21 March 2016

Committee action, Mar. 21: HB 74, HB 163, HB 584, HB 657, HB 812

HB 74 by Rep. Dee Richard would up the ante on previous efforts to reduce state contracts by 10 percent, setting it at 15 percent. It was amended back to 10 percent, then voluntarily deferred a week. Richard told the House Appropriations Committee he wanted to work with the Gov. John Bel Edwards’ Administration to put it in a form more favorable to it; historically, the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration had shown reluctance to its passage.

HB 163 by Rep. Kenny Havard would allow the Legislature to place impediments, allegedly to improve the process, to contracting for amounts of over $5 million annually. With little discussion it was approved without objection.

HB 584 by Rep. John Schroder would amend the Constitution to increase the latitude of budget-cutting possible during a fiscal year. It would increase the amount that the governor and Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget or Legislature could reduce from 5 to 10 percent almost all expenditures in a fiscal year. It would not affect the 0.7 percent rule, which is the prior step that must reduce the general fund by that much first before triggering the ability to reduce all funds not otherwise constitutionally protected.

Rep. Jerome Zeringue said that he thought it would allow sweeps out of funds, but Schroder said his bill dealt only with appropriated. Zeringue felt the existing language allowed for too much latitude to take away money that was not specifically appropriated as funding sources for operating expenses and multi-year commitments could inflate the money at risk to count for cutting. Schroder said it is the decision of policy-makers to make cuts, and agencies could lobby them in these circumstances, and did not want to change the language of the amendment.

Rep. Walt Leger thought the existing 5 percent reasonable, and that 10 percent could be too much. Schroder said best judgment must be used in a reduction decision. If releasing all dedications was not possible, he said this was the next best step. Leger said this level created too many “winners and losers;” the problem was limiting revenues, saying that finding more of these was a different way to be flexible. Schroder said the bill’s approach simply allowed for spreading out potential cuts and not put it on the backs of health care and higher education.

Schroder closed by saying he didn’t think this the greatest of bills, but it was better than having to raise new revenue. He said he would not move it if Edwards objected. Leger objected, and it passed 15-7 with mostly Republicans approving, and all Democrats present objecting.

HB 657 was the companion statute, and again objection was raised. This time it passed 16-7 (Schroder voted in favor) along the same lines.

Schroder’s HB 812 would create greater impetus for the state to use its own available facility space rather than rent from others. He had amendments prepared after the Division of Administration had vetted the bill and raised concerns that would eliminate smaller buildings (below 10,000 square feet), included leased as well as state-owned buildings, limited reporting to vacant space with agencies their own spaces, and to include special leases.

Chairman Cameron Henry wondered if the space specification was too limiting, and thought that should be in the report regardless of length. Schroder said reporting should be more frequent, whenever if space became available and a noncompliant agency asked to move to that space did not comply quickly enough. Rep. Rick Edmonds wanted to lower the space requirement by amendment, but Henry asked that he hold off and let them review the entire list before changing the standard. He did, and Schroder’s amendments were added.

The bill moved favorably without objection.

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