30 April 2014

Committee action, Apr. 30: SB 1, HB 451, HB 1079

SB 1 by Sen. Dan Claitor would circumscribe the use of Tulane University scholarships by legislators. This entailed reversing a previous amendment from a previous meeting of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. It would not allow nomination of immediate family as defined by the Ethics Code, nor any elected official, nor members of their immediate families, nor federal elected officials, nor statewide elected officials. Additional criteria may be imposed by legislators, or it may be deferred to Tulane with preference to students residing in a legislator’s district and then financial need. Names of awardees and awarders would be published on the Legislature’s website, to which Tulane’s would link. It also would indicate any relationship to an official. It also allowed for a legislator to pass along a scholarship to another legislator’s district.

Sen. Jack Donahue asked why information about contributions was removed. Claitor said since that is reported elsewhere, it can be cross-checked, although some different names and the like might obscure that. Sen. Neil Riser said many local officials and family members from large population areas were still eligible; Claitor said he had no easy way to be able to exclude them and he didn’t think it would pass if he included them.

Without objection, it was reported favorably.

HB 451 by Rep. Alan Seabaugh would disallow government withholding union dues from public employee paychecks. He told the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee that this expends taxpayer resources to send money to organizations that may expend them for lobbying purposes. He noted that to accomplish withholding without involving a public employee was hardly any different, just using different paperwork. It would repeal the exception where a collective bargaining agreement mandates the transfer, according to an amendment. Facing objection, it passed 10-3.

Rep. Pat Smith said there should be no additional hiring, and said Seabaugh said there would have to have individuals hired to do this. He said he didn’t, but that it is part of hired employees’ jobs. She said this bill then would override local control with the amendment to create ease of deduction for employees; he said in this instance where the money could go to a special interest that lobbies this should be an exception. Smith said lots of entities lobbied, and said this was selective.

Rep. Kenny Cox said he should have a right to choose. Seabaugh said it was a privilege to have government collect on behalf of an organization, and does nothing to prevent people from joining unions, which is a voluntary decision. Cox said he thought the people ought to vote on this; Seabaugh said it was his and Cox’s job to make this decision on their behalf. Seabaugh also said he had surveyed his district and found 80 percent support on it.

Chairman Herbert Dixon said a local district could decide on this, so he thought that could be more appropriate than doing it at a state level. Seabaugh said Dixon’s use of the Caddo Parish School Board as an example was bad because he thought it dysfunctional, but said certain decisions ought to be made at the state level. He appealed to precedent of doing this for a long time, but Seabaugh said just because something’s been there for awhile doesn’t mean it’s best. Dixon said it was interference by the state with this bill.

Rep. Alfred Williams asked whether any governmental agency asked about this. Seabaugh said he’d only talked to the Caddo Parish School Board, but reiterated that state policy ought to be not having public employees perform functions for private organizations. Williams asked about health insurance deductions, which could be voluntary. Seabaugh said because it’s different and had tax implications, addressing benefits. Williams asked whether sheriff’s deputies were included as far as their professional associations; Seabaugh said they weren’t and thought they were different.

Dixon cautioned the room that it might have to be vacated if outbursts continued. Rep. Lance Harris asked whether he thought government-paid compensation was the same as voluntary union dues; Seabaugh said they were not.

Rep. Vincent Pierre said this bill was “unreal” and asked whether private industry was included; Seabaugh said he didn’t think that could be done now. Smith said she said it could be, although, as Seabaugh said, not by public employees.

Jim Patterson of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry noted that local government already did not have discretion to choose in deductions because employees could request this at the local level. He also noted that other organizations had neutral relationships with government, but there could be an adversarial employer/employee relationship with a union to government, justifying the bill because it put the employer (government) at a disadvantage by also making it an agent of the employees (union).

Rep. Dee Richard said teachers ought to be privileged and they should be removed from the bill, and wanted to act to do so. Smith motioned to reconsider the earlier amendment, which would have that effect. That was defeated 7-9.

Opponents claimed unions had no advantage relative to a public employer, said union membership was crucial to the livelihood of government employees, and that unions were the way to give them a voice and payroll deduction denial interfered with that mission. They said it was anti-union and that the bill would destroy unions. They also claimed it would be too onerous on unions, that it was unethical and unjust and that payroll deductions allowed them to be treated fairly. Finally, they claimed it would save no money, even a fiscal office report said there would be savings, just not material in nature.

Harris questioned some opponents, noting that if unions felt threatened for their existence without deductions, then it must be something they weren’t doing right. After Seabuagh closed, Smith made a motion to defer involuntarily defer. The 8-8 voted caused it to fail, and the subsequent vote of the same also caused it to fail.

HB 1059 by Rep. Kirk Talbot would do pretty much the same thing, except it included public safety employees. And given the previous result, he deferred it voluntarily.

Dying … don’t do that to your student
Claitor, in explaining how a student might lose a scholarship because the legislator wouldn’t be around anymore to reappoint a student.

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