02 May 2012

Committee action, May 2: HB 911, SB 690, HB 212, HB 244, HB 337, HB 1133, HB 209

HB 911 by Rep. Franklin Foil would continue to give 150 percent of the Minimum Foundation Program to students with disabilities (by federal IDEA guidelines) to attend private schools in some parts of the state. He told the House Education Committee that the bill would remove a sunset procedure and add more grades to it, but a planned increase to 175 percent had to be jettisoned due to the state’s tight funding situation. The money comes out of the general fund, not the MFP.

Opponents argued that by its nature it was supposed to be a pilot program but now has appeared as a full-time, expanded program without enough data to analyze. They said the federal dollars for public schools weren’t adequate enough anyway, those they called “left behind.” When asked about putting a sunset back on, however, they said they still would oppose it because they thought those with greater degrees of disabilities would be disproportionately remaining in public schools. Nor does it pay for all tuition in all cases.

Rep. John Edwards asked whether a sunset could occur in two more years, and Foil said he was amenable to this. Edwards also wanted to make sure some kind of report was issued about it, and Foil said he was amenable to having one. But he said timing could be an issue. They figured relevant amendments could be added on the floor.

Without opposition, the bill was reported.

SB 690 by Sen. Sherri Buffington would transfer the state’s Elderly Protection Services from the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs to Adult Protection Services Department of Health and Hospitals. After offering a substitute to the Senate Education Committee, she said it had nothing to do with merging the two offices. Supporters argued that this would streamline services, not different agencies for different ages, and it did not presage a merger which they said for the short term had been shelved.

Opponents argued the new arrangement would lead to less exact services, as EPS tends to go into homes, while APS goes usually into facilities. They said the 60+ in ages were a different population more likely to be accepting of EPS services than APS.

Senators seemed concerned about how costs would be worked out and whether services would be maintained in quality. Supporters said they saw no differences in services and their quality, possible less expensively without possible duplication.

The substitute was moved, and to objected to. It passed 4-3, with Sens. Buffington, Dan Claitor, Elbert Guillory, and Fred Mills in favor, with Sens. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, Dale Erdey, and Ben Nevers against.

HB 212 by Rep. Dee Richard would disallow legislators from taking jobs in the executive branch for two years after their legislative service. He said to the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that this didn’t go over well with the public, and wasn’t that big of a sacrifice.

Rep. Greg Miller asked why should this be limited just to legislators, if the idea being prohibited was bad. Richard said he was interested in his body on this matter. Miller argued that this sent the wrong impression, that those with much experience in policy areas can contribute positively to governance should not be stigmatized for some reason like they are angling for a job after legislative service. Richard said laws create implications of all kinds.

Rep. Pat Smith, whose HB 244 is similar, too many legislators accept employment outside areas of qualifications. Miller said it was not so much the job, but the salary levels, and did not think limitations were helpful, both on the appointer and appointee as other opponents added. Smith then added a complaint against lack of “diversity” in appointments.

The bill was moved for involuntarily deferral, so without objection it was. The same was done to HB 244, with the same result.

HB 337 by Richard would amend the Constitution to change legislative redistricting to a presumably nonpartisan procedure. A commission with nominees from various governmental authorities with the nominees from outside of government would produce a plan that the Legislature could accept or reject only.

Rep. Taylor Barras did not think such a board would have expertise to understand the relationships among communities with smaller districts, such as for the Legislature. Rep. Steve Pugh said there didn’t seem to be any legal problems with the last attempt, so why change it? Rep. Tony Ligi didn’t see that a separate board was sufficiently accountable. Richard said final approval would come from the Legislature, but Ligi said that wasn’t direct enough both for accountability and for the quality of the process.

One of Richard’s constituent testified in favor, and said while this would not completely take politics out of the process, he thought the process was too deferential to existing legislators and thereby inappropriately split Terrebone Parish. Another testifier who spoke for informational purposes said professional groups were available with expertise to perform these functions.

Ligi had moved to involuntarily defer, and without objection it was.

HB 1133 by Rep. Thomas Carmody would prevent transfer of assets from nonprofit associations such as alumni foundations from one school to another without approval of the Board of Regents and the governing authority of the institutional affiliate.

Supporters, all of whom were graduates of Louisiana State University Shreveport and/or who had donated to the LSUS Foundation and/or created scholarships there, argued to the House Education Committee that they intended their monies to go to particular institutions and thought it would be bad faith and discouraging to future donors to have monies used for reasons different than those under which they thought these were going to.

Carmody also introduced amendments, which he said clarified that the bill would affect only instances where institutions were transferred from one system to another, but still allow them to happen within systems voluntarily, without donor notification, unless the governing authority asks for a meeting at which donors could attend. Need of notification would occur when it was a transfer between systems. They were adopted without objection.

But then Carmody offered a substitute, which was the now-amended bill, and then voluntarily deferred it, with the intent to bring it back up if it appeared that a scenario where a transferred school would have these monies raided could occur.

HB 209 by Foil would have polls open for most elections at 7 AM rather than 6 AM. Testifying in favor of the bill to the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee was Sec. of State Tom Schedler. He noted statistics showed little activity occurred before 7 AM, that early voting was more widely available than ever, and these longest hours in the country discouraged  elections commissioners from working them, creating a burgeoning crisis. It had picked up an amendment to apply it only to state elections, which Schedler said he was not a fan of but that Foil indicated was needed to pass the bill.

Opponents from unions argued lopping off the extra hour would create hardship on some employees with unusual shift times. Sen. Mike Walsworth agreed with Schedler that early voting should allay any of these difficulties, and that the crisis of lack of commissioners was concern enough to try to attract more by shortening hours. Opponents said higher pay was the answer.

When it came time for a vote, committee Republicans were in favor and Democrats against – except that Sen. Neil Riser was absent and Chairman Jody Amedee voted with the Democrats against. Thus, it failed to pass 4-4, but left open the possibility that it could return in the future.

“I would never take a job … where I had to deal with numbers”
Smith, relative to her HB 244.

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