14 April 2008

Committee action, Apr. 14: HB 622, HB 407, SB 653

HB 622 would reduce the size of the Louisiana Recovery Authority board from 33 to 17 and their terms, make it advisory while shifting the real policy-making power into a gubernatorial appointee as it folds into the governor’s Office of Community Development, but would give it control over implementation, and to sunset the agency by 2010. Author Speaker Jim Tucker said more work would have to be done on the floor, but that basically this legislation was to wind down the functions of the agency.

Rep. Patricia Smith reminded that she wanted to see the diversity provisions to be followed. After another technical amendment, the House Appropriations Committee approved it without objection.

HB 407 by Rep. Rickey Hardy would ban drivers of public transportation (defined as commercial vans, taxis and buses) from using cell phones. Two amendments were put up to make it holders of Class A licenses included and would allow drivers for commercial transport to use a push-button feature to talk with dispatchers. These were adopted without objection.

Hardy noted the distraction make roadways less safe. But Patrick Judge with the Louisiana Public Transit Association said even with amendments the smaller systems had concerns. He said the larger systems tend to ban use when in transit, but the specialized systems (agencies who sue grant money to provide transport for special need such as the elderly) depend on cell phones as a dispatch tool which are the most cost efficient.

Rep. Robert Billiot wondered whether sufficient enforcement mechanisms would exist if this was passed. Hardy said he didn’t anticipate additional personnel resources needed. Rep. Hollis Downs said CB radios are an inexpensive alternative. Still, Rep. Karen St. Germain said cost should be a concern and wondered whether there was a fiscal note or time to get one done before the bill the floor.

Downs offered an amendment (in concept) that would allow any hands-free devices. Hardy agreed and it was adopted without objection. Downs ventured that maybe the bill ought to prohibit the use of any communication device for personal use by a driver. Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill said there ought to be appropriations for it with a “physical” note for it, but it was pointed out that this would be the responsibility of the Appropriation Committee, not this the Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee.

Rep. Rogers Pope wondered where the fines would go, of which Hardy was unsure. Pope suggested they could go back to funding the agencies. Rep. James Armes asked for some statistics; Hardy mentioned some studies did find some dramatic increases in accidents.

Hill came back and asked for an amendment (in concept) that would delay implementation until Councils on Aging had funds provided for this. Downs pointed out the bill as was only prohibited behavior and, if nothing else, users could pull over to communicate. Rep. Elton Aubert said he would rather exempt rather than provide funding. Hill then left the room, delaying things further. When she returned, it was defeated 4-11.

Billiot then offered an amendment (in concept) that would exempt the COAs on the basis of need and exempted show a plan to get the equipment by Jul. 1, 2009. There was objection to it, and it passed 10-6.

Rep. John Guinn then motioned to involuntarily to defer the bill and turn the bill into a study request. This passed 9-5.

SB 653 would raise wages for Senate legislative assistants, and allow the hiring of an additional one (or more than one part-timers). Author Sen. Ann Duplessis argued more capable people would be attracted to what she said was a hard job, and Senate districts were too large not to have more people on the job and potentially another district office, with the doubling of the stipend for offices to $1,000 a month. She said the bill had been drafted wrong which sextupled the Senate stipend and tripled the House stipend, so she got an amendment offered to fix that.

Sen. Mike Walsworth wanted to know whether the present clerical aide would remain, which she said would. Sen. Nick Gautreaux wondered how a split would work in terms of benefits; Duplessis said it could disqualify them depending on the split. There was some discussion of the wording to make sure it reflected that the split had to have at least 80 percent of the total for that employee to receive benefits, and an amendment was adopted to clarify that.

Senators wondered whether enough money would exist in their present budget to absorb the increase, and were told there should be. The bill was reported favorably without amendment.

Please turn off all cell phones while in committee.
Chairwoman Rep. Nita Hutter, while working on HB 407.

Yes, 1:05 on one bill. We need to pick up the pace.
Hutter, after finishing the bill.

How can we vote on a bill if we don’t know how much it costs?
Senator, it won’t be the last time you do it.
Sen. Robert Adley to freshman Sen. Jack Donahue.

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