Fiscal Notes Can Be Fatal

May 14, 2015

Did you know a piece of paper could kill? Natchitoches Rep. Kenny Cox found that out Wednesday, when the fiscal note for his HB 590 was delivered just a few minutes before its hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee.

Cox’s bill would require industrial plants to install air quality monitors along their fence lines.

“This bill is about safety: safety for the people who live along the fence lines,” Cox said in explanation of the proposed law.

Before too much testimony on the bill was given, Houma Rep. Joe Harrison advised Cox that the estimated state cost for implementing the bill – the fiscal note – was going to be the real issue.

“The Angel of Death walked in and gave you this,” Harrison said, waving the fiscal note in the air. “Because it’s over a hundred thousand, it will have to pass Appropriations. The fiscal note will kill you in Appropriations.”

Cox admitted he was confused by the amount cited as the state cost, since the text of the bill specified the industries would have to pay for the air monitors. He said it was very different than when the same bill was offered last year.

“What was the fiscal note last year on this bill?” Leesville Rep. James K. Armes asked.

“Fiscal note was zero,” Cox replied. “This year it’s 16-million, 232-thousand and 400 dollars.”

Department of Environmental Quality Assistant Secretary Chance McNeely was called to the table to explain the cost estimate.

“This bill requires the department to do some of the most technical, extensive work that we do – a lot of it,” McNeely said. “With 510 facilities, 24/7 data that we have to review, it’s a lot of work.”

The bill specified making air quality monitoring constant, with readings from the monitors available on-line or via a phone app, as some chemical plants and refineries in California and Texas already do. Currently, Louisiana’s 510 industrial plants have federally-required OSHA air monitors on the plants’ sites, but readings from those monitors are rarely made public. Louisiana’s DEQ requires the plants to “self-report” any chemical of gas releases in excess of what is permitted. Far too often those reports come with assurances that the “accidental” releases never went past the chain link fencing surrounding the plant.

Green Army Commander, General Russell Honore’, was outraged by DEQ’s explanation for the fiscal note.

“Their operating budget is funded by industry,” Honore’ said of DEQ. “That industry is making money, and they pay for this, just like they pay for DEQ. This is a political piece of paper.”

Cox, however, acknowledged defeat, and voluntarily deferred the bill. He did promise to come back to the committee with a study resolution instead, seeking a way to solve the air monitoring problem.