08 February 2006

Committee action, Feb. 8: SB 8, SB 16

The Senate Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee embarked upon the main event of the special session, levee governance consolidation in the form of Sen. Walter Boasso’s SB 8 . In opening remarks, Boasso made clear that it was science, not politics, that lay behind his proposal. Further, he would echo Gov. Kathleen Blanco and her administration that Louisiana would forfeit federal money on the table unless a plan as comprehensive as his was adopted. Blanco also pointed out that no expert in the area of flood protection did not think that the current fragmented system was detrimental to protection.

Sen. Robert Adley began a nitpicking that would continue throughout the day. He argued that there was not clear definition of “southeast Louisiana” and that the authority created in the last special session might qualify under the Congressional appropriation of $12 million. He said it was a “well-intentioned” gesture by a “young” Congressman done “in haste” and should not be the determining factor in the debate. Throughout, when questioning, Adley tried to steer debate in the direction that the congressman in question, Rep. Bobby Jindal or his estimation of Congress was that they would not object to not having a single entity to qualify for federal funding. Adley also kept trying to find explanations in the area of why which parishes were included (saying at one point “it depends on whose oxen are getting gored”), and why “experts” would be needed for oversight.

Sen. Francis Heitmeier emphasized that he saw geographical distinctions that should limit the size of the consolidation. Sen. Tom Schedler argued that certain jurisdictions should be excluded, and a number of their officials paraded forward to complain they would be left out in funding if they were forced into a consolidated district. They also said patronage was not a problem and things were being done efficiently, that the system was not broken and didn’t need fixing. Others said their jurisdictions regularly worked together and didn’t need consolidation to do it. Other testifiers argued that existing federal legislation already defined the term – Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, excluding a number of parishes included in the bill, and delivered money on that basis (although St. Charles and St. Bernard have separate federal funding). Thus, there was no need to consolidate to get federal money.

Supporters, mostly from state government bodies, interest groups, professional experts, and ordinary citizens, stressed the increased oversight and accountability that was crucial to good management and that the federal government would be reticent to provide increased funding otherwise. They also warned that the private sector also was judging investment decisions of whether comprehensive consolidation would occur. They argued that the new Coastal Restoration Authority was too generally overseeing to bring the benefits foreseen under Boasso’s bill. They also said the bureaucratic structures of levee districts would not change, just their governance. Regional planning and professional application would be enhanced. The citizens made impassioned pleas that the legislation would enhance their safety.

The committee adopted the bill without objection. At the same time, over in the House no bill regarding consolidation was specifically discussed, but rather some general considerations. It would seem that the Senate was being used as the venue to discuss Boasso’s specific consolidation plan, and pending its fate, the House would then take up more modest bills of consolidation.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles JonesSB 16 was heard in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. A stream of witnesses favoring it came forward which had in common a history of supporting Democrat candidates. A common theme seemed to be that somehow not to pass the bill would fail to “protect the right to vote” for people who, essentially, merely would be out of their home parishes, which procedures already are in place to address.

Only Sen. Jay Dardenne objected to a favorable recommendation, with Sens. Jones, Cleo Fields, and Derrick Shepherd favoring it.

“Senate time is not like normal time.”
Sen. Noble Ellington on explaining why a 10-minute break really lasted 40. No truer words ever were spoken.

THURSDAY: HB 36, HB 37, HB 56, and HB 57 are scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee; SB 13 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee.

Total House introductions: 98; total Senate introductions: 49.

Total House good bills: 13; total Senate good bills: 2.

Total House bad bills: 10; total Senate bad bills: 2.

Total House good bills heard in committee: 1; total Senate good bills heard in committee: 2.

Total House good bills passing committee: 1; total Senate good bills passing committee: 2.

Total House bad bills heard in committee: 1; total Senate bad bills heard in committee: 1.

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

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