October 08, 2007

Meet the Freshman Class

The first of a 2-part series
Six newcomers were elected to the House without facing opposition and will take the oath in January. The following is an introduction to three of these freshman class members.

***Mike Danahay, a 49-year-old sales representative for U.S. Office Plus, replaces three-term legislator Ronnie Johns (District 33). A Democrat, Mr. Danahay is currently serving his second term on the Calcasieu Parish Policy Jury, which he served as president in 2006.

Mike is the Vice President of the West Calcasieu Association of Commerce, a member of the McNeese Alumni Association, and a member of the Knights of Columbus.

He and his wife Daphne have two daughters, Kate and Mary. They attend Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Sulphur.

***Democrat Simone Becnel Champagne will represent District 49, currently held by Rep. Troy Hebert.

Ms. Champagne was Operations Vice President for First National Bank of Jeanerette for 23 years before resigning to accept the position of Chief Administrative Officer for Iberia Parish government, a position she held until last January. She is an active member of South Lake Fausse Pointe Development Foundation, Jeanerette Historic Preservation Foundation, and the Jeanerette Chamber of Commerce, of which she served two terms as president.

She is the recipient of the 1998-99 St. Joseph Catholic School Achiever/Supporter award, 2000 Daily Iberian Woman of the Year award, and the 2006 Jeanerette Chamber Outstanding Citizen award.

She and her husband Gary have five children and three grandchildren. They attend St. Joseph Catholic Church.

***Greg Cromer, a 49-year-old Republican, has been employed by Lockheed Martin at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility for 25 years. Greg will represent District 90, currently held by Pete Schneider.

A member of the Slidell City Council since 2002, he served as council president in 2006. He also served on the council's sales tax agreement committee and helped negotiate the second long-term tax-sharing agreement between the city and parish. Greg helped provide temporary shelter, food, and water for the community as a member of the Hurricane Katrina Rideout Team.

He holds a B.S. in Industrial Management Technology from Southeastern Louisiana University. He is a member of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation Board, Northshore Republican Men's Club, and the Slidell Noon Lion's Club.

A Baptist, he and his wife Peggy have two children, Niki - 24 and Clay 19. Greg's hobbies are golf, fishing, and coaching soccer.

September 20, 2007

ELECTION UPDATE

by Sheila McCant, Public Information Officer
The field has narrowed in the race for state Senate District 6. State Reps. Diane Winston and Alex Heaton withdrew from the race last Friday and a district judge ruled that same day that candidate Mary Lou McCall does not live in the district and therefore is ineligible to be a candidate for election. McCall, who had 24 hours in which to file a notice of appeal, did not do so. Remaining candidates are incumbent Julie Quinn, Doug Johnson, and Monica Monica.

Also on Friday, State Rep. Terrell Harris withdrew from the House District 87 race, as did Kent Smith. This leaves Girod Jackson unopposed.

In another court case, the First Circuit Court of Appeal overturned District Court Judge Don Johnson's ruling that state Senator Cleo Fields was eligible to run for re-election. Fields is expected to appeal the decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court and has 48 hours from the time of the ruling in which to ask for the review. A lawsuit was filed alleging that Fields is not eligible to run for re-election due to term limits. He was elected during a special election in December, 1997 and took the oath of office from the Secretary of State that same month but wasn't sworn in on the Senate floor until January. Attorneys for the plaintiffs contend that the oath on the floor of the Senate is merely ceremonial.

September 19, 2007

ELECTED WITHOUT OPPOSITION

by Sheila McCant, Public Information Officer
When qualifying ended on Thursday, September 6, 25 candidates for state representative were elected without opposition, 20 incumbents and 5 newcomers. Last week, two candidates withdrew from the District 87 race (New Orleans area), incumbent Terrell Harris and Kent Smith, handing the seat to newcomer Girod Jackson. This brings the total of newcomers to 6 and the total elected thus far to 26, unless there is a repeat of the District 87 scenario before the October 20 election.

Those returning are Reps. Wayne Waddell, Mike Powell, Hollis Downs, Don Cazayoux, Brett Geymann, Chuck Kleckley, Mickey Guillory, Joel Robideaux, Gordon Dove, Eddie Lambert, Karen St. Germain, Avon Honey, Hunter Greene, Harold Ritchie, John Labruzzo, Jim Tucker, Mert Smiley, Tim Burns, Juan Lafonta, and J. P. Morrell.

Newcomers are Mike Danahay, District 33 (currently held by Ronnie Johns); H. Bernard LeBas, District 38 (currently held by Eric Lafleur); Simone Champagne, District 49 (currently held by Troy Hebert); Patrick Connick, District 84 (currently held by N. J. Damico); Girod Jackson, District 87 (mentioned above) and Greg Cromer, District 90 (currently held by Pete Schneider).

This leaves 79 House seats to be decided in the October or November election .

September 04, 2007

QUALIFYING BEGINGS TODAY

by Sheila McCant, Public Information Officer

Louisiana's election season officially begins today. Qualifying for statewide offices, including Governor, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and all seats for the state House of Representatives and Senate runs today through Thursday. At the end of qualifying, candidates will have 43 days to campaign before the primary election of Saturday, October 20 with the run-off taking place Saturday, November 17.

Early voting, in person, (formerly absentee voting) begins October 8 and runs through October 13.

For more election information, including how to find out where you vote and which legislators are term limited and who is retiring, please visit the legislative Web site and click on "Election 2007."

NEW PASSPORT REQUIREMENTS UNCOVER DEADBEAT PARENTS

by Jessica Braun
New passport requirements have complicated travel this summer, but they have also uncovered many deadbeat parents. Millions of travelers now need passports to fly back from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and South America, but the State Department denies passports to non-custodial parents who owe more than $2,500 in child support. Once a parent makes good on the debt, or pays it down to the threshold, they can reapply for a passport. In all, states have reported collecting at least $22.5 million through the program so far in 2007. The money is then forwarded to the parent to whom it is owed. Also contributing to the increased collections was a drop in the threshold for reporting child support debt to the State Department from $5,000 to $2,500.
In Louisiana, 116 passports were released last fiscal year and 20 so far this year, based upon payment of child support debt to an amount below the threshold. For example, in March, a payment of $4,200 was received so the parent could travel to the Bahamas (his new wife won a trip for two). In April, a payment of $11,300 was received so a parent could obtain a job requiring a passport; and in May, a payment of $29,699.36 was received so the parent could travel to Mexico. Therefore, this has proven to be a very effective collection tool for overdue child support. The state may also garnish wages, seize state and federal income tax refunds, and deduct delinquent payments from lottery and gaming winnings. Travelers beware, because another jump in collections is expected next year when the new passports requirements will likely take effect for land and sea travelers too.

July 26, 2007

Veto Session: Law and procedure

by: Alfred W. Speer, Clerk of the House
Our constitution provides for an automatic veto session at noon on the fortieth day after sine die adjournment – August 7, 2007 [LA const. art. III, section 18(C)]. The first provision for a veto session was added to the 1921 constitution by amendment adopted in 1966 [LA const. 1921, art. III, section 8.2]. The session may be cancelled by a majority of the elected members of either house of the legislature affirmatively declaring against holding the session.
The Governor returned the vetoed bills to the two clerical officers and on Monday the 23rd of July and the clerical officers mailed the vetoes to the members along with a declaration against the veto session, all as required by R.S. 24:10. The members have until midnight of August 2nd to return their declarations against a veto session. If 53+ House members AND 20+ Senators fail to return their declarations the veto session will convene at noon on August 7th.
The veto session can last no more than 5 calendar days and is limited in scope to the consideration of the 14 vetoed bills and the 10 line items from the General Appropriation Bill vetoed by the Governor. To see the Governor’s veto messages visit the Legislature’s web page on vetoed bills.
Upon convening a veto session, the Speaker would announce to the gathered membership, a quorum (53 or more members) being present, the list of items to be considered during the veto session. For the House, the list would be the 8 House Bills vetoed and the 10 vetoed items from the General Appropriation Bill. The House would proceed to consider these items in order, as listed. The author of the vetoed bill (or HB 1) would take the floor to make a motion to “Pass H. B. no. __ Subsequent to the Governor’s Veto.” This motion is debatable and opens the entire bill for debate. However, the House may not offer amendments to the bill to rectify the flaw(s) identified by the Governor as her reason for vetoing the bill. This motion to pass may be substituted for by moving to “sustain the Governor’s veto” and the bill may be returned to the calendar or tabled by subsidiary motions. The vote necessary to over-ride a veto (pass subsequent to a veto) is 2/3 of the elected members of the House, or 70 votes. Any fewer votes cast for the motion to over-ride results in the Governor’s veto being sustained.
If the House votes to pass a bill subsequent to a veto we would then message the Senate of such action and request they consider also passing the bill subsequent to the veto. Senate Bills vetoed by the Governor would be considered by the House only if the Senate had voted by 2/3 of their elected membership (26) to pass the bill subsequent to the veto. Bills passed by both houses subsequent to the Governor’s veto become law.
A veto session may not continue beyond the 5th calendar day after the same has been convened (August 11th).

July 03, 2007

2007 Regular Session Wrapup

by Sheila McCant
The 2007 Regular Session is now a chapter for the history books. A limited number of general issue bills were allowed during this fiscal session and they covered a wide variety of issues from hurricane recovery to ethics, to cockfighting. And although some of these bills generated healthy debate, there was one dominant theme during this session - money. And the money issue came in many forms - a record surplus, breaking the spending cap, tax breaks, incentives, and pay raises for teachers, support workers, college faculty, judges, state employees, and others.
For the first time in recent history, House Bill 1 bypassed conference and went straight to the governor's desk. Although she has taken no action on the bill at this time, the governor has signed House Bill 765, the $1.9 billion supplemental appropriations bill that earmarks surplus money and other funds for, among other things, a new charity hospital for New Orleans, $600 million for road improvements, education, health initiatives, the shortfall in the Road Home program, and coastal restoration. Additionally, House Bill 953 uses surplus money from the 2006-07 fiscal year for a variety of programs and obligations.
Also passing was HCR 10 which raised the spending cap for Fiscal Year 2006-2007 from $10,318,239,142 to $12,196,877,089.
The concurrent resolution has been filed with the secretary of state.The bulk of the legislation now faces its last hurdle, the governor's pen. The complete wrapup may be viewed here .












July 01, 2007

2007 Legislative Session: The Good and the Bad

By Rep. Tim Burns
The Good: Then vs. Now
The last time that the legislature had such an embarassment of riches, it was at the height of the oil boom and Edwin Edwards was Governor. The spending bandwagon was in full throttle and there were few fiscal conservatives in sight. If someone had even suggested fiscal restraint, they would have gotten laughed out of the Capitol.
Today, fiscal conservatives were able to totally derail an ill-conceived special session in December and even force some sanity into the spending madness this past session. The administration's spending bonanza was defeated three separate times on the House floor and the sale of the tobacco settlement (for still even more money) was forced to be jettisoned.
In addition, the legislature passed more tax breaks than the administration wanted, including a substantial repeal of Stelly (reinstating the excess itemized deductions), the repeal of the gift tax, 7% tax credit for insurance premiums, and a private school tuition deduction of up to $5,000. However, it still remains to be seen how much tax relief survives the veto pen.
Fiscal conservatives are on the rise and the upcoming elections could mark an historic shift away from Louisiana's entitlement mentality.
The Bad: Spending Everything that Wasn't Nailed Down
Although an overwhelming number of voters wanted a fiscally prudent approach, the administration did what it wanted and spent every penny and then some. Louisiana has the fourth highest spending per capita in the nation and now has the highest debt per capita at any time in its history. Despite pleas to the contrary, the "Old Guard" in the legislature, many of them Edwin Edwards holdovers, just could not resist the urge to spend. Their fiscal insanity could cripple the economy in the years to come. And of course spending was based on politics rather than policy and progressive ideas such as transferring vehicle sales taxes into a construction fund for the state's infrastructure were shot down because, of course, that would leave less money to spend.

June 22, 2007

HOUSE NOTES NO. 8









by Sheila McCant

With final adjournment looming, the Senate completed debate this week on the $29.7 billion state budget (House Bill 1), sending it back to the House for concurrence or rejection of the Senate amendments. The House concurred, sending the bill to the governor and avoiding further deliberation in conference committee. The House voted 84-20 to approve House Concurrent Resolution 10 which raises the state spending cap. The Senate agreed, voting 29-5 to approve the measure.
The House also passed House Concurrent Resolution 208, the spending plan for elementary and secondary schools. The funding formula increases spending for the 2007-2008 school year by $209 million. The legislature can approve or reject the plan, but cannot amend it.
A number of tax credit bills also passed the House or House committee this week. Senate Bill 3, which establishes an annual "sales tax holiday, Senate Bill 155, which provides for a refundable child tax credit against individual income tax of 10% of the federal child tax credit, and Senate Bill 341, which provides a refundable state earned income tax credit equal to five percent of the federal earned income tax credit.
To date, the governor has signed 109 bills. Final adjournment must occur no later than 6 p.m. Thursday, June 28. Please see the full edition of House Notes No. 8 located here.




June 16, 2007

HOUSE NOTES NO. 7

by Sheila McCant
Since last week, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of bills that have made their way through the process to the governor's desk, jumping from four last week to 37 this week. All of these bills are House bills. Six additional House bills have already received the governor's approval.
The Omnibus Bond Authorization Act, House Bill 3 , came up for a third vote on the House Floor this week. The bill passed unanimously by a vote of 102-0.
The House paused during regular business on Thursday to celebrate Flag Day and to offer their gratitude to all soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that Americans can honor and salute the American Flag. Rep. Jean Doerge offered a resolution, House Resolution 33 , to offer condolences to the family of Sergeant Josh Madden of Minden who was killed in the line of duty on December 6, 2006. Sergeant Madden was 21. His family, including his wife Dani and son Jackson, who was three months old when his father died, were present in the House Chamber to acknowledge the recognition. The Minden Melodies performed a program of patriotic songs in honor of Flag Day and Sgt. Madden. After the program, Rep. Cedric Richmond announced that all proceeds from the House vs. Senate annual basketball game would be donated to a scholarship fund for Sgt. Madden's son.
The game, which was played Thursday night, ended with the House defeating the Senate 58-52. Members of Sgt. Madden's family were present at the game.
Also on Thursday, the House passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 76, which approved the business plan to replace charity hospital in New Orleans which was flooded after Hurricane atrina. By approving the plan, the state can now use a portion of the federal hurricane recovery money for rebuilding.
For bills of interest considered by the House this week, please see the full edition located here.






June 08, 2007

House Notes No. 6









by Sheila McCant
Five House bills have completed the legislative process and four await the governor's pen. House Bill 633 has been signed and becomes Act No. 1. No Senate bills have cleared both the House and Senate as of this date. Of all House bills introduced, 333 have been sent to the Senate and the Senate has sent the House 188 bills to consider.
This week several tax break bills began moving through the process, with several passing the House and heading to the Senate.
The Omnibus Bond Authorization Act, House Bill 3 , came up for a second vote on the House Floor this week. The bill was one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage. For bills of interest considered in the House this week, please see the full edition located here.












June 05, 2007

HOUSE BILL 3 FALLS ONE VOTE SHORT OF PASSAGE

by Sheila McCant
Public Information Officer
House Bill 3, the Omnibus Bond Authorization Act which provides financing for the state's construction projects, came up for a second vote on the House Floor today. The bill was one vote short of the 70 votes needed to pass. Last Thursday, it was eight votes shy of the required two-thirds vote. In order to bring the bill to the floor for a third attempt at passage,a two-thirds vote is also required.

Tomorrow, the House Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture and Rural Development Committee takes up SB 39 which creates the crime of cockfighting. The House has already passed a similiar bill, HB 108, which is on the calendar awaiting Senate floor action. The House Judiciary Committee will consider HB 120 which would prohibit the Governor's Office of Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security from establishing separate housing for sex offenders in a parish unless the local governing authority approves such housing by ordinance. A similar bill, HB 740, is also on the agenda.

Tomorrow's House Calendar includes a number of tax credit bills as well as HB 970, a comprehensive revision of the sex offender registration and notification provisions and HB 969 which creates the crime of prohibited sexual contact between an educator and student.

June 01, 2007

House Notes No. 5









by Sheila McCant
Public Information Officer

The House this week tackled several key issues including the budget, revisions to the statewide building code, and ethics. After nearly a day-long debate, the House sent to the Senate a $29.6 billion dollar budget bill (House Bill 1), which is about $100 million under the constitutionally mandated cap on spending. Leaving the House, the bill contained money for pay raises for teachers, support workers, firefighters, state troopers, and other state employees, full funding for higher education, an increase in money for education and health care, and about $150 million in tax cuts. The bill did not contain any money for the Road Home Program which could face a deficit of as much as $5 billion. After passing the bill by a vote of 96-6, the House then quickly passed House Bill 2, the state's $6.5 billion construction budget. House Bill 3 , the Omnibus Bond Authorization Act, did not fare as well. The bill, which provides funds for the state's construction projects, was eight votes shy of the required two-thirds vote. This bill will be brought back to the floor for another attempt at passage.

Other bills of interest considered this week can be found in the full edition located here.

May 25, 2007

House Notes no. 4

by Sheila McCant

The focus of the fourth week of the legislative session was money. The Revenue Estimating Conference met Tuesday and revised the amount of money the state has to spend for both the current and upcoming fiscal years. For fiscal year 2006-2007, the adjustment amounts to an additional $118 million, while fiscal year 2007-2008, which begins July 1, increases by $128 million.
According to state analysts, the additional money is due to higher personal income tax collections and interest earnings on the current surplus. The economist with the Legislative Fiscal Office said the increase in personal income tax collections is due in part to the extension on 2005 tax filings given to citizens affected by the hurricanes which are just beginning to come in. But he warned that the hurricane- related growth is starting to level out.
The House Appropriations Committee this week reported House Bill 1, the state budget bill. The bill left committee at $29.6 billion and includes money for education, health care, charity hospitals, infrastructure, and pay raises for teachers, law enforcement personnel, college faculty, and state workers.
The committee also passed House Bill 920, the legislative budget bill and House Bill 931 , the judicial appropriations bill.
House Bill 2 , which contains almost $5 billion in state construction projects, has passed the House Ways & Means Committee. Under the House rules, the bill now heads to the Appropriations Committee for further consideration before being taken up by the full House.
A total of 251 House bills and 112 Senate bills have made it through their House of origin. Four bills have completed the legislative process, two House bills await concurrence in amendments, and one bill awaits the governor's signature.

To see the full edition, link here.

May 18, 2007

House Notes no. 3

by: Sheila McCant
With the third week of the session behind us, the House has passed and sent to the Senate, 177 of the 934 House bills introduced. In the Senate, 60 Senate bills have made their way through the process and await House action.
After failing to land the Thyssen Krupp steel mill last week, there was discussion this week about what to do with the $300 million set aside to lure the company to Louisiana. One suggestion is for the state to purchase the land where the mill was to have located for future economic development projects.
May 16 was the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the State Capitol. The event went almost unnoticed, except for a resolution passed by the House to commemorate the event.
According to House Resolution 37, the dedicatory address was delivered by John Holmes Overton of Alexandria, a member of the United States House of Representatives, who was considered an outstanding public speaker. Mr. Overton went on to serve Louisiana in the United States Senate.
Dedication of the building was held in conjunction with the inauguration of Governor O.K. Allen.
Some of the bills of interest considered by committees and the full House this week can be found in the full edition located here.

May 15, 2007

HOUSE NOTES no.2

by Sheila McCant, Public Information Officer
The Stelly Plan was the focus of one of the House Ways and Means Committee hearings this week. More than 25 bills have been filed in the House to repeal or amend the plan. Although there was considerable debate of the issue, no action was taken. The committee is expected to vote on the issue later in the session when there is a better idea of how all tax exemptions will affect the budget.
The full House also considered tax breaks this week, including
House Bill 772 which was introduced in an effort to attract the ThyssenKrupp AG steel mill. Less than 24 hours after the House unanimously passed the legislation, the company announced it had selected Alabama for the site of its new mill.
The House Insurance Committee considered bills this week to lower the cost and increase the availability of property insurance in the state. Some of the bills of interest considered by committees and the full House this week can be found in the full edition located
here.

May 08, 2007

Rebuilding the Gulf Coast

The high rates of property insurance in the post-Katrina era have made rebuilding difficult and hit the rental market with higher costs. And some insurers have withdrawn from the Gulf Coast because of the high cost of risk and because of Katrina-related litigation. Gulf Coast state legislatures are mulling over solutions to the economic recovery and home ownership problems resulting from this crisis, as reported in an article published by the National Conference of State Legislatures in State Legislatures, May 2007.

May 03, 2007

COCKFIGHTING BAN PASSES FIRST HURDLE

by Sheila McCant
Public Information Officer

With an overflow crowd looking on, the House Criminal Justice Committee this morning passed HB 108 which bans promoting or conducting cockfighting in Louisiana. The committee amended the bill to provide for an 18-month phase-out rather than an immediate ban. The bill now goes to the House floor for further consideration.

Violation of the proposed law carries a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.

NOTE: The adopted amendment will be available on the Web site later today.








May 02, 2007

HOUSE COMMITTEES DEBATE ISSUES, HOLD TAX BREAKS

by Sheila McCant
Public Information Officer

House committees hit the ground running Tuesday debating such issues as tax breaks, supplemental pay, and the state's building code.

The House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony concerning five similar bills (HB 42, 53, 115, 529, and 665) which seek to repeal the state's gift tax. Chairman Taylor Townsend told the committee that he would hear testimony on these and other tax break bills but would not take a vote on them until there is a clearer picture of the state's "overall fiscal status" and an idea of how much these proposals will affect the state's budget. The Legislative Fiscal Office said the state will lose almost $4 million per year if the gift tax is repealed and although they don't have a firm figure, all tax breaks could add up to several billion dollars.

The committee did pass House Bill 368 which excludes money received from the Louisiana Recovery Authority from calculation of "tax table income." The amount of monies received from the authority for repair or reconstruction of the taxpayer's primary residence due to damages from the 2005 hurricanes would be subtracted from the taxpayer's adjusted gross income unless the monies are already excluded.

Also passing the committee was House Bill 633 which proposes a state sales and use tax exclusion on machinery and equipment purchased by auto manufacturers. The bill will mainly benefit the expansion of the GM truck plant in Shreveport.

House Bill 4, which proposes an increase in supplemental pay for firefighters, deputy sheriffs, police officers and some law enforcement officers employed by the state, was unanimously approved by the House Appropriations Committee. The bill would increase the supplemental pay from $300 per month to $425 per month.

The House Commerce Committee met to hear lawmakers and the public's problems and opinions regarding the state's newly enacted Uniform Construction Code. House Bill 704 has been filed to address some of the concerns with the new law, particularly higher building and inspection costs. No action was taken on the legislation.

For a complete list of House committees meeting today and for the House Order of the Day, a listing of the expected daily business of the House, go to http://www.legis.state.la.us/. You may watch committee committee meetings and House floor sessions in real time by going to http://house.louisiana.gov/ and clicking on "Video Live Webcasts." Archived meetings and sessions are also available at the same Web address. Click on "Video Archives on Demand."

April 29, 2007

2007 Session Opens












by Sheila McCant
Public Information Officer
The 2007 Regular Session, the last regular session of this term, opened at noon today. One of the first orders of business was swearing in four new members, Elbert L. Guillory, District 40, Opelousas; Nicholas Lorusso, District 94, New Orleans; James Morris, District 1, Oil City; and Patrick Williams, District 4, Shreveport.

A joint session convened at 1 p.m. for the Governor's Address. Governor Blanco told the legislature that the state's future is education and outlined a "High-Five" for success -- five areas in education in which the legislature needs to invest to help students excel academically.

1. Expand the LA-4 Pre-K program ($30 million ).
2. Fully fund BESE's high school redesign program ($16 million).
3. Bring teacher pay to the Southern Regional Average with a $2400 raise this year along with any MFP formula increases. The Governor said support workers deserve raises, as well.
4. Make college affordable to all students by implementing a need-based financial aid program ($15 million).
5. Fully fund the higher education formula. She said colleges and universities damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita need $10 million to recover.

Her address also focused on the need to improve the state's infrastructure which, she said, will help boost the economy. The governor proposes using over one-half of last year's surplus ($450 million) for road improvements. In order to do this, the legislature must raise the cap on spending.

Another project that hinges on raising the spending cap is additional hurricane protection and coastal restoration. The governor proposes an additional $200 million to accomplish this goal.

Other issues she is asking the legislature to consider are improving health care ($180 million), providing affordable and available property insurance, a Consumers Bill of Rights regarding insurance, and targeted tax cuts.

Legislative committees begin work this week on these and other issues.

April 28, 2007

2007 Regular Session


by Alfred Speer, Clerk
The 2007 Regular Session of the Legislature will convene on Monday at noon. If you want to see the session dates of interest visit here and if you desire to follow the House's weekly schedule visit here.
This session will be the final regular session of this term of the Legislature and the final regular session for 47 members of the House of Representatives. Forty-five members are constitutionally prohibited from seeking reelection because of the term limit amendment to our constitution adopted by the people in 1995 (one member has announced her intention to not seek reelection and one member has announced his pursuit of a statewide elective office). Upward of nine additional members, eligible to run for reelection, are contemplating runs for other offices or retiring from the legislature. There will be 55 or more newly elected members in the House of Representatives when the Legislature organizes January 14, 2008.
This regular session is one of limited jurisdiction and length. The Legislature may meet no more than 45 legislative days in the 60 calendar days of this session and must adjourn sine die no later than 6:00 PM on June 28, 2007. There have been 897 House Bills and 322 Senate Bills prefiled for introduction in this regular session. Once the session convenes on Monday each legislator is limited to introducing no more than 5 additional bills, or 720 more possible introductions (no previous limited session has seen that many session bill filings).
Stay tuned for regular postings describing the progress of the session, the bills of general interest which are acted upon, and vignettes about your Legislature.

SESSION PREVIEW

The long-awaited 2007 Regular Legislative Session arrives Monday at noon, and lawmakers return to the Capitol to begin consideration of 895 House Bills, eight House Concurrent Resolutions, 322 Senate Bills, three Senate Resolutions, and four Senate Concurrent Resolutions. The following is a small sample of the prefiled legislation.
HB891 would establish the "Louisiana Health Insurance Exchange," a health care insurance reform program administered through the state Department of Insurance. The Office of the La. Health Insurance Exchange would serve as a state clearinghouse to coordinate and facilitate the recognition, identification and classification of individuals, persons and insurers in the interest of establishing affordable health insurance reform. The exchange's primary responsibly would be to promote and assist individuals, businesses, state or local government, associations and other entities seeking health insurance coverage and any insurer to negotiate and transact a contract or agreement between the parties to provide affordable coverage.
Both
HB852 and HB855 call for a refundable tax credit for certain Louisiana ethanol, biodiesel, and alternative renewable fuel manufacturers. HB852 additionally provides for the minimum ethanol, bio-diesel and other alternative content requirements for gasoline and diesel, cited in present law, to be repealed.
HB861 seeks to prohibit the charging of grossly-excessive rents during a declared state of emergency as the result of a natural disaster that causes significant damage to rental housing stock.
HB870 would create the Hurricane Recovery Capital Tax Credit Program to provide capital assistance for the economic and residential recovery of hurricane-affected areas. The bill provides for a credit against income and franchise taxation; certification and decertification of a Louisiana hurricane recovery capital company; definitions; the authorization of credit transferability; the authorization of rules and regulations and related matters.

April 19, 2007

TAX CREDITS FOR BIOFUEL PRODUCERS PROPOSED

by State Rep. Mike Strain, District 74
Covington, LA
I have prefiled House Bill 551 to provide refundable tax credits from Louisiana income or corporation franchise taxes for manufacturers, producers, distributors, and retailers of certain biofeuels.
The purpose of the legislation is to encourage the development of the ethanol, biodiesel, and alternate renewable fuel industry and agricultural production in the state. As our agriculture community struggles to survive, we must explore all avenues to assist it. I believe this fuel industry will definitely have a positive impact on agriculture in our state and may well be exactly what is needed to stop the erosion of this vitally important segment of our economy. The products produced in our state are a natural fit for the alternate fuels industry.
Under the bill, the credit would be 20 cents per gallon for biodiesel, ethanol, and alternate renewable fuel, and 30 cents per gallon for ethanol produced from cellulose. All must be produced in a qualifying Louisiana biofuel facility.
The credit applies to the first 25 million gallons of ethanol produced from cellulose each taxable year, not to exceed $7.5 million of credit per facility per taxable year. The credit for biodiesel, ethanol, and alternate renewable fuel cannot exceed $5 million per facility per taxable. Credits for all fuels will apply until the 10th anniversary of the date production at the facility begins.
Further, the facilities must meet or exceed Federal Quality Standards for these fuels and ethanol produced from cellulose must meet Louisiana biofuel eligibility requirements and the tax credits shall not exceed 40 percent of costs incurred for tank cleaning, tank modifications, equipment, and capital improvements necessary to accommodate the sale of ethanol, biodiesel, and alternate renewable fuel not to exceed $10,000 per tank.
In order for a facility to qualify, Louisiana farmers must have at least a 20 percent ownership interest and must use at least 50 percent Louisiana-grown feedstocks to produce ethanol.
The bill has tentatively been referred to the House Ways & Means Committee.

SESSION PREVIEW

by Nancy Johnson & Sheila McCant
Public Information Office
With only a few days remaining before the 2007 Regular Legislative Session convenes, lawmakers have prefiled 592 House Bills, 169 Senate Bills, four House Concurrent Resolutions, three Senate Resolutions, and three Senate Concurrent Resolutions. The following is a sample of instruments that legislators will consider over the 45-day legislative calendar that begins April 30.
HB324 would provide a state income tax exemption for all full-time classroom teachers of parish and city public school systems.
HB502 would authorize an individual income tax credit for the actual amount of costs and expenses incurred to retrofit an individual's residence to meet State Uniform Construction Code standards.
HB 385 establishes the La. Insurance Catastrophe Fund and dedicates certain insurance premium taxes to the fund.
HB401 creates the Driver Responsibility Program under which points, ranging from three to six, are assigned for convictions for motor vehicle violations and penalties are imposed on drivers who accumulate a certain number of points within three years. Additional penalties for DWI convictions are included. The revenues from this program are to be dedicated to highway construction.
HB 486 provides for enforcement of the International Residential Code and other changes to the State Uniform Construction Code. Among other provisions, all municipalities and parishes are required to use building code enforcement officers to enforce the provisions of the law and enforcement procedures by these officers include examination or review of plans, drawings, or specifications; the conducting of inspections; and the issuance, denial, or revocation of permits. The legislation also allows any parish whose boundaries are completely north of the 110 mph wind line to enforce the provisions of the code by certification of intended compliance and certification of completion and compliance. The enforcement of the International Residential code shall only be mandatory with respect to new construction, reconstruction, and additions that increase the height or floor area of a structure under this bill.
HB 497 creates the crime of prohibited consensual sexual activity between educators and students between 13 and 19 years of age. Also prohibits lewd or lascivious acts upon the person or in the presence of a student who is under 19 years of age, with the intention of arousing or gratifying the sexual desires of either person. The proposed law applies to students at the school where the educator is employed. The bill provides an exclusion if the victim is the spouse of the offender. Penalty includes a fine of not more than $5,000 or imprisonment for not more than 10 years with or without hard labor, or both.
HB347 would increase the compensation for elections commissioners-in-charge and certified commissioners. A commissioner-in-charge would receive $250. A commissioner-in-charge who serves at more than one precinct would receive $300. A commissioner who has received a certificate of instruction as provided in R.S. 18:431 (A) would receive $100. A commissioner who has received a certificate of instruction, as provided in R.S.18:431(B) would receive $200. (An uncertified commissioner would continue to receive thirty-five dollars.)
HB358 provides that for each motor vehicle owned and registered in the state by a person sixty years of age or older, the annual registration license tax shall be ten dollars per vehicle per year regardless of the actual value of the vehicle. The annual registration license tax would be collected by the commissioner once every two years.

INSURANCE POLL RESULTS

by Sheila McCant, Public Information Officer
The results of the In the Loop poll, "Which Will Help Provide Available and Affordable Insurance in Louisiana" have been tabulated.
The majority of those voting believe that a state-run catastrophe fund and abolition of the Insurance Rating Commission will accomplish this goal. The next highest vote getters were maintaining the state building code and allowing a variation of deductibles across the state.
The poll allowed for multiple responses.

State Run Catastrophic Fund 41%
State and/or Federal Regulation of Insurance Providers 29%
Abolition of the Insurance Rating Commission 41%
Maintaining the Recently Enacted State Building Code 35%
State Incentive to Companies Writing Policies Along
the Coast 29%
Reforming Citizens Property Insurance Corporation 18%
Allow Variation of Deductibles in Different Areas
of the State 35%

THE FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE

by Sheila McCant, Public Information Officer
Addressing the Press Club of Baton Rouge this week, state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom discussed the future of agriculture in Louisiana and outlined what must be done to make the state's number one industry viable and prosperous.
Odom said the future of agriculture and forestry is in alternative fuels. He said Louisiana crops are a natural fit for producing alternative fuels. The legislation passed last year that sets minimum standards for these fuels made Louisiana the leader among southern states and paves the way for a greener environment, new markets for agricultural commodities, job growth, and economic development. The law also provides added incentives for companies to build plants in Louisiana to produce ethanol and bio-diesel. He pointed out that land planted in cotton has decreased from almost 800,000 acres to about 300,000 acres, while corn acreage has increased 150% as more farmers look to alternative fuels as their future.
"I am a firm believer that government, industry, and agriculture should partner together so farmers will play a role in the emerging alternative fuels industry," Odom said. "In order for a family farm to survive today, it must do three things: produce food and fiber, electricity, and fuel."

April 17, 2007

THE 2007 REGULAR SESSION

View the speech by House Clerk Alfred "Butch" Speer to the League of Women Voters State Convention on Saturday, April 14, 2007. The speech discusses what to expect during the upcoming session, particularly the budget and the role partisanship will play in legislative debate. Click here to view video.

April 12, 2007

CONGRESS PASSES COCKFIGHTING LEGISLATION, FOCUS NOW ON LOUISIANA

by Cory Stewart
Office of Public Information
The U.S. Senate late Tuesday passed a bipartisan bill authored by Congressman Elton Gallegly, (R-California) that makes it a felony punishable by up to three years in prison to transport dogs or roosters across state or international borders for the purpose of animal fighting, and it prohibits the interstate and foreign commerce of knives and gaffs designed for use in cockfighting.
The House of Representatives passed the bill on March 26, on a 368-39 vote. This bill received overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses and is expected to be sent to the White House for the President's signature in a few days.
"This piece of legislation sends the message that Congress recognizes the need to give local law enforcement the tools they need to combat this cruel criminal enterprise," Gallegly said.
Now that Congress has taken it upon itself to toughen laws on cockfighting, the spotlight has shifted to Louisiana, the only state where cockfighting remains legal. Congressional approval of this measure comes two weeks before the start of Louisiana's legislative session in which four anti-cockfighting bills have been pre-filed. The bills range from an immediate ban to a phase-out over three years. Although politicians have been reluctant to risk a backlash from rural constituents, polls have shown that most Louisianians oppose the bloody practice of cockfighting. Will the argument of cultural phenomenon be enough to defend cockfighting as it has in the past?
"Louisiana is now standing alone," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. "We're prepared to hit this issue hard, now that New Mexico is done and Congress is done, our full energy in terms of anti-cockfighting is on Louisiana."

SESSION PREVIEW

by Nancy Johnson
Office of Public Information
The number of prefiled House Bills on the 2007 Regular Fiscal/Limited Legislative Session agenda increased to 225 as of Thursday afternoon. The following is a sample of legislation that lawmakers will consider in the upcoming session.
HB157 would require all school buses to be equipped with crossing control devices by January 1, 2008.
HB186 would prohibit certain convicted felons from owning, possessing, having custody of, or residing with a dangerous dog.
HB 189 would authorize a $100 tax credit per child in foster care.
HB209 would increase supplemental pay for deputy sheriffs, and for firemen, police officers, and certain law enforcement officers employed by the state from $300 per month to $500 per month.
HB181 would authorize a tax exemption on the purchase price of a new qualified hybrid vehicle, equal to the actual amount of state and local sales and use taxes or $1,500, whichever is less. The bill defines such a vehicle as one with a drive train powered by both an internal combustion engine and a rechargeable battery.
HB165 establishes the Parish Transportation Fund No. 2 in the state treasury. The bill provides that proceeds from the sales and use tax on motor vehicles shall be deposited into the fund and appropriated annually by the Legislature to be used solely for qualified construction and maintenance projects along state highways in each parish. The parish metropolitan planning organization or the parish governing authority, in cooperation with municipal governing authorities and the district engineer of the Department of Transportation Development's highway district, would be required to compile a list to identify and prioritize the qualified construction and maintenance projects in that parish.

BLANCO, DONELON REVEAL LEGISLATION

by Sheila McCant, Public Information Officer
Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon this week held a news conference to unveil their joint insurance package for the upcoming session.
A bi-partisan approach, the bills seek to attract new insurers, drive down rates, and protect consumers. The bills, which have not been filed at this time, include a consumer bills of rights, premium reductions for retrofitting, regional deductible ranges, allowing LA Citizens to bundle its policies for sale to private insurers, and an incentive program to encourage companies to write policies in the state and take policies out of LA Citizens.

THE GOVERNOR'S BUDGET AND THE FISCAL SESSION

by Rep. Ernie Alexander
Louisiana appears to have an abundance of riches at this time. This is reflected in the Governor's budget. When she spoke to a meeting of Lafayette-area legislators Monday she told us there was an additional $1.292 billion in this year's budget. Of this amount $611 million, about half of the total, will be dedicated to education and $198 million will be directed to health care redesign.
The debate over the budget, if there is one, will be about whether or not to “break the cap.” You will recall that the recently-ended legislative special session fell apart because Republicans refused to “break the cap.” The “cap” is a Constitutionally imposed spending limit which is designed to ensure that the Governor and the legislature do not go on a reckless spending spree which will deprive the citizens of Louisiana of future necessary revenue. The “cap” can be broken but only by a super-majority vote. Under normal circumstances it takes only fifty-three votes (of 105 members) for passage of a bill. In special circumstances, such as this one, it will take a vote of seventy members or more for passage.
There will be rhetoric about Republican “obstructionists” before a vote on the issue is even taken. During the last session, it is true that the vote on the “cap” was almost entirely along party lines with all but two Democrats voting to “break the spending cap” and all but two Republicans voting against breaking “the cap.” [See, House Vote on HCR 6, FINAL CONSIDERATION (#36)] Since that vote, incidentally, one of the two Democrats who voted not to break the “cap” has become a Republican. The odds are now less favorable for the Governor getting seventy favorable votes than they were at that time with GOP members in the House now numbering forty-three.
The division between the two parties has been emphasized with the organization of a Democratic Caucus. This is the first time that this particular group has come into being. Prior to this recent grouping, there was a Black Caucus (of 23 members) and a Republican Caucus (now numbering 43). What the formation of the Democratic Caucus has done has been to force the more fiscally conservative Democrats, those who often vote with the Republicans on fiscal matters, into voting with the rest of their caucus on those issues. There is a definite divide on budgetary matters in the House.
Most Louisiana citizens have no real idea of how or where the state budget originates and how it finds its way into law. The budget document finds its origin in the Governor's office under the pen of former Lafayette Representative Jerry Luke LeBlanc. After approval by the Governor, it is sent to the House Appropriations Committee. That committee has nineteen members, TWELVE of whom are appointed by the Governor through the Speaker of the House who was also appointed by the Governor. Let us pause for a moment to examine that last statement before we continue. You will hear the point that the Speaker is elected by the membership of the House. This is true. However, no person will be elected Speaker without being ordained for the job by the Governor.
After the “special friends” of the Governor who sit on the Appropriations Committee have been allowed to add a bit of “pork” to the document, it is sent to the floor of the House for debate. In the eight years in which I have served in the legislature NOT ONCE has the budget been changed on the House floor after leaving the Appropriations Committee. We came close in 2005 when forty-six members voted for an amendment to House Bill 1(by Representative Jim Tucker) to raise teacher pay by almost two thousand dollars from available and recurring funds. The amendment had forty-eight votes against it.
The Governor says that Louisiana's economy will remain strong for at least the next ten years. Others, such as respected economist Dr. Loren Scott, say the time-frame is more like four years. At that point the one-time dollars generated by insurance payments, savings account withdrawals and the BILLIONS of dollars being pumped into the state by the feds with no longer be there. We must prepare for that moment. If we are not prepared, the economic situation could be disastrous, especially if we inflate salaries of individuals to a level we can no longer afford.
The lines have been drawn in the sand. The Democrats will be out to spend every available dime during this session. The Republicans will advocate a conservative approach and argue in favor of saving some of the funds for next year and the years to come. The key question to be resolved is “what will be the effect of breaking the cap on future budgets.” Few legislators are financial experts and we will look to PAR, CABL, State Treasurer John Kennedy and other groups and individuals to provide a clearer, non-political analysis of the ramifications of the vote on whether or not to “break the cap.” The vote on the issue will not be so much a vote of party politics as it will be one of fiscal responsibility.

COASTAL PROTECTION MOVING FORWARD

The Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority met on April 12, 2007, to consider major issues related to coastal protection, including adoption of a Master Plan, Reports from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, coastal forestry recommendations, and the Memorandum of Understanding with the Netherlands, Province of Zeeland. View the hearing at http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Video/2007/Apr2007.htm

April 09, 2007

WILL LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS BE REDRAWN IN 2007

by: Alfred W. Speer, Clerk
Do not look for newly drawn legislative election districts for the 2007 election of members to the Louisiana Legislature.
We all know Orleans parish has lost hundreds of thousands of citizens and that many parishes have gained tens of thousands since Katrina and Rita devastated our state (2006 parish population
estimates). And we all know legislative elections are conducted on geographic districts drawn to insure each voter’s franchise is equal, the one-person, one-vote principle.
So why will the districts in Orleans, which are so underpopulated (approximately 20,000 citizens versus 42,800 citizens in 2001), and the districts in the Florida parishes and surrounding Baton Rouge, which have all gained significant population, not be redrawn during the 2007 legislative session to adjust the representation to reflect the diaspora of Katrina?
The simple answer is two-fold: first, Louisiana’s constitution in
Article III, section 6 requires we use only the decennial census figures; and, second, the federal Voting Rights Act [42 USCA §1973]. This federal law requires Louisiana to submit any change in its voting procedures (read new legislative districts boundaries) for review by the U. S. Department of Justice to gain their “preclearance” before Louisiana can legally enforce the new districts, that is use them in an election. For Louisiana to conduct elections in 2007 from newly drawn districts we would have to ask the Justice Department to approve the new districts. One of their criteria for review is and will be the population counts upon which we base our one-person, one-vote decisions – how we divide the known population into districts of as nearly as practicable equal population. Using the decennial census raises no questions with the Department as to the accuracy of the population count. Using an estimate of population, that is not basing one-person, one-vote decisions on an actual census but on mere estimates of population, will raise immediate suspicions that Louisiana is not protecting the voting rights of all its citizens.
One of the principles of redistricting law is that, even admitting the decennial census data is inaccurate the year it is used (2001 for this decade) and is certainly stale and seriously inaccurate in year seven since the census, census data is the only acceptable population basis upon which to base district drawing, be they drawn in census year + one or + seven.
Do not look for new election districts to be drawn for the 2007 election of Louisiana legislators, the candidates will run in the districts drawn in 2001, no matter the number of citizens actually living in those districts.

April 05, 2007

ADDRESSING THE STATE'S HIGHWAY NEEDS

State Senator Noble Ellington and State Representative Roy Quezaire, chairmen of the Senate and House Transportation, Highways, & Public Works committees respectively, outlined current funding and the problems Louisiana faces with insufficient money for road construction at this week's meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
Joining them was Jennifer Marusak, Communications Director for Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association, who presented an overview of her group's legislative package to address future, additional funding to improve highways and bridges across the state. She said their proposal would shift current dollars without imposing additional taxes or fees.
To accomplish this goal, they propose redirecting about $600 million in state money as follows:
* $256 million annually by shifting sales taxes collected on the sale of vehicles and vehicle parts (after being split with the parishes) from the General Fund to the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF);
* $200 million annually by shifting the Windfall Highway Infrastructure and Protection Fund from the General Fund to the TTF and coastal restoration;
* $85 million annually by requiring benefit payments for former and current DOTD employees be taken from the General Fund and not the TTF;
* $40 million annually by depositing truck registration fees in the TTF rather than the state General Fund;
* $40 million annually by paying State Police "Traffic Control" from the state General Fund instead of the TTF,
* $40 million annually by shifting truck registration fees to the TTF.
Marusak said the state currently faces a $14 billion backlog in road and construction needs. The primary source of funding, the TTF, relies solely on a 16-cent gas tax approved in 1984 that was never adjusted for inflation. In today's money, that 16 cents amounts to eight cents, thus the biggest reason for the problem.
According to the group, the state needs to spend $180 to $200 million annually to keep up with needed road repairs and construction. The state spent $17 million in fiscal year '05-'06, will spend $30 million in this fiscal year, and has only $9 million available in fiscal year '07-'08.
Without the proposed shift in funds, Marusak said the state will have to consider additional fees and/or taxes to forego the potential loss of federal matching funds, which could occur as early as 2009. Without federal funds, the state will continue to fall farther and farther behind in improving and maintaining its roads and bridges, something it cannot afford to do. At this time, almost half of the state's bridges are over 40 years old, road disrepair contributes to the traffic fatality rate which is 41% higher than the national average, and vehicular traffic is predicted to double in the next 25 years, not to mention the negative impact this has on economic development and Louisiana's recovery.
She said that according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), the $450 million in surplus money the governor has said she will propose as a one-time appropriation for road construction, although helpful, will provide less than three percent of the $14 billion needed to address the backlog of unmet construction needs.
How does Louisiana compare to other states in administrative spending, taxes and fees? Louisiana has the twelfth-lowest gas tax in the nation, the fourth-lowest auto registration fee, and the sixth-lowest truck registration fee. In cost of operations vs. capital expenditures, DOTD is the fourth-lowest in the country.
To promote their legislative agenda, the association has launched "Driving Louisiana Forward," a statewide public awareness campaign to educate the state's citizens and the legislature about the funding crisis and to point out the connection between a solid infrastructure, job creation, and economic development. They also hope to generate public support and encourage citizens to urge their state legislators to support their legislative proposals.
Ellington and Quezaire said they support the association's proposals and added that these changes can be made statutorily, with no constitutional amendments needed.
The Louisiana Good Roads & Transportation Association is an organization of businesses and interested parties across the state who are committed to improving Louisiana's highway infrastructure.

April 02, 2007

WHAT ABOUT OUR MIDDLE CLASS?

STATE SPENDING BALLOONS: BUT WHAT ABOUT OUR MIDDLE CLASS?
By: Rep. Tim Burns,
District 89
Mandeville, LA

PLIGHT OF THE MIDDLE CLASS
The plight of Louisiana’s middle class was poignantly illustrated in an article which recently appeared in the Times Picayune entitled “Broken Dreams.” The byline of the article stated that many residents in the post-Katrina era are finding themselves faced with higher expenses and struggling to simply make ends meet. The article profiled Demetrious and Sondra Dillon, a working couple and parents trying to rebuild their lives after Katrina. Like so many who evacuated after the 2005 hurricanes, they were forced to live off of their savings, their credit cards and their cash at hand. Many also lost their jobs in addition to their houses. The Dillon’s tale is repeated over and over throughout Southeast Louisiana as residents struggle to rebuild their careers, their families and their lives.
Couples such as the Dillons are the fabric of our society, hard-working, taxpaying citizens. Yet they seem often ignored by state government. The 2007-2008 budget recently unveiled by the administration contains spending of nearly $30 billion dollars, which puts Louisiana 3rd in the nation in terms of per capita spending according to the latest figures by the Tax Foundation.

TAX REFORM
Rather than spend all of the surplus, why not return some of it to the people who need it most, namely the taxpaying citizens, who are trying to get back on their feet and are burdened with higher insurance payments. Many of my constituents told me that they paid more state income tax when they filed their return than federal income tax. When our citizens are paying more state income tax on tax filing day then federal income tax, then there is definitely a problem. The 2002 Stelly plan, which I vigorously opposed as a citizen activist, (I was not yet elected to the legislature) was inaccurately sold to the voters as an equitable swap in income taxes for sales taxes. Unfortunately, it has turned out to be is a boondoggle for the state and a burden for the middle class, resulting in significantly higher tax payments. I will be filing several bills in the upcoming legislative session to repeal all or part of Stelly.

INSURANCE REFORM
Last year I was successful in passing legislation giving citizens an extra year to file their damage claims from hurricanes. This year I want to help further reform Louisiana’s insurance laws to make coverage more affordable for residents. Ideally, a program could be underwritten by the federal government (like federal flood insurance), which would provide affordable wind and hail coverage for our citizens. Although several bills are pending in Congress, the state needs to act also. I intend to file legislation giving tax credits for making one's home more storm proof and requiring insurer discounts for any hazard mitigation provisions. I would also favor making the insurance industry more competitive so that we are not held hostage by a few big insurers. Finally, I will continue to promote and file legislation to prohibit insurance companies from taking advantage of ordinary citizens.

March 30, 2007

SESSION PREVIEW

Lawmakers will consider a variety of fiscal legislation during the 2007 Regular Fiscal/Limited Legislative Session, the fifth session since hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Over the next few pre-session weeks, we will take a glance at some of the topics on the session's agenda.

*Several House bills have been filed that would return the individual income tax rates and brackets to those prior to the "Stelly Plan." Additionally, legislation has been filed that would re-establish the excess federal itemized deduction which existed prior to adoption of the plan.

*In 1997 the legislature passed Act 818, which phased-out the state inheritance tax beginning after June 30, 1998, until June 30, 2003, when the amount of tax was reduced by 80 percent. A total repeal was effective after June 30, 2004, if and when a judgment of possession is rendered or when succession is opened no later than the ninth month following the death of the decedent. If this is not done, then the full amount of inheritance tax is due.

House Bill 41 repeals the requirement that a judgment of possession be rendered or that a succession be opened within nine months following the decedent's death for the tax to be waived. Further, all persons who paid the tax based on deaths occurring after June 30, 2004, are entitled to a refund.

*House Bill 14 would authorize an income tax deduction for disaster-related casualty losses attributed to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

*House Bill 20 would require gaming licensees to provide gambling hotline information in their television advertising.

*House Bill 79 would extend the sales and use tax exemption provided for purchases of utilities by certain steelworks and blast furnaces, effective July 1, 2007.

*House Bill 86 would reinstate the sales tax exemption for business utilities, effective July 1, 2007.

*House Bill 93 would provide a tax exemption for the purchase of college textbooks.

*House Bill 94 would allow a $75 child tax credit for all children under the age of 19, for children under the age of 24 who are full time students, and for disabled children of any age.

A LOOK AT THE STELLY PLAN

by Rep. Steve Scalise
District 82

With a projected surplus of more than $1 billion, we have a unique opportunity this session to make significant reforms to our state's tax code. Rather than spending all of the surplus on new government programs, we should use at least half of this money to reduce the tax burden on families and businesses throughout Louisiana.

The most effective way the Legislature can help families is to repeal the tax increases brought on by the Stelly Plan. The Stelly Plan made a number of changes to our tax code. While it repealed the state sales tax on food and household utilities, it also increased personal income tax brackets and repealed some tax deductions that were enjoyed by families. The overall result of this change has turned out to be a multi-million dollar net increase of new taxes the state is collecting.

Legislation has already been pre-filed this year to modify the Stelly Plan to make it revenue- neutral rather than a large tax increase. Some bills will restore the excess itemized deductions for things like home mortgage interest and charitable contributions that were eliminated by the Stelly Plan. Other legislation will reduce income taxes by compressing the brackets closer to their levels before the plan took effect. Of course these proposals will spark an interesting debate on tax policy that will impact hundreds of thousands of families in Louisiana.

Over the last 20 years, Louisiana has been the only state in the South to lose population. Based on the loss of population we have been experiencing, we will lose a seat in Congress after the next reapportionment in 2010 unless we quickly start making our state more competitive. A large part of that exodus has been middle-class families. If we pass these tax cuts, we will be sending an important message to middle-class families that we want to become more competitive with states like Texas and Florida that have no personal income tax. We will also be sending a message that we want to reverse the trend of out-migration and bring back families who have left.

March 24, 2007

Welcome to IN THE LOOP

IN THE LOOP
On March 22nd, the LA House of Representatives launched their blog, In the Loop. In the Loop, will not be a traditional blog but will host brief articles of interest to all who follow the Louisiana House of Representatives. In the Loop will provide Representatives and staff a forum to discuss topical issues of concern to the citizens of Louisiana and it will provide our citizens a means by which to comment and communicate with their elected Representatives.
Sheila McCant, Public Information Officer; Kathleen Randall, Civic Education Coordinator; and me, Alfred Speer, Clerk of the House are the editors. We encourage all members and all staff to submit articles for In the Loop and we invite all readers to comment. We hope to create an on-line communication medium for Louisiana’s citizens to better interact with their elected Representatives.

March 22, 2007

Planning New Member Orientation

By: Kathleen Randall
With only 59 of the 105 members of the House of Representatives eligible for reelection, the upcoming turnover presents a unique challenge to the returning members and the staff, that is, how to best teach this large class of newly-elected members, who are limited to three terms at a stretch, the necessary information concerning the institution of the House of Representatives. The Speaker has appointed a special committee on Orientation to plan a comprehensive curriculum for training members and district office staff. Their work will parallel the study of the Special Committee on Term Limits chaired by Representatives Cazayoux and Tucker.
Co-chaired by Representatives Jean Doerge and Jane Smith, the Curriculum Committee on Member Orientation, 2007-2008, includes Representatives Ernie Alexander, Regina Barrow, Tim Burns, Carla Dartez, Brett Geymann, Avon Honey, Nita Hutter, Kay Katz, Loulan Pitre, Harold Ritchie, Joel Robideaux, and Mert Smiley, with Representatives Cazayoux and Tucker serving ex officio.
At its first meeting on March 20, staff resource persons Mary Quaid, Kathleen Randall, Butch Speer, and Bryan Vincent made presentations about orientation concepts and benefits, notable orientation programs from other state legislatures, the history of House orientation and training from the late 1960's to the present, and the various phases of training recommended for House adoption.
The Curriculum Committee on Member Orientation, 2007-2008, has a dedicated web site: . The committee's deliberations and resource materials are available there.
(To access it from the House Home Page
http://house.louisiana.gov/ go to "Representatives" and click on "By Committee" and open the "Cmte on Orientation" link.)
The committee will meet again during the first week of the session. Meanwhile, subcommittees on the various training phases will deliberate with staff on the content, teaching methodologies, and frequency of training, in order to start formulating a comprehensive plan for the full committee to review. Current House members are encouraged to provide input to the committee members and their staff – especially insight on the question, "What do you wish you had known when you first got to the House of Representatives?"

LA-First in the Nation

by: Alfred W. Speer, Clerk
On February 26 of this year, Karl Kurtz wrote on the NCSL blog "The Thicket at State Legislatures" that the Virginia General Assembly became the first legislature to express remorse over the existence of slavery in the United States. This action by the Virginia legislature garnered national press coverage, the latest occurring just this week when the LA Times ran a story on the mounting wave of legislative efforts to apologize for slavery. However, Louisiana’s Legislature was 12 years ahead of the current wave.In the 1996 First Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature, Rep. Yvonne Dorsey and 19 other House members and 2 Senators authored a concurrent resolution [HCR No. 22] which resolved:"the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby acknowledge the past role of the state of Louisiana and the people of the state in the establishment and maintenance of the institution of slavery and the subsequent injuries it produced; and the Legislature of Louisiana does hereby extend to the African-American citizens of Louisiana a sincere expression of regret for such role, and does pledge that all citizens of the state shall now join in a united effort to assure that each and every citizen may enjoy the full blessings of liberty."

Perhaps Virginia's apology for slavery renders that effort first in the current legislative season and is the impetus of such resolutions but our Legislature preceded Virginia by 12 years in expressing their collective regret for the state's role in enslaving Africans.
Regrettably, Rep. Dorsey’s efforts went unnoticed by the media and remain lost in the clatter of today’s reporting. We Louisianans know better. Congratulations, Yvonne!

March 16, 2007

PREPARING FOR TERM LIMITS

by Mary Quaid, Director
House Legislative Services

The House Special Committee on Preparing for Term Limits, co-chaired by Reps. Don Cazayoux and Jim Tucker, held its fourth meeting earlier this week to discuss the third goal of the committee, namely "partisanship." To assist in this effort, the committee heard from Dr. James C. Garand, Emogene Pliner Distinguished Professor at LSU, for an academic perspective on partisanship and term limits.

Dr. Garand’s comments were timely and of much interest to the committee members. While cautioning the committee that he lacked the empirical data to support his opinion, Dr. Garand stated that the combination of term limits and demographic changes caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita will most likely result in a more partisan body, particularly in the House. He further commented and answered questions on the importance of party leadership in facilitating a healthy bi-partisan legislature.
Butch Speer then discussed the history of House partisanship, the various directions that partisanship can take, and the creation of a positive path and proper balance in the Louisiana House. Patricia Lowrey-Dufour joined the clerk in discussing examples of partisanship structures from other states, both positive and negative, and related the results of their state surveys on this issue.

Anne Dunn, Bryan Vincent, Mark Mahaffey, and Mary Quaid wrapped-up the program with information on planning for and effectively utilizing the interim. Anne gave a historical perspective and Bryan gave the results of our seven-state survey. The committee made some very favorable comments regarding future interim opportunities as both an educational and a deliberative tool.
The meeting was well-attended and went past its scheduled time frame of three hours. The fifth meeting of this term limits committee will take place in early May.