05 April 2006

Committee action, Apr. 5: HB 562, HB 361, others

Before going any further, I had wanted to look in on the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee today checking in on a number of important election-related bills. But the room in which it meets, Room F, is the only one not set up to provide a televised or even audio feed. Why? (Readers, help me out if you can; from the notes I get from some of you, some of you are pretty knowledgeable about the ways of the Legislature.)

Instead, but perhaps as equally important, are other election-, and ethics-, related bills in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee (the House wisely putting cameras in all committee rooms).

Before anything came up, in the review of the election code heard by the committee (in order later to give substance to an existing bill), the simmering argument about flexibility of voting and registration flared up. Rep. Juan LaFonta claimed Louisiana voters were “forced” to lose their registrations in Orleans Parish when given voter registration options in other states. But, among others, Rep. Peppi Bruneau pointed out this was a matter of federal law, that when being offered benefits in another state a person had to be asked whether they wanted to register vote. If they did, then notice would be given the Louisiana to strike that voter from the rolls. LaFonta complained this was “purging” voting rolls, to which Bruneau responded, “It’s a violation of everybody else’s rights if somebody can vote twice.” LaFonta made no comment.

HB 668 by Rep. Art Morrell, which would loosen campaign ethics requirements, got deferred. HB 129 was brought up which suddenly was relevant rather than duplicative. The Senate yesterday had considered the bill’s near-twin, SB 83 by Sen. Charles Jones, which would reduce the time to keep copies of campaign finance documents from six to three years, and failed by one vote because of the objections of Sen. Robert Barham who did not seem to realize (even if this had been brought up in the Senate’s committee) that the electronic records would be kept indefinitely. It passed without objection.

HB 361 by Rep. Charlie Lancaster closed an undesirable loophole in existing campaign finance law which discriminated against candidates for an office already in one house running for a seat in a special election in the other, making them unable to raise money (because of the law HB 668 would try to undo) while other candidates not in the Legislature could. It passed without objection.

HB 562 by Rep. Mike Powell would give the people the opportunity a veto power over the ability of the Legislature to raise it own salary. Powell argued that this provided an additional means of accountability over legislators. Rep. Rick Gallot asked whether Powell would support a raise, saying he was basing his decision on whether to support the bill (even as he previously had said he wouldn’t vote for it) on that. He answered he would only if the bill (a constitutional amendment) went into effect. If in effect, he couldn’t say, noting there was a process that would have to be gone through before he could answer. Gallot pressed the issue, and Powell repeated his answer. Gallot accused Powell of posturing, although himself he couldn’t say whether he had whether he had supported a pay raise.

But Bruneau wanted to continue, and asked whether the per diem was included, Powell said it would not since it was automatically tied to the federal rate, thus not a matter of legislative approval. Bruneau recommended maybe an amendment to tie salaries to inflation was appropriate; Powell answered he might support that, if this change was put into effect. Bruneau said he disagreed with this underlying philosophy. Lancaster then suggested why not bring the same philosophy to appropriations? Powell said that was matter of the public weal, not to put money into legislators’ pockets, and thus different.

Rep. Billy Montgomery moved favorable passage, even as he expressed reservations that this should be in the Constitution. Powell said his approach was appropriate because it was a basic contractural rule, not a matter of policy.

Gallot made a motion to defer, because he said Powell was “trying to keep us from getting a raise.” That was taken first, with Gallot being joined by Reps. Jeff Arnold and LaFonta, while Montgomery and Reps. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock and Mert Smiley voted against. This left it to Lancaster as chairman casting the deciding vote, yes, effectively killing the bill 4-3.

“There’s an argument about that around here, too.”
Lancaster, when Powell said the difference between an appropriation and a salary increase in the Legislature was the latter went into legislators’ pockets.

THURSDAY: HB 253 is scheduled to be heard by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee; HB 1136 is scheduled to be heard by the House Insurance Committee.

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