21 April 2008

Committee and floor action, Apr. 21: SB 87, HB 622, HB 852

SB 87 would restore income tax rates at the two highest brackets to the levels they occupied previous to the “Stelly Plan.” Author Sen. Buddy Shaw pointed out he was the only one to speak out against it in the House in 2002, and he still was against it because it was not revenue-neutral and the additional revenues allowed for more spending of money that he didn’t think needed to occur. He said the people ought to be keeping this money and that was how economic development really occurs.

Chairman of Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Rob Marionneaux asked what Shaw would recommend be cut to make up the $302 million estimated first-year revenue reduction. Shaw said he did not but was confident that his colleagues could find the approximately one percent reduction in the state budget. Sen. Robert Adley said he was uncertain he could support this without a list of cuts, but at the same time unrealistic revenue projections that were constantly low and that could argue for passage of this bill. Sen. Gerald Long concurred with Adley’s observations about missed projections.

Marionneaux asked why adjust up only the top two rates; Shaw answered the plan had not changed the lowest bracket and the bill was to accomplish that. The middle bracket got hit the worse since their sales tax reductions and offsets from other deductions came nowhere near compensating for the swap to a higher rate, he said.

A representative from the Division of Administration, John Carpenter, testified that a review of it discouraged them from supporting it at this time, in light of approaching deficits from national forces and energy price reductions, given unmet needs of deferred maintenance, unfunded accrued liabilities, etc. No discussions had been had on potential cuts, suggesting the committee hold onto the bill until other developments transpired. Adley wondered whether legislation couldn’t be drafted to take into account a trigger to produce tax cuts if future surpluses came in which he thought were likely. He also suggested that the proposed $307 million to a megafund to attract industry would bring a greater rate of return in the form of tax cuts to individuals.

Adley asked Shaw whether an amendment would be acceptable on the floor to create such a trigger mechanism. Shaw said he preferred a phase-in over this. Sen. Reggie Dupre said Adley’s bill of the year previous which eventually would allow deductions to be totally exempt were quite generous and further reduction would create too much inflexibility. He predicted too high oil and gas prices would negatively impact other state revenues so present revenues were needed. “Can we afford this now? No.”

Sen. Bob Kostelka thought there may be points of contention on the bill but that it deserved to move to the floor. He moved to report it favorably, which Dupre objected to. Marionneaux offered as a substitute to defer the bill until more information from the Revenue Estimating Conference met around the middle of May. Adley asked Shaw what he preferred on this, and wanted an affirmative date on when the bill could be heard next in order that the bill could make it through the process. He thought there were ample funds already. Shaw preferred to move the bill now and have debate on the floor.

Dupre wondered whether dual referral to Finance was necessary; Marionneaux said if there was an expenditure involved over $500,000, that would be the case, but this was not, although it could be asked for on the floor of the Senate. Shaw objected to the substitute. It failed 3-5. The subsequent vote to adopt succeeded 6-3.

HB 622 would change the lifetime (shorter) and powers (more implementation, less policy) of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. Author Speaker Jim Tucker argued this would increase efficiency in use of recovery funds. An amendment clarified it really was the governor through his representatives who would set policy, to be approved by the Legislature, which was adopted without objection.

The bill passed 103-0.

HB 852 would prohibit non-hands-free driving in use of cell phones. Author Rep. Austin Badon said this would not prevent use of cell phones in vehicles, just using hand-held devices. He showed the $10 device he bought to accomplish this, and pointed out other jurisdictions and military facilities already adhered to this law. There was plenty of unsafe behavior out there – “you can’t have a hands-free hamburger” – but at least this would eliminate some of it, he said.

Rep. Sam Little wondered whether, since most accidents occurred in rural areas, this would help reduce them. Badon said he thought it would. Rep. Tony Ligi wondered how it would address the dialing of phones. Badon said in many instances you could use voice-activated technology, but dialing would be brief compared to holding a phone up.

Rep. Rickey Nowlin wanted to know how the text-messaging ban would be enforced. Badon said it might be difficult but the point was to ban potentially unsafe behavior. Nowlin thought therefore this should be a secondary offense. Badon said police and judges still had much discretion in applying the law.

Rep. Scott Simon said his research showed the same part of the brain that engages in driving skills is used in making calls, so the bill really wouldn’t address the distraction issue. Badon argued other physical manipulations also created danger that could be eliminated with this bill even if others still existed.

Rep. Jeff Arnold had an amendment that would prohibit a dozen other behaviors, including “banging your head to rock music.” He said the point of the amendment was to show “you can’t legislate common sense.” Badon objected. The amendment failed 8-88. Even so, Arnold said the bill was unnecessary since other laws covered negligent operation of a vehicle. Further, he said accurate enforcement would be virtually impossible.

Speaking against the bill, Arnold was questioned by Rep. J.P. Morrell who asked whether this could be used as a method to circumvent rights, which Arnold said he thought so. But Rep. Regina Barrow said she had just been in an accident whose driver was distracted talking on a cell phone.

Rep. Cedric Richmond offered an amendment to make imposition of the law a local issue, which he would think was helpful for rural areas. But Rep. Kay Katz thought this would be too inconsistent. She also pointed out any costs imposed by the bill would be negated if one simply didn’t talk on the road. The amendment failed 36-61.

After an amendment passed to change the implementation date to 2009, Badon closed. The bill passed 55-45.

You have glasses on, so you would seem to use four eyes.
Badon, after Little asserted that he drove “with one eye on the road.”

You’ve got something black growing out of your ear.
Rep. Roy Burrell, noticing Badon’s Bluetooth receiver.

There were other things that I could have put on the list, but I wanted it to keep it G-rated.
Arnold, concerning his amendment.

I would suggest you don’t turn him on in the first place. We’re lucky in New Orleans; we don’t get him.
Arnold, when it was asked whether his amendment would prohibit changing a car’s radio station to tune in talk show host Moon Griffon.

TUESDAY: HB 734 is scheduled to be heard by the House Education Committee.

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