04 April 2012

Committee action, Apr. 4: HB 95, SB 129, HB 378

HB 95 by Rep. Cameron Henry would prevent cash welfare benefits from being used at a liquor stores, gambling establishments, and sexual-oriented businesses. Rep. Charles Boustany appeared to tell the House Health and Welfare Committee explain a federal law authored by him was on the way to limit their use, saying states would have follow these restrictions or lose funding for the program. Henry thought that would mean a loss of nearly a half a million dollars.

Rep. Lance Harris wondered whether this might include convenience stores. Henry thought it would, and noted they wished to eliminate purchase of liquor period, but that would have wreaked havoc in reprogramming machines and the state’s typical practice of issuing outlets tax credits to let retailers pay for adjusting machines couldn’t be followed in even-numbered years due to Constitutional restrictions. He said they could revisit the topic next year. Harris wondered whether that might not do much to stop this kind of abuse. Henry said most of the abuse occurred during hours where most of these retailers would not be open or likely to be patronized for booze, and repeated he’d be open to fine-tuning the bill.

Rep. Kenny Cox wondered whether some kind of block could be done. Boustany said that was possible. Henry repeated that the inability to offer a credit this year prevented this, but said an amendment to force the roughly $25 cost per machine on retailers. Chairman Scott Simon then offered an amendment to exclude booze purchases, saying the overhaul may have to focus more on method, which rely on retailer cooperation either in clerical decision or in programming machines; the state had no role. Rep. Katrina Jackson said if then having restrictions on liquor sales, why not get rid of the liquor store prohibition? But Boustany said that might contradict the federal law, although that could unduly restrict options for card users. Henry said he hoped language could be altered later in the process to prevent that. The amendment then passed by consent.

After a couple of earlier tries, Rep. Regina Barrow moved to report with amendments, but to refer to the House Commerce Committee. Harris objected to that, and it failed with only the committee’s black Democrats present voting for it plus Rep. Bernard LeBas. Harris then asked to report with amendments, but Barrow then tried a substitute but now recommitted to the House Appropriations Committee. Henry asked to get it to the floor first then to see what that committee’s chairman Jim Fannin had to say about the necessity of that. Jackson said it might be faster to send it there, but Henry said he didn’t mind a delay if it turned out Fannin thought the federal mandate did not excuse skipping the committee. Since the fiscal note limit this year requiring referral was $500,000, this was not automatic. That amendment failed by the same voting blocs. Barrow argued it had not been properly vetted and voted against final passage along with Cox and Rep. A.B. Franklin, but all others present voted for it.

Sen. Dan Claitor was back with SB 129 in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, which makes reporting of information about scholarships given out by elected officials mandatory. Claitor said his new version of the bill addressed the confidentiality waiver problem identified previously

Sen. Greg Tarver complained that this put a burden on the legislator, and said they shouldn’t have to do it if the university already did it. Claitor disagreed, and then Tarver moved to defer the bill. Sen. Jonathan Perry then voiced his own complaints, which the Claitor said he’d try yet again, and the motion passed without dissent.

HB 378 by Rep. Frank Hoffman would create smoke-free zones 25 feet around entrances and wheelchair ramps. He described this as an expansion of prior efforts that would bring the health benefits of the lack of second-hand smoke in these areas. He also offered up an amendment that clarified it did not apply to the already-exempted locations (making the bill extremely incremental in that expansion). Without opposition it was adopted.

Favorable passage was moved, and it passed without opposition.

Hello, I’m Dr. Williams …
Rep. Patrick Williams at the beginning testifying for a bill; earlier, Cox, in asking questions about another bill, borrowed Williams’ name as a hypothetical M.D.

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