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22.5.17

Good trafficking bill hijacked for obscure motives

The next chapter in the strange mutation of SB 144 could continue later today in the Louisiana Senate, although more twists could lay ahead if the bill makes it to the House of Representatives.

This bill originally would have barred people from under 21 from performing as strippers in places that serve alcohol. The impetus came to combat human trafficking, which particularly plagues the youngest individuals, research reveals It actually passed last year in a slightly different form without a single dissenting vote, but then lost out on a court challenge that nonetheless demonstrated alterations that could make the law constitutional.

With that in mind, last year’s bill author Republican state Sen. Ronnie Johns submitted this year’s more elaborate version, with no controversy expected regarding it. Even when Sen. Pres. John Alario assigned it to the Judiciary B Committee, unlike last year’s that went to Judiciary C – the two have identical jurisdictions – that didn’t seem so odd since Johns sat on the former.

18.5.17

HB 71 support consistent with conservative principles

My colleagues at the Baton Rouge Advocate raise an issue concerning appropriateness of state government intervention particularly according to conservatism, a concept easily understood if cognizant of the scope and purpose of government as defined in America and conservatives’ views on where in the act of governance optimal policy-making occurs.

Referring to HB 71 by state Rep. Thomas Carmody, which passed the House after two hours of contentious rhetoric, the editorial page shows confusion over the issue. Presently, state law mentions nothing about how local governments may deal with objects such as monuments related to military entities and events. In that vacuum, New Orleans through its representative institutions has removed three related to the Confederacy and has plans to cart off one more.

The bill would change the imputed process as it currently exists – the governing authority brings up the issue of removal or other alteration and may decide whether to make any changes – so that a local governing authority would bring up the issue in the form of a plebiscite where the voters in that jurisdiction decide. To this, the Advocate opines, “For the Legislature’s self-proclaimed conservatives, who are supposed to champion limited government, to meddle in how local communities manage their monuments is the height of hypocrisy.”

17.5.17

Costs of well-meaning IG bill more than benefits

While HB 443 by state Rep. Julie Stokes sounds good in principal, it actually serves as an example of unwise rigidity and duplication of government.

The bill would dedicate $2 million a year to the office of the Inspector General, then index the amount to inflation. This agency, whose head is appointed for a six-year term, investigates malfeasance and waste in government, created over a quarter-century ago spurred by former Gov. Edwin Edwards, whose checkered career in state government would end several years later with a corruption conviction.

Supporters pointed out that by giving the agency a stable source of funding then disgruntled elected officials subject to investigations by it could not yank its resources using the budget process. They noted the office had investigatory powers, unlike the other agency in state government with the task of analyzing actions of agencies and their people, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, which meant it had better capacity to root out corrupt activities than if it had to rely upon cooperation. The LLA also acts upon direction by law or the Legislature, while the IG can scrutinize on his own.

16.5.17

Panel refuses to halt LA inspection money grab

The handling of HB 597 provides an object lesson in how not to erase a bad statute from the books.

Earlier this week, the Louisiana House of Representatives’ Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee tossed aside the bill by state Rep. Larry Bagley that would have ended the necessity of vehicles, with the exception of those garaged in parishes – at present East Baton Rouge and four surrounding it – under federal clean air jurisdiction, to have inspections. As originally written, the state would have joined 42 others that do not have an annual or biannual requirement for all passenger vehicles.

Inspections meant something a half-century ago in an era of far less durable vehicles and without modern safety features. Data from about a decade ago when cars were significantly less safe than now show only a little over one percent of all accidents occur because of something wrong with the vehicle that would be part of an inspection – and involved items that easily could fail in between annual or biannual inspections with little warning, meaning it would be blind luck if an inspection happened to pick up on it right before failure.

15.5.17

Changing selection makes convention bill useful

Today the Louisiana House of Representatives Appropriations Committee takes up a measure to call a limited constitutional convention. With some tweaking, it’s an idea whose time perhaps has come.

HB 486 by state Rep. Neil Abramson would begin next year a process that could end up having a substantially revised governing document in place by the time of swearing in of the next governor and Legislature. A committee of 27 representing special interests, elected officials, and academia would meet in the first part of 2018 to determine the necessity of revisions and, if needed, to construct draft portions, followed by election later in the year of 105 others to join them in vetting the document. In 2019, the 132 would consider the changes through May 30, and, if deemed necessary, draft a revision to appear for statewide electoral approval at the time of the regular 2019 elections. Majority assent kicks in the new, revised document (and chooses among any alternatives, an option employed the last – actually in state history only ever – time the state undertook this utilizing a popular vote) at the beginning of 2020, just as new officials come into power.

Essentially, alterations could occur only to four areas of the present constitution: revenue and finance, local government finance, retirement systems, and higher education organization and finance. This deliberate attenuation of scope addresses areas over which a growing consensus has emerged that need change and assuages fears of some both within the public and among elected officials that this threatens to empower government too much and/or reduces their power and influence, as a means to rally support for the idea.

11.5.17

LA higher education freedom of speech bill needed

Perhaps HB 269 by state Rep. Lance Harris would not have precluded the immature behavior witnessed recently at Bethune-Cookman University, but it certainly would provide a valuable backstop that enables more effectively delivers higher education in Louisiana.

The bill mandates that Louisiana higher education leaders devise standards and procedures that protect academic freedom, both inside and outside of the classroom in regards to university-sponsored events and spaces. It seeks to prevent protests against speech from impending the presentation of learning experiences.

While Louisiana public institutions of higher education largely have been free of such disruptions – just last year, Louisiana State University Baton Rouge handled well an event where some elements wished to block presentation of certain views – the incident in Florida reminds of the possible negative consequences if a school has not prepared to defend free speech. That involved the commencement speech by Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to graduates of the historically black university.

10.5.17

Budget battle threatens to make Edwards irrelevant

As long as the Louisiana House of Representatives Republican majority holds the line on tax increases for next fiscal year, they will have teed up Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards for a humiliating defeat and seized control of the governing agenda at least through 2019.

Having previously dispatched into ignominy Edwards’ entire fiscal package, last week the chamber sent to the Senate HB 1, the general appropriations bill. It contained $677 million fewer than Edwards wanted, who will need to hike taxes to come close to bridging that gap. This represents $237 million fewer spent than the current fiscal year, which House leaders call a “standstill budget” that includes no growth in overall spending plus intentionally holding back 2.5 percent from this year’s as a buffer in case revenue projections disappoint.

Conditions came with the measure. The bills makes off-limits cutting programs that aid people with disabilities, which actually received a small increase, and if as part of a response to the lower spending public-private partner hospitals receive a haircut, the shearing cannot single out any facility disproportionately. It also orders that cuts must first arrive in the form of scrapping vacant job openings and disallows pay raises for state employees on the basis of performance. Otherwise, the bill gives few specific directions.

9.5.17

Establishment politicians take hit in NW LA elections

Dissatisfaction at the ruling class was apparent. How deep it ran was the surprise.

Last month, Caddo Parish voters rejected all five ballot propositions presented to them after high-profile campaigns for and against the four Caddo parish-wide property measures. These that attempted to renew taxes at higher millage rates than at the initial approval levels all narrowly lost.

Evidently the opponents’ arguments hit home. They noted that the increases came on top of reserves that equaled about double the parish’s budget, a level approximately 20 times higher than the typical local government’s. Further, the taxes would not expire soon, but from 2019-22. They critiqued whether the parish needed more money than ever, and why ask for it prematurely.