19 June 2007

Committee action, Jun. 19: SB 14, HB 113, HB 127, HB 614

SB 14 would allow the presiding officers and Treasurer to set up the agenda of the meetings of the State Bond Commission, and that a majority of the members could put an item on the agenda. Speaker Joe Salter told the House Ways and Means Committee the rotating chairmanship idea had been removed.

Rep. Billy Montgomery moved passage, but Treasurer John Kennedy wanted to speak in opposition. Kennedy said to vote against it because it would turn the agenda of the commission over to the governor, who directly or indirectly controls the majority of votes on the commission and with her other powers gives too much fiscal power to her. He also said through its staff the Legislature already was involved in agenda-setting. He added that during his chairmanship of the commission that the only item he never put an item on an agenda when requested was consideration of the Bunkie sugar mill because its application was too sketchy, but then called a special meeting to consider after more information came through. (Senate Pres. Don Hines authored the bill after Kennedy had delayed the placement of the item, whose family had a financial interest in the mill).

Montgomery said he thought an arrangement had been worked out among all concerned but Kennedy said he knew nothing of that. In closing, Salter said he thought the same thing. He said it had nothing to do with the mill, and lauded Kennedy as a treasurer, except as head of the Commission. “I think he has abused his authority … on more than one occasion,” he charged. All the bill does, he argued, was open up the agenda-setting process.

Chairman Rep. Taylor Townsend said the mill issue may be confusing the issue, but that the bill was a separate issue. Rep. Cedric Richmond wanted to know how many blacks were on the Commission; Salter said presently none.

The bill was passed without objection.

HB 113 would make it easier to prosecute organized theft rings. Author state Rep. Mike Powell told the Senate Judiciary C Committee that these gangs steal small-valued items that then resell them, often out of the country. The problem is separately the items are petty which makes prosecuting difficult, but together they add up to significant losses to retailers and consumers. This would be different from shoplifting because the “fencing” would be the object of the law. This would be a felony, as was widely supported by law enforcement. The bill passed without objection.

SB 127 is for a Constitutional amendment to ensure there is adequate funding for any increase in retirement benefits before they can be granted. House Civil Law and Procedure Committee Chairman Rep. Glenn Ansardi said it was in front of the committee to check on its ballot language (since voters must approve of it) and, after a moment, it was determined that Vice Chairman Rep. Ronnie Johns would present the bill. Ansardi asked how was the language and Johns said it was fine. He then moved for its passage without objection, and that’s what happened.

HB 614 would criminalize abortionists who perform partial-birth abortions. Author Rep. Gary Beard said to the Senate Judiciary A Committee the bill tracked the federal law upheld recently by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said a state law was necessary for vigorous enforcement because it would allow state district attorneys, elected by the people, in addition to appointed U.S. district attorneys, to prosecute and that it would more clearly cover instances where state lines weren’t crossed. It was like SB 161 by Sen. Ben Nevers in most respects. Rep. Steve Scalise said this act happened 400 times in Louisiana last year.

Supporters noted the bill was consistent with studies and endorsements that showed abortion of this kind often harmed women’s health and not doing it did not threaten their health and definitively was infanticide. Chairman Sen. Art Lenitni wondered about some of the technical legal procedure aspects of the bill, but supporters assured that they did not impair successful implementation of the bill.

Opponents argued that the bill endangered women’s health, and said the recent decision was a mistake, and that federal law was more than enough and could do nothing more. Serious abortion control, it was asserted, would be to work with agencies dealing with contraception and education.

After rounding up a quorum, an amendment was offered by Sen. Nick Gautreaux that basically would have HB 25 amended into the bill which adds to the informed consent law, that said the fetus has the capacity to feel pain although this did not have consensus in the scientific community and give the mother the opportunity to see a sonogram of the unborn – an approach consistent with other U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Beard spoke to say he while he favored both bills, from a standpoint of passing both bills, he wasn’t so sure they should be joined as the amendment broadened the scope of the bill as HB 25 covered all abortions. But at the same time, supporters said, increasing information might head off potential lawsuits about lack of informed consent.

Opponents said there was no consensus on the pain issue and accused supporters of “playing politics.” Also noted was that pain medications would increase costs of abortions and could increase risks for women.

Gautreaux moved adoption and were without objection. Beard closed by saying protecting life and liberty were important objectives of the bill. Without objection, it was reported favorably.

That’s how you get the hook into us ….
Townsend, when Sen. Sharon Weston Broome wanted to talk about another item that would come in front of the committee after the committee has discussed one of her items that was on the agenda, even as Townsend’s plan was to delay it until later in the week.

Thanks for recognizing I had a good bill
Townsend, when a witness plumped for support of his bill by saying it was modeled after one of Townsend’s.

Uh-huh … lawyers aren’t that bright. We need to be economists.
Lawyer Rep. Rick Farrar ,when an economist testified he made $15,000 to produce a study that ended up backing the bill for which he was testifying.

WEDNESDAY: SB 161 is scheduled to be heard by the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee.

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