12 March 2008

Floor action, Mar. 12: SB 5

SB 5 would allow families to get a tax deduction for tuition or private school expenses of 50 percent up to $5,000. Sen. Rob Marionneaux stated this bill would not detract from funding public education, noting the almost doubling of spending over the past dozen years in that area. He also observed about the House version HB 7 which had been amended to allow public school students’ families to include other expenses such as school uniforms. He explained the $5,000 cap on it was for financial expedience, but that many would be below that figure and home-schooled children would be unlikely to reach that amount.

Sen. Ben Nevers wanted to amend the bill to add public school expenses of any kind, beyond HB 7 as amended. He said no set of taxpayers should be left out, and that otherwise there would be constitutional problems. He thought a fiscal note (not yet produced) would be around $60 million, three times the bill itself. Sen. Julie Quinn pointed out the things on which could be deducted were quite broader than the original bill, which Marionneaux said would not be good for the bill, whereas he had one coming up to make it like HB 7 that was much less expansive. The amendment passed 29-6.

Sen. Dan Morrish then offered another. He declared the bill as originally composed divisive and proposed an amendment to give an extra credit per child age 4 to 18 of $50 which would about equal the original bill’s note, stripping everything else out of the original bill. Marionneaux said this was an ungermane amendment, and asked for a ruling, and got it was ungermane from Pres. Joel Chaisson

Nevers came back with an amendment to offer the same kind of break for classroom expenses. Marionneaux objected to the cost and said with this, and the prior amendment, the bill would face a veto, and asked for another germaneness ruling. Once again, Chaisson ruled it lacked germaneness.

Sen. Bob Kostelka then offered an amendment to undo Nevers’ amendment. He argued that this was game-playing to create a bill that would be defeated, and said it should be voted on cleanly on the idea of aiding non-public schoolchildren’s families. He said every taxpayer, including those who sent their children to public schools, paid towards the $7,500 per student in the public schools so if anything that was unfair.

Sen. Nick Gautreaux then asked for a retroactive declaration of germaneness for the passed amendment. Chaisson said he would have declared it ungermane but he could do nothing about it now. Kostelka said then voting for his amendment would undo the ungermane amendment. Nevers said he wasn’t playing games. Sen. Mike Walsworth said the fairness issue extended to the home schooled as well. The amendment failed 12-24.

Gautreaux then offered an amendment that would basically make the bill like HB 7, adding only school uniforms as deductible at about $2 million, saying the cost was more manageable. Nevers said this amendment left out too much like textbooks and they should be added, plus stripped out his amendment. Marionneaux said he had talked to the Jindal Administration and said it would accept this cost, and even maybe for textbooks and supplies which could be done in the House. He also repeated that the stripping part would make the bill likely to be signed and if it wasn’t stripped it wouldn’t be. Nevers objected, saying textbooks and supplies would have to be added and the Senate had spoken twice in favor of his amendment. Quinn questioned the constitutionality of the amendment but said she’d vote for it.

Sen. Troy Hebert then asked about divisibility of the amendment, and Chaisson said failure of the first would moot the rest and so ruled not. Gautreaux then withdrew his amendments said a new set would be entered with textbooks and supplies. Morrish came back using rhetorical tricks to make his previous amendment he thought germane. Marionneaux pointed out it lacked “primary and secondary” education, making it universal, causing two resubmissions. Marionneaux then objected, saying the amendment allowed deductions even to non-taxpayers. The amendment failed 17-19.

Gautreaux was back with his promised changes. This was a compromise Nevers said he could live with to include all families. The amendment was adopted without objection.

On the bill, Sen. Buddy Shaw declared it was the job of government to provide public education, and that all should have to pay for it even if they chose not to use public schools. He intimated that the bill would create a future situation where public money would flow freely to non-public schools. Sen. Yvonne Dorsey called the bill “selfish” and said applying the “principle” to something like public safety would mean if people had private security they should get a tax credit for it. Marionneaux argued that a certain segment of the “ordinary” people ought to get money back when “special interests” get so much more.

The bill passed 34-2.

Let’s … provide [children] education, and not worry about unions.
Kostelka, when discussing his amendment

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