29 May 2012

Committee action, May 29: HB 327, HB 328, HB 1092


DID YOU KNOW?
HB 327 by Rep. Dee Richard would eliminate 10 percent of all funding to contracts. Treasurer John Kennedy, as he had in the House, argued to the Senate Finance Committee that with so many of them out there that surely some weren’t really needed, and gave examples of some that seemed superfluous. He said some of them had been subject to line-item vetoes but then had been wangled out of the executive branch.

Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater testified that the total dollar amount of contracts from state government had been reduced by over a quarter since Gov. Bobby Jindal took office. He said an arbitrary cut of 10 percent would cause problems especially for larger contracts. He noted that contractual agreements with the federal government also constrained cuts of this nature. And, he said the Administration was sensitive to the issue of end runs. He pointed out that queries were handled all of the time about them.

A couple of senators then peppered Kennedy with defenses of some of the contract titles and amounts he had read out. Kennedy said they weren’t bogus, put perhaps should not be priorities. Sen. Edwin Murray said he thought the better approach was to vet by contract by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, as Kennedy had suggested be done on a case-by-case basis.

26 May 2012

Legislative regular session through May 26, 2012


THE GOOD: On rare occasions, due to parliamentary maneuvering a bill neither ascertained good nor bad becomes one or the other as a result of one of those kinds being grafted on to it. Such happened last week when essentially the contents of HB 1198 got appended on SB 6 by Sen. Elbert Guillory, a bill that would have mandated reporting of savings through privatization of education. Thus, SB 6 has become invigorated into being a good bill.

THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: HB 9 passed Senate committee and the Senate; HB 10 with minor amendment passed Senate committee and the Senate; HB 61 was rejected in concurrence; HB 89 was signed by the governor; HB 209 passed Senate committee; HB 292 passed the Senate and was sent to the governor; HB 314 was concurred in and sent to the governor; HB 707 was sent to the governor; HB 711 with minor amendment passed Senate committee; HB 873 passed Senate committee and the Senate; HB 942 with minor amendment passed the Senate; HB 950 with a minor amendment passed the Senate; HB 1043 passed House committee and passed the House; SB 6 with major amendment passed House committee; SB 7 passed House committee; SB 9 with minor amendment passed House committee; SB 21 with minor amendment passed House committee; SB 47 with minor amendment passed House committee; SB 174 was sent to the governor;  SB 590 with minor amendment passed the Senate; SB 633 passed the House; SB 766 with minor amendment passed the Senate.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD: HB 68 was signed by the governor; HB 1216 passed the House; SB 106 passed House committee; SB 285 passed the House; SB 577 passed House committee; SB 625 was concurred in by the Senate.

21 May 2012

Committee action, May 21: HB 9, HB 10, HB 95, HB 1043


DID YOU KNOW?
HB 9 and HB 10 by Rep. Tony Ligi would trigger pension forfeitures of state contributions for those who commit serious financial crimes or sexual crimes against minors in government service, for those employed/elected to office at the beginning of next year, and not to beneficiaries or dependents.

Sen. Gerald Long of the Senate Retirement Committee asked how this differed from current law and how it would not hurt beneficiaries or dependents. Ligi said the bill would allow judicial discretion to innocent beneficiaries and dependents. He said this bill strengthened garnishment, beyond fine collection or restitution. Long also wondered whether this was an urgent issue; Ligi cited a couple of recent cases where this would have applied.

Sen. Barrow Peacock wondered how pardoning would work. Ligi said it would have no effect. Supporters argued this bill would provide deterrence and so in essence it may never have to be used. Long asked how this stacked up against federal law; Ligi said there was a feature for forfeiture.

HB 10 was approved without objection. HB 9, the constitutional amendment, then was treated similarly.

19 May 2012

Legislative regular session through May 19, 2012


THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: HB 61 with minor amendment passed Senate committee and passed the Senate; HB 89 was concurred in by the House; HB 292 passed Senate committee; HB 314 passed the Senate; HB 380 with minor amendment passed the House; HB 707 passed Senate committee and passed the Senate; SB 47 passed House committee; SB 174 passed the House; SB 273 with major amendment passed Senate committee and passed the Senate; SB 565 passed House committee; SB 590 with minor amendment passed Senate committee; SB 593 was substituted for with SB 766; SB 708 with minor amendment passed the Senate; SB 766 passed Senate committee.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD: HB 327 with minor amendment passed the House; HB 328 passed the House; HB 717 was substituted for with HB 1216; HB 1144 passed Senate committee; HB 1216 with minor amendment passed House committee; SB 625 passed the House; SB 750 with minor amendment passed House committee.

14 May 2012

Committee action, May 14: HB 717, SB 273


HB 717 by Rep. Jeff Thompson would redirect a portion on the riverboat taxes collected from the (soon-to-be) six boats to the Independence Bowl Foundation and a number of local economic development and sporting/tourism organizations.

Thompson said to the House Appropriations Committee the substitute bill would do a better job of protecting revenue sources, because the apportionment being shunted to the organizations was to come from the newest arrival. It takes an 8 percent part of the newest’s franchise tax (the total is 22 percent of revenues). It has a 10-year lifespan, and mandates certain minimum infrastructure and job-creating standards to apply only to the new arrival. To prevent cannibalization from the other five, it comes into affect only if the three-year average of all of them is met. The receiving entities also must report on how the money was used and presumably paid off.

A representative of one of the benefitting organizations said a glut of hotel rooms that appeared as gas prices went down could be addressed by having funds to attract sporting events. Rep. Roy Burrell expressed concerned that, even as the new arrival will locate in the district, he felt he had been left out of discussions on the bill and so were other entities that could benefit. Calling her by the wrong name, Burrell asked the representative why certain groups/events didn’t seem to be covered. She said she thought everything that concerned him would be eligible for funding.

12 May 2012

Legislative regular session through May 12, 2012


THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: HB 9 passed the House; HB 10 with minor amendment passed the House; HB 299 failed to pass the House; HB 314 with minor amendment passed Senate committee; HB 380 passed House committee; HB 711 passed the House; HB 942 with minor amendment passed Senate committee; HB 950 with minor amendment passed Senate committee; HB 1043 passed House committee; HB 1215 was substituted for HB 1133 and passed House committee; SB 47 with major amendment passed the Senate; SB 633 with minor amendment passed House committee.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD: HB 327 passed House committee; HB 328 passed House committee; HB 964 with minor amendment passed House committee; HB 1095 failed to pass the House; SB 106 passed the Senate; SB 285 passed House committee.

07 May 2012

Committee action, May 7: HB 327, HB 328


DID YOU KNOW?
HB 327 by Rep. Dee Richard would cut up to a tenth in total spending of all contracts, for next fiscal year only. Treasury John Kennedy testified to the House Appropriations Committee there were at least 19,000 contracts spread across the state, with perhaps as many as $7 billion in value. He thought $500 million could be lopped off, which should not be priorities for this budget year. He read a few summaries which seemed particularly trivial, such as seat belt usage by school children, chimpanzee viewing, and field trips for fashion. He also gave examples from correspondents of how procedures can allow for lack of oversight for the scope and amounts of them. He said one approach could be to have the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget review contracts from $50,000 and above, in a simple procedure.

Kennedy, in response to questions, noted that this was a result of policy-making within agencies that needed further review. He said the 10 percent approach was a way to flush out those of presumed low priority. Perhaps both approaches, which would create a bottleneck, could do the trick. Rep. Joe Harrison wondered whether current state employees became future contractors; Kennedy claimed no review was occurring to know this.

Rep. Franklin Foil asked how much was federal money. Kennedy said there were but could give no specific amount, and said regardless of source, low priorities should be eliminated. He also said renegotiation was possible to save money, and said maybe an amendment could add that.

Rep. Tony Ligi asked whether the bill would prevent those rejected or vetoed items from reappearing in contract form, as Kennedy testified he had found at least 24 instances. Kennedy said not, but an amendment would be welcome.

Rep. Pat Smith wondered whether the priorities such as poverty reductions would not get short shrift. Kennedy said federal dollars probably will start declining for this area anyway, and on the state side priorities would be upheld with bureaucrats, although legislative review would provide greater assurance. Smith said that addition might be too costly and time-consuming.

Rep. Roy Burrell said that with all of the questions that were out there and with the amendment suggestions, why not convert the bill into a study resolution? Kennedy said the Commission on Streamlining Government in essence had done that, and he thought the problem was obviously rendered through its review.

A representative of the Secretary of State said even this cut would lop off in federal contracted money what they argued were priority and irreplaceable. Kennedy said another amendment could allow for an escape provision. Chairman Jim Fannin said even with that, it would push greater reductions onto others.

Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater spoke in opposition, saying that the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration already had cut over 9 percent in contracting from the previous year, and 15 percent the year before and this could be checked through budget authority granted. He said the budget process existed to vet contracting money requested (except for emergency adjustments). He also noted this could be a barrier to privatization as well. He claimed overall the present process was working and provided greater flexibility than the bill’s approach.

Burrell asked whether vetoed legislation was reappearing in contracts. Rainwater said he had not heard of that and it would be something that would draw a serious response. However, some areas of government are granted autonomy, especially higher education and for everything under $20,000, where this might happen. But an arbitrary approach, he noted, was what the bill did and would not work as well. Kennedy responded by saying it would not be arbitrary, in a small breach of protocol as this was happening during to the opposition testimony phase. Burrell also asked Rainwater about the utility of a study bill, who said more information was good when regarding the many unintended consequences that could occur with the bill.

Responding to questions by Smith, Rainwater noted the inspector general’s office, his divisions own resources, the Legislative Audit Advisory Committee, and the Legislative Auditor all were existing methods to review contracts, that a process was in place. Smith recommended agencies themselves conduct these kinds of review to justify. Rainwater pointed out that a large number of the examples Kennedy had brought up had come through federal dollars that the state would not have gotten anyway and had become extinct. Some were required as part of other high-priority items by federal law.

Rep. John Schroder wondered whether the 30-day escape clause in contracts would not be used as a tool for renegotiation. Rainwater said that would be on legally shaky ground as a tactic, because it would circumvent the legal bid process. They could reduce demands on contractors for lower amounts, and had been.

Closing, Kennedy said the time was right to proceed, and not to study it. There was no objection to favorable passage.

DID YOU KNOW
Richard’s HB 328 would reduce 5,000 jobs over the next three years in the executive branch as well. Kennedy said attrition should take care of this, and it would force reorganization to make state government less top-heavy, which the Legislative Auditor said was the case. Or, spending cuts on personnel could do the same, which he said constituted $8 billion in all compensation. Even if some was forced onto the state by federal jobs, significant reductions still could occur.

Rainwater again spoke in opposition. He said strategic cuts were necessary and they were being done, both in numbers and jobs – producing the lowest numbers in 20 years, claiming $1 billion in savings. However, benefits costs were driving compensation costs per employee higher. Plus, responding to questions, he said while some agencies like higher education had autonomy in hiring, they still had to adhere to their budgets.

Kennedy closed by saying the cost of labor was not being controlled as it should be, and this bill could do it. He said at the salaries that cabinet secretaries got, they should be able to do this strategically. Without objection, it passed.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:
If you can't find $250 million to cut from this, you must be from Ole Miss.
Kennedy, in his closing remarks on HB 327.

05 May 2012

Legislative regular session through May 5, 2012


THIS WEEK FOR THE GOOD: HB 46 failed to pass the House; HB 61 with minor amendment passed the House; HB 89 passed the Senate; HB 299 passed House committee; HB 314 passed the House; HB 378 with minor amendment passed the House; HB 707 with minor amendment passed the House; HB 992 was involuntarily deferred; SB 7 passed Senate committee and with minor amendment passed the Senate; SB 9 passed Senate committee and with minor amendment passed the Senate; SB 174 passed House committee.

THIS WEEK FOR THE BAD:  HB 68 with minor amendment passed the Senate; HB 130 was involuntarily deferred; HB 212 was involuntarily deferred; HB 244 was involuntarily deferred; HB 337 was involuntarily deferred; HB 901 was involuntarily deferred; SB 106 with minor amendment passed Senate committee; SB 577 passed Senate committee; SB 625 with minor amendment passed House committee.

02 May 2012

Committee action, May 2: HB 911, SB 690, HB 212, HB 244, HB 337, HB 1133, HB 209


DID YOU KNOW?
HB 911 by Rep. Franklin Foil would continue to give 150 percent of the Minimum Foundation Program to students with disabilities (by federal IDEA guidelines) to attend private schools in some parts of the state. He told the House Education Committee that the bill would remove a sunset procedure and add more grades to it, but a planned increase to 175 percent had to be jettisoned due to the state’s tight funding situation. The money comes out of the general fund, not the MFP.

Opponents argued that by its nature it was supposed to be a pilot program but now has appeared as a full-time, expanded program without enough data to analyze. They said the federal dollars for public schools weren’t adequate enough anyway, those they called “left behind.” When asked about putting a sunset back on, however, they said they still would oppose it because they thought those with greater degrees of disabilities would be disproportionately remaining in public schools. Nor does it pay for all tuition in all cases.

Rep. John Edwards asked whether a sunset could occur in two more years, and Foil said he was amenable to this. Edwards also wanted to make sure some kind of report was issued about it, and Foil said he was amenable to having one. But he said timing could be an issue. They figured relevant amendments could be added on the floor.

Without opposition, the bill was reported.