Written by Jeremy Alford
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
The annual legislative session is right around the corner and brimming with hundreds of bills promising 85 days of … something.
In about a week’s time, lawmakers will gather in Baton Rouge to kick off their 2010 regular session. While there are new fiscal challenges, there will still be the same old cornucopia of policy ideas that will grab our interests, maybe make us laugh and definitely have us scratching our heads.
House Bill 119 by Rep. Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs, would classify as litter any printed materials left on a windshield. House Bill 271 by Rep. Fred Mills, D-Parks, creates the crime of illegally selling urine or adulterants to circumvent screening tests.
You want ethics? Rep. Nita Hutter, R-Chalmette, has House Bill 296 to allow a public servant to accept certain gifts for “customary social occasions.” Meals from lobbyists don’t count.
The session’s centerpiece — the budget — weighs in at 259 pages, leaner and meaner than ever at $5 billion less than the current budget. Lawmakers add amendments and try to squeeze every penny for roads and bridges, local infrastructure and, yes, pet projects. But this isn’t the same kind of pliable budget lawmakers are used to seeing; further reductions are expected, and there are more moving pieces than usual.
By the time leges adjourn on June 21, the 2011 horizon will have another $1.7 billion budget shortfall looming. Truly, one could ask whether lawmakers are controlling the budget or the budget is controlling them.
The rub, this year in particular, is that lawmakers cannot file tax bills in regular sessions in even-numbered years. The only revenue-generating measures will be new “fees,” which have already reared their ugly heads in the form of a $15 driver’s license hike, LSU System tuition increase and higher rentals for state park cabins.
Gov. Bobby Jindal promises not to approve any new taxes this year and next, but he doesn’t place fees in the same category. While there’s a handful of opposing voices in both chambers, legislative leaders tend the make the same distinction.
“I’d rather a user fee because it supports a specific portion of state government,” says Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “It’s a better idea than a tax that goes to a centralized government in a lump sum.”
Some will try to stand up to Jindal. Rep. Wayne Waddell, R-Shreveport, is retuning with bills to open more records in Jindal’s office to the public. Jindal’s executive counsel, Stephen Waguespack, told The Advocate of Baton Rouge that his boss is opposed to the concept behind House bills 307 and 499 — again.
Also, as reported here last week, Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City, has filed Senate Bill 102, a constitutional amendment to take the governor’s influence out of the legislative leadership election by allowing for confidential ballots. But that dog may not hunt. House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, opposes the measure. “I think our constituents want to know how we vote on everything,” Tucker says. “Secondly, if the purpose is to draw independence, I don’t think it will accomplish that. Ultimately, it’s not the leader who does that, but how the body acts.”
And there’s more: House Bill 470 by Rep. Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette, is a constitutional amendment that would prohibit a person 70 years old or older from qualifying for elective office. That should put to rest any thoughts about former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ post-prison political career.
House Bill 503 by Rep. Michael Danahay, D-Sulphur, establishes the “Louisiana Homemade Beer Law” to determine the “amount of homemade beer that may be made” and how it can be transported to “exhibitions, contests, competitions, fairs, or festivals.”
Speaking of festivals, at least one citizen rally is slated for opening day (Monday, March 29). The Louisiana faction of the Tea Party has secured the steps of the Capitol for a noon gathering, according to Pat Bergeron, publisher of Louisiana Political News Service.
While there is no shortage of topics, voters may need a taste of homemade brew by the time the session closes. Who knows — the Tea Party may morph into a beer blast. Stranger things have happened.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
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High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."
Saints cornerback Champ Bailey has played for more than a handful of playoff teams during a career that has seen him selected to 12 Pro Bowls.
Police say a 56-year-old Lafayette man walking behind a dump truck died when the truck hit him as it was backing up.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a proud papa of new baby girl.
The books on Louisiana's last budget year have been closed, but it took a bit of borrowing from this year to make the numbers work.
The Iberia Parish Coroner responded Monday to the attention surrounding the questionable shooting of Victor White III, a black man from New Iberia who died April 2 while in the custody of local law enforcement.
Two months after lawmakers agreed to create a $40 million higher education incentive fund, no decisions have been made about how to divide the money.
With Drew Brees back healthy, the New Orleans Saints are free to work on the little things that can make the difference between a Super Bowl run and something less.