16 November 2005

Committee and floor action, Nov. 16: HB 92, HB 59

The Senate Finance Committee couldn’t work its way through issues regarding the Budget Stabilization Fund, and then got more bad news about its obligation concerning federal aid.

A trio of bills trying to expand the state’s ability to tap into the fund got hung up on amendments and technicalities, such as defining when a “disaster” occurs that would allow the enlarged authority to withdraw from the fund (now set at one-third its total under “normal” circumstances). The committee had to set aside further discussion until tomorrow to make way for an update from Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot.

Theriot testified that the problem facing the state is that, in the disbursement of funds to individuals, even if the state has no control over who applied for them, the state owes a matching payment for them. Even if in many other areas of assistance there are no matching requirements (or won’t be until after Nov. 25), the tab due the federal government for all now is estimated at $3.5 billion. No state ever has been exempted from this, and the state would be expected to pay it back in three to five years (although the federal law is indeterminate here). A 60% penalty begins after 90 days, and interest is at 1 percent. Other costs are to be expected to continue to be borne after 11/26, so the figure will go higher.

Sen. Joe McPherson accused FEMA of “spending like a drunken sailor,” and felt the state was treated unfairly by being unable to control or to understand the ramifications of the spending until after it had started. He faulted the federal government for policies that encouraged unemployment, saying some people were living off these payments (disaster and unemployment) and are not willing to go back to work as a result.

Theriot noted that he was still getting answers, but the state was highly unlikely to be forgiven these payments, and must be prepared to deal with them.

Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock pulled her from the calendar to the floor HB 59, which would allow people whose identity never has been confirmed to vote in Louisiana elections, as long as they were registered 30 days prior to the last presidential election but before Sep. 24, 2005, for the next year – that is, through the 2006 cycle. She argued this would only be several hundred people in Orleans, less than four thousand statewide, and that fraud possibilities were low and would be vigorously prosecuted. Rep. Charlie Lancaster did point out these names were a matter of public records, implying that they could be used illegally. He also would point out that the bill nor the existing law could provide really affirmative identification. “We don’t even know if these people have even left the [affected areas].”

Rep. Peppi Bruneau strongly objected to Jefferson-Bullock’s assertion that fraud would be difficult, and said “We are slipping down a slippery slope on this matter,” describing how even if the bill’s eligible registrants have been winnowed down, the flawed principle still remained. “We’ve had them before … this is the opportunity to have them again.”

Rep. Mike Walsworth also pointed out that these people were residing out of state other than students or military personnel, who have to positively identify themselves when registering, which made it a great departure from the past practices concerning absentee voting. Rep. Don Cazayoux said these were extreme times deserving such a solution. Bruneau said the law could be followed by showing up at the polls: “I’d crawl on my knees from Dallas to vote … I’d thumb it if I had to.”

Both Bruneau and Rep. Steve Scalise had amendments which would have tightened procedures even further, but they withdrew their amendments and urged defeat of the bill. Rep. Billy Montgomery said he wasn’t going to tell members how to vote, but that a vote for this bill in committee or elsewhere for it did not constitute acceptance of fraud. Cazayoux said the issue was sending a signal to support voting rights, downplaying the possibility of fraud. “We pass things all the time balancing rights against potential harm.”

The bill failed 45-52. Almost every Republican voted against it, obviously joined by some Democrats.

HB 145 and HB 146 which would raid the Budget Stabilization Fund were yanked from the agenda and put back on the calendar.

SB 6, the Senate version of HB 59, yesterday was voted down 16-20 but was resuscitated in the Senate as people outside of that august body sat down for dinner. Of the three senators who missed yesterday’s vote, Noble Ellington and James David Cain voted against it while Chris Ullo went for it, while voting against it yesterday Tom Schedler and Julie Quinn both were absent. Also flipping sides from yesterday were Ben Nevers and Nick Gautreaux. That actually gave the yeas a 19-18 advantage, but Senate rules require a majority of the seated Senate to pass measure, and thus it was defeated.

THURSDAY: HB 9 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.

THE BAD: HB 167 by Cheryl Gray would outlaw “unfair” residential rents, leaving it up to the Attorney General to decide what is “unfair.” This is way too subjective and interfering in market conditions to be good public policy.

THURSDAY: HB 9 is scheduled to be heard by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“With the ‘isle of Orleans,’ maybe we ought to find some way separate it from the state.”
Sen. Noble Ellington, jokingly suggesting getting New Orleans recognized this way because Theriot said the only forgiveness ever given to the kind of bill soon due from the state was those involving U.S. territories, all islands.

“I am not for fraud in voting.”
Montgomery, during the HB 59 debate, defending his vote in committee for the bill.

“We should not take a sludgehammer and kill all those who vote through this bill who do not commit fraud.”
Rep. Willie Hunter, during the HB 59 debate.

“He made that thing sing the national anthem”
Bruneau, recalling a voting machine demonstration in 1980.

Total House introductions: 167; total Senate introductions: 111.

Total House good bills: 6; total Senate good bills: 6.

Total House bad bills: 12; total Senate bad bills: 5.

Total House good bills heard in committee: 4; total Senate good bills heard in committee: 2.

Total House bad bills heard in committee: 8; total Senate bad bills heard in committee: 3

Total House good bills passing committee: 4; total Senate good bills passing committee: 1.

Total House bad bills passing committee: 4; total Senate bad bills passing committee: 1

Total House good bills passing House: 4; total Senate good bills passing Senate: 1

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