28 March 2012

Committee action, Mar. 28: SB 129, HB 811, HB 89, HB 292

SB 129 would require legislators (who nominate students to get scholarships to Tulane University), the governor’s office, and higher education governance system members who give scholarships to students to report those names. Author Sen. Dan Claitor got some amendments quickly adopted without objection by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. Sen. Greg Tarver thought, in the case of the Tulane scholarships, it was double reporting. Claitor conceded much overlap in that case, but said this made it easier to find rather than relying on Tulane’s reporting.

But Sen. J.-P. Morrell disputed that it would make it any easier, and called it “offensive,” saying it implied there was some kind of gain to a legislator to it. Claitor said transparency was always good, and said because information was not out there officially on some of them such as the governance boards, all of them should be made transparent and reported to the state.

Sen. Edwin Murray wanted to know if, like the Tulane scholarships, there was a waiver of confidentiality built in to these others agreements. Claitor said that could be worked into the other documents. Murray wondered if a statute would be needed to accomplish this. Claitor thanked him for a “constructive” comment.

Tarver made a motion to defer. That was defeated 2-5, with only him and Morrell in favor. Murray then offered an amendment to grandfather out current recipients who had not waived confidentiality, which was adopted without objection. However, then Claitor asked for deferral to work on additional clarifying amendments.

HB 811 would have leave granted mandatorily to local elected officials by employers. Author Rep. Barbara Norton told the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, who said the Legislature could tell employers what to do with whether they could allows guns on their premises, so why not with employers? Long time Caddo Parish Commissioner Ken Epperson spun a tale about how much work he put into his job and how people had tried to keep him from participating in meeting and how only rich people could then hold these positions, but did point out how national associations backed this measure. Otherwise, he said this was undemocratic, and noted time off was mandatory for jury duty, military service, etc. He said it was unfair that some many who “sacrificed” so much did not get the same treatment. A union representative called it “un-American.”

Rep. Tony Ligi said this would permit employees that were crucial to operation of a business or government agency to be absent with pay, and find a replacement. Epperson said it unlikely this person would run for office and if it was a small business, the law wouldn’t apply. Ligi asked for where in the legislation that was mentioned. Norton said the person who would take that kind of job (which then begs the question why the law would be needed) would not want to run for office, then claimed the bill was the optional by saying the language “shall” did not compel. Ligi then noted he was not wealthy or privileged and that some financial sacrifice was made by many to hold these kinds of offices, like him.

Rep. Randal Gaines said he thought provisions were in place to alleviate some concerns, such as working extra. Rep. Gregory Miller noted federal law precluded paying into pensions under the scenario. Norton then returned to semantics, wondering if substituting “may” instead of “shall” would alleviate that.

A Louisiana Business and Industry official commented there would be a significant cost to employers, underwriting a personal decision, echoing the concerns of the compulsive nature of the bill and the impact of federal law. Norton allowed Epperson to share closing, who claimed there would be no negative impact on businesses’ finances. She added that companies that could deny leave was a denial of “due process.”

Rep. Jared Brossett moved to report favorably, while Ligi offered a substitute motion to involuntarily defer, to which Brossett objected. Only Brossett and Gaines voted against this as it passed 8-2.

HB 89 by Ligi would prevent local public bodies from keeping secret collective bargaining negotiations in executive sessions and mandate publicizing subsequent agreements. Ligi noted that in executive sessions bar the public, shutting out the public, but legal strategies could still stay out of the public eye according to the bill.

Gaines thought the bill could inhibit negotiations. Ligi said this increased transparency allowed employees and the public to have input into the process that could produce a better product. Supporters noted the possibility that non-public agreements could violate state law, so publicizing them could catch these problems. Opponents representing unions said the law should not be so broadly cast, said 24-hour notice was too onerous, all agreements have to be voted on in a public forum, would prevent a union official from “talking to my boss,” claimed corporations and national forces were behind the bill, said if something bad happened under current law then voters could punish officials, and, if passed, threatened to send union members to newly-opened meetings, declaring the legislation “anti-union,” and “attacking unions.” Ligi called this a “threat,” which was denied, and wondered what was so bad about sunshine. Ligi also noted that current law prevented making public documents concocted in executive session, while opponents claimed no loophole like this existed, and that it was better to close it than leave it open for abuse.

Ligi closed by pointing out the hyperbole used by opponents that had nothing to do with what he said. He said that with so much money involved the employer, the public, had the right to be involved in all aspects of the process. He moved to report, to which Gaines objected and offered a substitute for involuntary deferral, which failed 3-7 with only Brossett, Gaines and Rep. Mike Danahay in favor. Back to the main motion, it succeeded 8-2 with Dannhay changing sides.

HB 292 by Rep. Stephen Pugh would place consecutive three-term limits on school boards, requiring a local option election to determine this later this year along with national elections. Technical amendments were adopted.

Supporters said this eliminated the allure of power to prevent distraction from the education mission, allowing term-limited individuals to help in other ways, would refresh boards with new ideas, if it was good enough for legislators, it was good enough for school board members, and would improve dismal student performance. Only one opponent spoke, rambling about how democracy was going downhill and this bill was an indicator of this, and said staff would end up running things so nothing would be done.

Chairman Tim Burns offered his own remarks, disputing that new members of the Legislature were not knowledgeable. Pugh closed noted the wide variety of supporters (the only opponents represented unions). When Pugh asked for passage, Brossett objected, but it succeeded 5-3 with the same three Democrats opposing.

This is a good bill, what’s left of it
Rep. Marcus Hunter on his HB 792 after being heavily amended, which seconds later was involuntarily deferred.

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