23 May 2017

Committee action, May 23: HB 302, SB 167

HB 302 by Rep. Lance Harris would increase the monthly probation fee paid in order to fund recruitment and retention for probation officers. Harris told the Senate Judiciary B Committee that with changes coming in criminal justice that would put a greater burden of probationary services. Chairman Gary Smith wondered whether extra funds would materialize if probationers could not afford the $37 a month extra. Harris said the bill said only employed probationers would be subject to the increase.

Sen. Karen Peterson asked whether this would guarantee a pay raise. Harris said it was an option, but he would leave it up to the department. Some debate ensued about the actual amount it would generate and how that would translate into pay raises. Peterson said she hesitated to support something that could not guarantee a raise, and Sen. Greg Tarver said the amount he thought was too small to give a meaningful raise, but nonetheless wanted an amendment that would send it to raises and said he otherwise wouldn’t vote for it. Harris said he would go along with that.

Peterson said the bill ended up pitting state employees against each other, since it was dedicating funds. She said to vote against it didn’t mean those voting against state employees. Harris said this would help right now. Peterson accused Harris of bringing it for headlines and launched a jeremiad against current budgeting practices and for the minimum wage, solving alleged pay equity problems and the like.

Tarver said while the general fund could be used to support raises as said Peterson, he was satisfied with this approach. Sen. Norby Chabert asked whether for law enforcement functions self-funding was common, which Harris confirmed. The amendment then was approved without objection. Peterson then said she wasn’t happy with measures like this that made users pay for services as opposed to drawing money from the general fund from many sources of taxation that should be paying for these kinds of expenses.

Opponents said the financial burden would be too much on probationers and that savings from reform measures instead could be used to fund raises. They also said that recidivism would increase as a result of inability to pay, increasing costs.

Harris closed by saying different approaches to budgeting shouldn’t obscure the fact that the bill now would provide pay raises. The bill then passed with the votes of Sens. Tarver, Chabert, and Ronnie Johns, while Peterson voted against.

SB 167 by Sen. Regina Barrow would have health monitoring of individuals occur for those living within a mile of a releasing of harmful emissions. Barrow said to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee amendments should cover concerns about definitions about costs and notifications. The department of Health would conduct free screenings whenever an event occurred, paid for by the companies responsible, open-ended. Chairman Mike Walsworth asked whether this would be an ongoing activity that Health would determine the costs passed on, which Barrow confirmed. Sen. Conrad Appel still thought the definitions too vague, despite the newly-adopted amendments.

Barrow said the amended bill would ensure greater possibility of notification. Walsworth, however, said while the bill said parish emergency operations would be notified, that didn’t mean the public necessarily would be informed. At this point, Barrow announced she thought the bill’s chances were nonexistent, and said she would turn it into a study resolution. Supporters testified that some approach was needed to address what they believed was a problem, and then the committee acceded to her wish to defer.

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