17 June 2005

Floor action, Jun. 17: SB 323; HB 415 & HB 613

SB 323 introduces some limited reforms to indigent defense in Louisiana. It mainly is structural in terms of the process, not fiscal in nature (which is where the much greater reform is needed). But a big question came to the fore on the floor about how the bill would have a potentially large fiscal impact.

Rep. Troy Hebert offered an amendment to take the $35 fee to fund indigent defense out of speeding tickets, saying the average court cost in Louisiana already was $176. He pointed out that the $35 was discretionary for smaller court jurisdictions. But Rep. Shirley Bowler pointed out that there was a minimum fee of $17.50 for all moving violations, so that actually might detract from total funding of indigent defense. The resulting confusion sent the bill back to the calendar and Hebert back to the drawing board for his amendment.

Later, Hebert proposed an altered amendment which simply would exclude the previous entities (mayor’s courts, Jonesville, and Plaquemines) from having to charge the fee of $35. The rationale was that most of their business was minor or non-moving violations of vehicles. It was amended without objection, and the bill passed 96-0. Of course, now the Senate must agree to those changes before it can become law and start the first step to sensible reform of the indigent defense system.

HB 415 went down in flames in the Senate. The bill is an attempt to save money by canceling only the January election opportunity for local governments. There remain five others. Yet it hardly garnered any discussion and failed 12-24. It remains on the calendar, but it is unlikely ever to see the light of day during this session.

Also, an attempt was made to resurrect HB 613 in the Senate. The bill looks to set up a limited voucher system that essentially would apply to Orleans Parish schools. This was because the Senate Education did not have a definitive vote on it, so Senate rules allow the measure to be brought directly to the floor. Moreso than the content of the bill, senators argued about whether this move, which is permitted, was appropriate in bypassing a Senate committee. On a nearly party-line vote, it failed 10-23.

“I don’t know … if you can give me a minute I can make something up.”
Rep. Danny Martiny, handling SB 323, to Hebert on a question about why the $35 fee to fund indigent defense had been extended to the previously-exempt courts.

“I hope everybody can hear me …”
Rep. Tim Burns on HB 759 which concerns hearing-aid dealers, proving once again that one can overuse a punchline to the point of annoyance.

“What we really need to do is to get you all a listening school, we really need that. I think I’ll be joining you.”
Hebert during repartee around HB 883 which establishes polysomnography as a separate profession

“Couldn’t we just use one of those Bruneau moves for this legislation?”
Rep. John Alario, when Rep. Bryant Hammett had asked to suspend the rules to push forward consideration on a bill, referring to how last week Rep. Peppi Bruneau had resurrected an apparently dead HB 80.

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