25 April 2016

Committee action, Apr. 25: HB 454, HB 174, HB 1021

HB 454 by Rep. Dee Richard would force reporting of contracts of a certain amount to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. The current amount is $40,000; this bill would lower it to $25,000, he told the House’s Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Pat Smith said she thought the committee would have to meet more often to review more contracts, which at the current threshold numbers 1,700. Richard didn’t think that necessary.

Without objection, the bill was approved.

HB 174 by Richard would cut the nondiscretionary general fund last-year all-contract total by 10 percent (as amended when previously heard) for next year only. A version failed on the floor during the special session, but had passed out of the House in previous years. He said he hoped it would cut enough to fund other priorities in the budget, out of roughly 20,000 contracts. While contracts were being vetted by the JLCB of over $40,000, they weren’t being eliminated, which he said needed to be done. He passed around a list of 2,200 of these that he thought could take a haircut under the bill (it doesn’t eliminate them), but could not give a figure as to the savings because apparently nobody knows.

Rep. Gary Carter said the contracts should be reviewed prior to any legislative action to cut them. Richard replied that the committee already does that with the higher-cost contracts. Rep. Mark Abraham asked what would happen if the cutting was not done. Richard said he didn’t know but that the executive branch should obey the law. Abraham said leaving cutting up to the discretion of the executive branch without prior vetting and assigning cuts could lead to a situation where to hit the mark made it infeasible, as some contracts would go unlet.

Rep. Walt Leger questioned the bill’s necessity. He said the Legislature could refuse to fund some of these and why should the whole job be done by the administration? Richard said he saw no will to do so from the Legislature.

Rep. Blake Miguez asked about offering an amendment to put in a specific dollar amount rather than a percentage. Richard gave his assent, so Miguez said he would put one up for the amount of money needed to fund fully the Taylor Opportunity for Scholars Program. He thought vendors would be willing to take haircuts on contracts to keep business and things had to happen now. But Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration officials said they had just a limited universe of contracts under the bill to meet its obligation, and most was related to health care. They said to get to the TOPS number would end up close to half of the available universe outside of health care.

Miguez offered up amendments to specify a reduction of $183.2 million from the general fund contracts. Administration officials kept pointing out a number of constraining factors to make reductions, but Chairman Cameron Henry said legislators had to take a broader view such as reductions in health care contracts and not limit themselves. This led to Leger’s objection, and mostly along party lines with Republicans voting yes the amendment passed.

Rep. Tony Bacala asked questions about health care contracts and, when the answers didn’t seem to suit him, asked when answers were forthcoming, after four months of legislators asking for these. He wanted to know how many contracts had been vetted for cuts, and what were the amounts. He wondered why most agencies that could be cut in the current executive budget proposal hardly had any, and just a few took very big cuts. He said legislators needed information in order to make cuts, instead of just being told cuts could not be done because the information wasn’t there.

After a wide-ranging series of questions that often strayed from the bill, Richard closed by saying with so many contracts out there, surely there would be enough money out there to be cut to fund other priorities. Again, largely on party lines the bill passed.

HB 1021 by Rep. Rick Edmonds would require for local governments to impose traffic camera enforcement to obtain approval of the local citizenry. He told the House Transportation, Highway and Public Works Committee that this would not eliminate things like red-light cameras, then began to argue the evidence for their effectiveness for safety was, at best, inconclusive, but certainly raised revenue. However, he said he needed to work more on the bill and wanted to defer it voluntarily.

But then Rep. Bryan Adams made a motion to defer it involuntarily. After some confusion, an objection to that was registered but the motion passed with only one dissent.

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