Capitol Access

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Your on-ramp for news and insight from Louisiana's statehouse.

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The House Appropriations Committee approved the budget bill – HB 1 – Monday. But first, members exhibited their expertise in using the news for clues which couch cushions to look under for loose change.

Houma Rep. Joe Harrison snagged some Racing Commission money for the Board of Regents, which he discovered in a recent report from the Legislative Auditor.

“The Racing Commission, since the inception of ‘gaming’, was supposed to be giving a percentage of its money, its budget, to Regents,” Harrison told the committee. “So we can only go back five years, but that amounts to $2.8 million.”

Covington Rep. John Schroder found some spare change for disabilities programs by looking in the Department of Economic Development.

For the first time in months, LSU System President F. King Alexander was able to relax a bit over the weekend.

“I spent it with our daughter, at her soccer tournament Saturday and Sunday.”

Last Thursday, Louisiana’s full House passed some revenue raising bills, alleviating some of Alexander’s worry that no solution to the $1.6 billion budget deficit – and the crippling cuts looming over higher education – would be found. Today, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to add that additional funding into the budget bill, with the bulk going toward higher education.

Alexander says the situation appears brighter than before, but, “We’ve got a long ways to go. We’re not there yet.”

Just a Trim, Please

May 8, 2015

The House didn’t go for a complete makeover of Louisiana’s tax base Thursday. Instead they just trimmed off some split ends.

“We’ve got a lot of tough votes ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of difficult votes ahead of us. It’s going to be an interesting day,” Speaker Chuck Kleckley said, in his pep talk before the full House began grappling with bills for raising state revenues Thursday.

He urged members to leave partisan politics behind.

“It’s my hope that we check our parties at the door.”

Ways and Means chairman Joel Robideaux urged members to tune out special interests, who were pushing their own agenda despite the bigger budget crisis.

What risky behaviors do Louisiana’s teen engage in—texting while driving, drinking alcohol, having unprotected sex? Each year the Centers for Disease Control conducts a Youth Risk Behaviors survey, but Louisiana’s kids don’t get asked the questions concerning sex.

“This is an effort to collect basic data to make sure kids know basic things about their body,” Senator J.P. Morrell said, regarding his bill to allow Orleans Parish students to participate in the complete national survey. Morrell’s SB 31 was heard by the full Senate Wednesday afternoon.

“We haven’t seen the survey,” protested Slidell Senator A.G. Crowe.

Louisiana’s $1.6-billion budget hole is doing nothing to help with the state’s $14-billion backlog of road and bridge projects.

“We kicked the can down the road, but we lost it in a pothole. And we can’t get the can out,” says House Transportation chair Karen St. Germain.

So she offered two tax-raising measures to solve the problem. One, HB 778, increases the state’s sales tax by a penny. The other, HB 777, ups the tax on fuel, gasoline and diesel, by ten cents per gallon.

“This is not, and should not be a partisan issue, Rep. John Bel Edwards said last Thursday.

When it comes to Medicaid expansion, want to bet? The same concept with the same arguments supporting it was heard from a different author in a different committee Monday, and got a very different reception.

Republican House Speaker Chuck Kleckley’s resolution sailed through House Appropriations yesterday, while Democratic Rep. John Bel Edwards’ resolution failed to pass out of House Health and Welfare last Thursday.

Lobbyists are an integral part of the legislative process. But what do they actually do – besides stand around in the hallways and talk?

“We, as individuals, represent trade associations, companies, individual public groups. We’re their voice and their ears to keep them advised on their legislative issues.”

So says Randy Haynie, considered the “dean” of Louisiana lobbyists. A fixture at the Capitol since 1980, his clients include pharmaceutical companies, banks, Blueprint Louisiana, and the New Orleans Saints. He’s effective; credited with getting his client, Harrah’s, the land-based casino deal in New Orleans in the late 1990s.

A bill to prohibit payroll deductions for union dues prompted hours of impassioned testimony Thursday.

“Teachers, firemen, police — these are the people you trust every day to take care of everything in our communities. But you insult us by telling us we’re not smart enough to know if we want things taken out of our paycheck,” said an angry Melody Munch, president of the Jefferson Parish Federation of Teachers.

This was the fourth annual try for the so-called “Paycheck Protection Act”, pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity (AFP), and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

“It’s being advanced by the same folks everywhere, because it’s template legislation,” Louisiana Federation of Teachers president Steve Monaghan noted during his testimony against the bill.”

LABI president Stephen Waguespack said this is about drawing a bright line between political organizations and public employees.

Compassion and Cannabis

Apr 30, 2015

A bill that would set up rules and the system for dispensing medical marijuana advanced out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday. Although law enforcement opposition has derailed similar bills in previous sessions, the difference with Fred Mills’ SB 143 was the support of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.

“The move that our sheriffs made was to be compassionate; was to do things to provide relief,” Sheriffs’ Association director Mike Renatza testified, “And to hopefully not harm anyone.”

Renatza said each sheriff examined his own conscience, and asked themselves, “What would you do? What would you do for your son? What would you do for your daughter?”

Tuesday’s House Ways and Means hearing on bills to cap the film tax credit program brought out some of the big names in Louisiana movie-making, like Lampton Enochs of the Oscar-winning Moonbot Studios, and former Dukes of Hazzard star, John Schneider.

“I have not won an Academy Award, but I’ve seen several films that have,” Schneider said, eliciting laughter from committee members and the packed audience in attendance.

But charmed as lawmakers were by the big names, it was Louisiana residents working in the movie industry who made the biggest impression. Dozens spoke against Alexandria Rep. Lance Harris’s bill that would scale the credits down to zero over the next five years.

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