26 February 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Prefiled bills -- Week of Feb. 25, 2005

THE GOOD: At first glance, HB 24 would not look to be good at all. Rep. Gary Beard's bill makes it necessary for home-schooled students to score two points better on the 1990 ACT (or an equivalent on the SAT or later ACT version) than students schooled in a public or nonpublic high school. What is the justification to discriminate against potential recipients just because they were home schooled? Isn't the goal to create a more learned population regardless of where they had the primary and secondary schooling?
But then consider the little-known fact that according to present law, the margin is three points. Obviously the bill doesn't go far enough, but one-third the way is better than no progress at all.

THE BAD: HB 21 wants to add the members of the Allen Parish Tourist Commission to the ranks of paid public officials in the state. As much as $600 a year each member could get, and with seven members, that's either $4,200 less a year that can be spent on tourism and/or $4,200 more whatever its funding sources are (typically hotel occupancy taxes) would have to cough up. Rep. Herman Ray Hill's bill would thus make this the only such paid body by legislative statute in the state, even as other bodies do much more work (Allen Parish's population is a whopping 24,000). Why should this group be treated as an exception? Surely a number of qualified people in the parish would want to serve voluntarily, so why force others (probably mostly visitors staying in motels to lose money at the Grand Casino Coushatta) to pay to create an unnecessary perk?

THE UGLY: Rep. John R. Smith's HB 18 is another of those that carves out some type of exception for a particular jurisdiction, here the 36th Judicial District (Beauregard) for deciding fees that can be charged by court reporters. Seems he wants to allow higher fees decide upon by the court's judges. One glance at R.S. 13:961 may make you say "so what" because at least 14 exceptions are already in there, but why is it then that one law can't cover all 40 districts? To make matters worse, rasther than propose such a bill, this one would create the highest reimbursement rate in the state.

SCORECARD: 24 House prefiles, 5 Senate prefiles.

19 February 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Prefiled bills -- Week of Feb. 18, 2005

The GOOD: SB 1, lead author Sen. James David Cain. Restores the income tax deduction for excess federal itemized deductions.
The Stelly Plan wiped out any deductions in excess of the federal standard deduction that could be used on state income taxes. The plan was supposed to shift the tax burden away from disadvantaged households but with this elimination it made matters worse for some. For example, a family with high health care costs now can get no tax relief for them from Louisiana from this source. It will cost some revenue but the increased economic activity from it should more than compensate. (Cain, however, has said he wants this to be amended to gradually pahase in the reinstatement.) This is a must-pass piece of legislation and, with a dozen Senate co-sponsors already, its chances may not be so bad.

The BAD: SB2, author Sen. Cleo Fields. Provides a refundable, state earned income tax credit equal to 20% of the federal credit.
This is intended to work like a miniature federal Earned Income Credit. That is, you get this money handed to you from the government if your income isn't high enough. As such, it provides more incentive not to work or to work less. It flies in the face of welfare reform almost a decade ago that cut Louisiana welfare recipients rolls to a fraction of their former level. It discourages work and encourages a higher budget deficit with no economic benefits.

The UGLY: HR4, author Rep. Mickey Frith. Allows an immediate family member of the district attorney of the Thirty-Eighth Judicial District to be employed in the office of the district attorney as an assistant district attorney.
Apparently (I'm not very knowledgeable about Cameron Parish politics, believe it or not), 38th Judicial District Attorney Cecil Sanner wants to hire a direct relative as an assistant district attorney in his office, currently prohibited by state law. I make no argument here on the merit of this individual nor in any way am I impugning Sanner's motives, but this bill is another example of how statutes gets micromanaged in this state, particularly in a way that could have an adverse ethical impact. This bill carves out just an exception for the 38th and no other. Nor does it stipulate any additional qualifications or protections from nepotism that could occur if this were passed. Surely DA Sanner can find somebody else qualified, and his relative can find a good job elsewhere, instead of asking his representative to water down the states' ethics code just for this district.

SCORECARD: House prefiles, 14; Senate prefiles, 5.

18 February 2005

Welcome to the Louisiana Legislature Log Blog!

Louisianans, with all that goes on in their lives, who wish to find out more about what their Legislature is doing can face a daunting task involving much time and effort. This blog exists to help make a little more sense of what happens during, and even a little in-between, sessions.

Beginning in the near future, first on a weekly, then, as the 2005 regular session greets us, on a daily basis, appearing on this site will be features such as:
  • the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly -- bills that fall into these categories
  • notable comments made by legislators in performing their duties
  • analysis on whatever interesting comes out of the Legislature

I do have a day job as a humble political science professor so I can't promise a blow-by-blow description of what's happening, but I can provide a little insight and context into what goes on in Baton Rouge every spring. Together, maybe we can have some fun with this.