03 May 2006

Committee action, May 3: SB 434, SB 438, SB 602, HB 428, HB 461, HB 853, HB 1176, HB 1197, HB 1236

In the Senate’s Commerce, Consumer Protection, and International Affairs Committee, SB 438 by Sen. Cleo Fields would regulate certain financial charges rendered in home lending, capping fees. Sen. Ann Duplessis pointed out that many fees were part of the normal business of lending, beyond the control of the lender. Fields said these circumstances were rare but that something needed to be done. “There are a lot of folks out there who are predators.” But Duplessis did not think the bill was tailored well enough to accomplish that without undesirable spillover effects.

With that, Fields asked for deferral, as well as for a similar bill SB 434 which would do the same in area of “pay day” loans.

SB 602 by Sen. Edward Murray would allow Orleans Parish to slap fees onto landline telephones to fund recovery cost to rebuild an emergency operations center for Orleans. Duplessis wanted to know why no insurance had been purchased for the equipment, which would cost $2.5 million. The bill also asked for $3.5 million more for a new building. Duplessis said the bill was more than recovery, its indefinite nature seemed to make it a permanent thing. She also Sen. Mike Smith said the matter was getting too complicated and there should be a deferral. Sen. Francis Heitmeier pointed out without this money that emergency operations would be severely crippled.

Then the discussion had to close, because Chairman Ken Hollis noticed a quorum was absent, so the bill, already once deferred, was not dealt with.

In the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, HB 1236 by Rep. Mike Walsworth, presented by Treasurer John Kennedy and staff, would prohibit an elected official or member of his immediate family or entity in which any of them have a substantial economic interest from seeking or entering into any contracts arising from a gubernatorially or presidentially declared disaster. This would include children, spouses of them, siblings, their spouses, and spouses and their parents. Amendments would add appointed officials and their immediate family members and would not apply retroactively and such contracts would be renewable. They were accepted.

Then Rep. Peppi Bruneau asked essentially to gut the renewable feature of the amendment, which was unanimously adopted. So was the bill.

HB 428 by Rep. Jim Tucker would limit statewide elected officials to three consecutive terms. Bruneau thought term limits in general were a bad idea where power did not accumulate, but Tucker pointed out that in narrow policy areas these offices, such as insurance, this could happen. Tucker also said consistency in all state offices was desirable, to equalize power between executive offices and a term-limited Legislature.

After a motion to defer failed 5-5, the motion to report favorably also failed 5-5. Reps. Jeff Arnold, Juan LaFonta, Billy Montgomery, Loulan Pitre, and Mert Smiley voted to pass it, while Reps. Bruneau, Rick Gallot, Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, Charmaine Marchand, and Charlie Lancaster voted it down.

HB 1176 by Rep. Tank Powell would make campaign contributions from certain affected parties in the area of insurance to candidates for insurance commissioner. Lancaster pointed out that the bill seemed to apply retroactively when, by all appearances, a current contest was going on. Thus, a motion was made was made to make it go effective with the governor’s signature. That and a motion to report favorably passed unanimously.

HB 461 by Rep. Troy Hebert would move up the dates that the Legislature convenes. He noted Louisiana’s goes into session later than most states which comes close to the end of the fiscal year. Arnold said Carnival would be impacted, but Hebert said mechanisms existed to give them a few days off around then. LaFonta said the summer was busier for some professions, plus family vacations would be facilitated. Lancaster recommended making the effective date starting for the next Legislature. Bruneau, however, thought the dates in the bill (early January or February) might now be too early. Lancaster argued that if other states do it, then they must be able to overcome this problem. With this change, the bill passed.

Hebert also with his HB 1197 wanted to cap the amount of money a candidate could loan himself in a campaign. Montgomery argued that the levels still were too high because wealthier people could still loan themselves a lot and be advantaged.

However, Bruneau said first-time candidates might be disadvantaged, even at higher levels. “This bill will have a chilling effect on challengers,” he argued. But Hebert said it was important to prevent winners from leveraging their offices to pay themselves back, advantaging wealthier candidates. “Consider that chilling effect.” The point was there is a difference between giving your campaign money which you can’t get back, and lending yourself money which you can. LaFonta said this bill might hurt those who do not get the support of wealthier interests. Pitre echoed the comment, saying less-wealthy candidates would be less likely to risk assets if they had to give rather than borrow.

With that, Hebert decided discretion was the better part of valor and decided to voluntarily defer it.

HB 853 by LaFonta would prohibit the state from harassing or discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, political affiliation, or disabilities against any individual in any manner pertaining to employment or in the provision of any service or benefit. Of course, the “sexual orientation” clause drew all of the commentary.

LaFonta argued the measure simply was fair, and that codifying made sense since it already was an executive order. But opponents argued this might make more acceptable homosexual activities in the workplace, because codifying it would connote acceptability and make it more difficult to prohibit. Indeed, to codify this provision into law would have a chilling effect of arguments against the behavior, actually empowering those who were supposedly being discriminated against. They also argued this would permit greater legal attacks on nonprofit organizations that, on principle, oppose homosexual behavior. The moral approval that the bill would grant to homosexual acts would have a ripple effect in other areas of society to make such activities, such as with minors, more acceptable, as well as generally degrade the moral fabric of society, they said.

When a motion to report favorably was made, all of the panel’s Democrats supported it, except for the absent Montgomery, plus Pitre, while the other three Republicans did not, letting it advance 6-3.

THURSDAY: HB 1260 is scheduled to be heard by the House Administration of Justice Committee; HB 582 is scheduled to be heard by the House Health and Welfare Committee.

“I challenge Sen. [Walter] Boasso to a tag-team mud wrestling match.”
Sen. Noble Ellington, and I’m not even going to attempt to put this one in context.

“Everybody in this room holds dear a good night’s sleep.”
Smith, referring to legislation to require all mattresses sold in Louisiana be fire retardant.

“I hate to break up this lovefest, but …”
Gallot, asking his committee to move along after Rep. Peppi Bruneau began reminiscing, in the process calling Reps. Charlie Lancaster and Billy Montgomery “whippersnappers,” and talking about the prior day’s appearance of former senator and judge Adrian Duplantier.

“I had cause to hire Mr. Riddle as an attorney once because my opponent had hired Mitch Landrieu, so I had to get a lawyer equally as bad.”
Montgomery, joking with former colleague and Avoyelles District Attorney Charles Riddle, during debate on an unrelated bill while Riddle waited to testify on another.

“I guess Mary’s on top in this situation.”
Bruneau, when trying to recall who was the senior senator from the state.

“The committee lawyer can’t vote, tie goes to the author, something like that?”
Tucker, futilely wanting the tie vote to go favorably on HB 428.

“A lot of people have that problem here.”
Lancaster, when a witness mentioned his hearing aid was acting up.

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