BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Restaurants and other establishments that sell food would pay increased permitting fees to the state to cover improved food inspection services from the Office of Public Health, under a bill that neared final passage with the backing Monday of the Senate Finance Committee.
J.T. Lane, assistant secretary for the Office of Public Health, said Gov. Bobby Jindal's 2013-14 budget proposal assumed the passage of the legislation and anticipates the $1.7 million. The money would pay for current employees of the retail food inspection program, along with technology upgrades to better-coordinate inspections, supplies and travel costs.
"With the financial situation that we're in, this is something that we're counting on," Lane told the Finance Committee.
The proposal (House Bill 337) by Rep. Nick Lorusso, R-New Orleans, already has received House approval. It heads next to the full Senate for consideration.
The price tag for a permit varies by type of retail food establishment. Permit costs would be boosted by about 50 percent, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office analysis. Temporary or special event permits, like for fairs and festivals, would be exempt from the fee hike.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration persuaded senators Monday to shelve a House-backed bill that would have required a lengthy review of privatization deals before a state agency could enter into the contract.
Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, said he proposed the measure (House Bill 240) because of problems with a food privatization contract at a state-run health care facility in his district where he said services weren't being handled properly by the contractor.
Havard said he wasn't trying to stop privatization efforts by the Jindal administration, but wanted to make sure that the deal was properly vetted before the state enters into a contract of $5 million or more or a lease arrangement of $500,000 or more.
"We need to make sure we're getting what we're paying for and that it's saving us money," he said.
Steven Procopio, chief of staff for the governor's Division of Administration, said the proposal would stop privatization by adding layers of bureaucratic red tape and hurdles that would be nearly impossible to meet.
He described the Republican lawmaker's proposal as a liberal, pro-union bill that was nearly identical to a law in Massachusetts that has driven up government costs and blocked contracting arrangements.
The proposal would have required contracts to be reviewed by legislative committees and the legislative auditor before they could be enacted. Contracts would be required to offer jobs to state employees who would be laid off under the privatization.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee said they understand Havard's frustration with getting information on contracting deals, but said they had concerns with the bill. The panel voted 8-2 to defer the bill, likely killing it for the session.