09 May 2017

Committee action, May 9: SB 167, HB 91, HB 457

SB 167 by Sen. Regina Barrow would make companies that let out harmful air emissions pay for health screenings of individuals in the area affected. She brought along Lt. Gen. (ret.) Russell Honore, who heads an environmentalist group. He told the Senate Environmental Quality Committee that people who live near concerns that use potentially harmful chemicals should have peace of mind provided with checkups by the offenders. State agencies would order this kind of relief for people living within a mile of the release.

Agency representatives detailed when violations could occur that the bill would cover, which could take several months to determine and who bore responsibility. Sen. Eddie Lambert, after hearing this, thought the bill would force annual testing for everybody. Honore said it could come from events or be continuous, and 350 entities would qualify.

Sen. Conrad Appel asked what was a “health screening” was. He was told this could be construed as multiple tests. Further, as the language also doesn’t identify what to look for, this he was told magnifies the testing demand. He also wondered how testing could separate out the impact of an exposure to long-term environmental factors in a person’s life, which would make it he heard difficult to detect the exposure’s impact. Finally, he asked how it would happen. Barrow said she hoped the offenders would do it.

Appel asked, once current law that mandated reporting kicked in, why people wouldn’t do this on their own when notified, especially now with widespread acceptance of Medicaid? Barrow said not everybody was insured. Appel said perhaps the notification process needed improvement, but that mechanisms already seemed in place for people to do this on their own.

Chairman Mike Walsworth asked about cost. He was told he figures would vary considerably, but would be expensive. He also wondered whether transient people coming in and out of the area over a long span would be covered under the law.

Barrow saw the handwriting on the wall, and said she would yank the bill to work on it the issues brought up, and the committee agreed.

HB 91 by Rep. Franklin Foil would take money from riverboat gaming franchise fees currently sent to the general fund to a fund that would spend on the Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars. He told the House Appropriations Committee that there needed to be certainty for full funding on TOPS, which the fund could supply. Any unencumbered funds at the end of a year would go back to the general fund.

Rep. Pat Smith wondered whether funds from gaming that currently gets redirected elsewhere would be affected. Foil said the bill wasn’t supposed to divert money already going elsewhere, even to other education purposes, and would make sure the language reflected that. In fact, the fund would have been three times the need to pay for the TOPS shortfall this year had it been enacted. Smith said this would cause sacrifice elsewhere and would create yet another dedication.

Rep. Walt Leger said he thought the dedication should go to higher education generally, and wanted to offer an amendment to do so. In response, Foil said he would defer voluntarily to work on the issue more, and the committee complied.

HB 457 would pass over to local control constitutionally-mandated revenue sharing, as explained by Rep. Barry Ivey, phased out over four years. This control can come by having the authority to changes the homestead exemption and/or change millages, which would have to occur if another constitutional amendment, HB 366, passed to allow them this authority, to which the bill was tied. It would begin in fiscal year 2019.

Rep. Johnny Berthelot asked how this would compensate the local governments. Ivey said it wouldn’t but these would have the chance to raise millages to make up the dollars. Berthelot said such measures were getting turned down by voters, and suggested that the phase-out only apply if local authorities got approval to increase millages to compensate.

Smith asked about the fiscal impact locally. Ivey said it would be revenue neutral at the beginning, but depending upon individual parish decisions this would change. He subsequently argued that the homestead exemption served as a tradeoff with revenue sharing, so if the state did not impose the exemption, it did not need to give the money.

After Rep. Lance Harris, the bill’s actual main author, moved to amend notation of Ivey’s HB 366 into this, Rep. John Schroder asked whether local government had communicated their preferences, noting he had gotten many negative communications from these interests. Ivey said this fit the pattern of complaints arising only when something was brought up, to slow things down that decreased chances of passage, but said he was open to anybody discussing it.

Berthelot then noted he could not support the bill as he called revenue sharing the lifeblood for some entities. Ivey said in special circumstances the state could fund these additionally by other means, and if the money was the issue, he could pull it out of the bill.

Ivey closed by saying all the bill did was give local control, but said he would open to deferring the bill. Harris made the motion on his bill, and it was.

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