25 April 2012

Committee action, Apr. 25: HB 395, HB 396, HB 1095, SB 568

HB 395 by Rep. Thomas Carmody would make funding decisions made by higher education supervisory boards subject to rules set by the Board of Regents. Previous to its consideration, information by the Governance Board created to investigate higher education was reported to the House Education Committee, laying the groundwork for this bill. Carmody explained this meant money would be allocated by the Regents to specific schools, without the ability of supervisory boards making changes.

Supporters said the intent all along had been that Regents policy has the financial ability to have them implemented, but current state law was ambiguous to the point that allowed systems to adjust the formula, disrupting a clear chain of command. However, Rep. John Bel Edwards disputed this interpretation, saying he didn’t see the bill doing anything because of what was run through the appropriations bill that would take precedence, although a constitutional amendment might be another matter. He didn’t see how the bill made matters more clear, since the funding formula wasn’t being followed. It was pointed out that current practice subverted what the appropriations bill did anyway, and an amendment would allow for five percent of money to be set aside for systems to distribute as they liked. Edwards could not see how the formula would jive with the Legislature’s appropriations.

Carmody then offered the amendment. The number was chosen because redirections tended to be in that range. Edwards wanted to know why, if this were allowed historically, why the bill was needed. Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell said massive deviations were starting and might continue. The amendment was adopted without objection.

Rep. Rob Shadoin also wanted to know if this bill alone could solve for accountability problems, given Edwards’ points. Carmody insisted that would be the case. Shadoin thought the report was persuasive. Rep. Chris Broadwater also voiced reservations. Purcell stressed that the bill was important to prevent subversion of the reward aspect of the GRAD Act, bringing fidelity and policy together especially as institutions are granted use of their own efficiency savings.

Opponents, systems presidents John Lombardi (Louisiana State) and Randy Moffett (University of Louisiana), said best practices argued that supervisory boards should have some flexibility, and that the Regents should be only coordinating in nature. They said self-generated funds were not shifted around. They claimed deviations were small and infrequent and didn’t think it was disorderly enough warrant legislation, and if it did, it needed to be a constitutional amendment that was honest in trying to create a “superboard.” Edwards asked whether current practices subverted the GRAD Act; they said no reallocations have been made in the past couple of years.

Rep. John Schroder then voiced frustration that divisions still existed within higher education on this issue and wanted resolution. He said he heard of lack of communication was continuing, and said the bill would clarify. They insisted the constitutional amendment would solve for it, but admitted they were also against the amendment. He said the current arrangement simply was not working, and began to wonder whether this might lead the Legislature to reverse the idea of one board governance.

Louisiana Community and Technical College System Joe May said he hoped for more flexibility in the discretionary funds promised by amendment. Southern University System President Ronald Mason echoed that, noting the great stress his system faced.

Edwards then offered an amendment to tie the bill to HB 396, the version of the bill which would amend the Constitution, by saying would take effect only when HB 396 took effect. This was adopted without objection.

Carmody closed noting the Commission said the current system was unacceptable, and that this bill would help to address that. But Edwards objected to his move to report. The bill passed 9-6.

HB 396 was brought forward by Carmody. He noted now HB 396 had to pass to allow what they just voted to move forward, and noted the threshold was now higher, requiring two-thirds votes.

Schroder spoke again of frustration, and said the bill deserved a debate on the floor, even if it wasn’t perfect. He didn’t want to repeat the experience of what conflict he heard today and therefore felt the Legislature had to deal with it. “If this defines higher ed in Louisiana,” it’s no wonder we’re on the bottom of the list, he argued.

Edwards maintained the same problem still existed, although he thought this was a better approach. Better still, he said amend a different part of the Constitution for more clarity, which this bill didn’t do. He said the bill did not given enough flexibility. Schroder said simply there wasn’t enough control. A representative of the Regents said amending the flow of money was not as critical as clarifying policy-making, which the Regents were positioned to do than the discrete boards which the Constitution currently did not make as clear as necessary, and gave examples where this was problematic. Edwards argued that something could be done and then if there was dissension, then that was the time to bring forward this kind of legislation, and recommended more comprehensive constitutional changes than just this. She disagreed, saying the binding authority provided in the amendment was an improvement.

Lombardi said this was a stealth superboard bill. Supporters said it wasn’t and it clarified authority and accountability. For example, schools now could ignore admission criteria, leading to micromanagement by the Legislature as the only recourse were this to happen. This could cripple meaningful performance reform, and the board needed to move from advisory to policy-making.

The bill was moved, and an identical vote occurred in favor.

HB 1095 by Rep Walt Leger would make the state party of a compact that promised to give its electoral votes to whatever presidential candidate won the popular vote. Leger told the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that this only was fair, as all other elections were done on a popular vote basis. He said this was a way to have individual votes count. Supporters said the current system overweighed influence to the so-called “battleground” states. Leger also thought the current system discouraged turnout.

Rep. Tony Ligi noted that the turnout argument was skewed in favor of those whose bases were in urban areas, because of efficiencies in resource use. He believed it would favor some partisan interests as opposed to others.

Opponents pointed out that unequal representation already existed, courtesy of equal representation in the Senate. They argued that the current system allowed for greater consideration of people in most states because campaigns otherwise would concentrate on large states and/or large metropolitan areas. They also argued this would encourage election by smaller pluralities than present. They said such a change needed to be through the Constitution, and tied Louisiana’s voting to other larger populated areas. They argued Louisiana got plenty of attention under the current system. Finally, they wondered about the constitutionality of the measure.

Leger argued this was merely an extension of the original interstate compact, the Constitution. He said this did not change the dynamics of campaigning and would stimulate more campaigning. Rep. Girod Jackson made a motion to approve, but Ligi made a substitute motion to defer, which failed 4-6 along partisan lines except Reps. Taylor Barras and Johnny Bethelot voted against. Jackson then moved to report favorably, which happened without objection.

SB 568 would restate prohibitions against paying women less than men for spurious reasons, and create a process of increased rigor to enforce. Author Sen. Karen Peterson told the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that statistics showed pay differentials, and that this law improved upon existing state law that could prevent what she saw as this discrimination. It needed to be addressed as the presumed discrimination produced a deleterious ripple effect throughout the economy and society.

Supporters claimed Louisiana women were paid a third less than men in the same jobs, and said existing law did not explicitly strongly enough prohibit this from happening, which the new law they claimed would. They complained that, by comparable worth, men were advantaged in pay.

A representative of the Louisiana Workforce Commission recited state and federal legislation that covered the area of law, upon the request of Sen. Neil Riser, who thought existing law contradicted supporters’ assertions of inadequacy. Peterson insisted that was not the case, and supporters said the statistics in their interpretation showed they weren’t working.

The bill was moved for passage, but failed 3-5 along party lines with Democrats in favor.

You’re one of the smartest guys I know.
Schroder, to Lombardi

I don’t think so.

Thanks for leaving me out.

No comments: