by Rep. Willie Hunter attempts to distort the labor marketplace by enshrining into law “comparable worth” which would make wages no longer dependent upon actual work done. HB 145 by Rep. Cheryl Gray puts additional reporting and leave requirements on employers relative to labor law that employees easily can inform themselves on their own or take on their own time.

THE UGLY: HB 44 by Rep. Billy Montgomery creates an incredibly narrow exception to the retirement rules for teachers, lasting only until Sep. 30, 2006 for someone still in the system with less than 300 days in it with less than $50,000 in it. Clearly, somebody’s being done a big favor here by Montgomery.

Total House introductions: 161; total Senate introductions: 35.

Total House good bills: 12; total Senate good bills: 2.

Total House bad bills: 3; total Senate bad bills: 0.