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Intemperate LA lawmaker owes colleagues apology

No Louisiana lawmaker quite merges inarticulateness and incoherence as well as does Democrat state Rep. Barbara Norton, but she also recently managed to throw intemperance if not hypocrisy into the mix.

Known for asking the House to honor (and subjecting it to listen to) her godson’s obscene music output, and notable for her unconventional use of grammar, Norton expanded her reputation with her response to last week's rejection of HB 101 by the House’s Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice, on which she sits.

Her bill would have required movie theaters, at their own expense, to install and monitor metal detectors, which also would entail additional personnel costs. After about 10 minutes of video presentation and opening remarks by her, and a few minutes of questioning and an amending to make an exception for holders of concealed carry permits, Republican state Rep. Tony Bacala said the end product would create a false sense of security. He pointed out that theaters that voluntarily did this in other states had trained personnel, and moved to defer the bill involuntarily.


Nungesser seems primed for top spot, not lt. gov.

It seems that doing the mundane as part of his job doesn’t satisfy Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. Whether that merely remains consistent with his political career to date and/or signifies ambitions to elevate his position by one notch remains to be seen.

To say the lieutenant governor has next to no relevant policy-making power and that performing the formal duties of the office delivers little political excitement overstates the position’s importance. In both of his runs, his previous in 2011 unsuccessful, Nungesser made clear he envisioned the post much more expansively than did statute and the Constitution.

That he would adopt such an attitude perhaps seems inevitable given his eight years at the helm of Plaquemines Parish. Elected in the wake of the hurricane disasters of 2005, one disaster after another plagued the parish through his eight years. He really rose to fame after the oil spill disaster of 2010, with a couple of bad storms mixed in, by his bombastic, shoot-from-the-hip style in pleading the parish’s case to statewide and national audiences for restorative assistance.


Session change bills serve LA legislators, not people

As Louisiana struggles through another tough budget balancing exercise, proposals that could ease difficulties related to that also include undesirable side effects that disqualify these from changing the state’s Constitution.

Two bills, SB 25 by state Sen. J.P. Morrell and HB 1139 by state Rep. Dee Richard, seek to amend Louisiana’s Constitution to remove the present distinction between regular sessions in odd- and even-numbered years. Presently, during even-numbered years the Legislature cannot consider tax matters plus its members face filing limits on bills (but not on prefiling) in a regular session also shorter than these sessions in odd-numbered years, those which having no such restrictions.

The bills do not differ much. Both would make session lengths identical to the even-numbered standard of a maximum of 45 days meeting in no more than 60 and have no material restrictions on legislation. Morrell’s would keep the earlier start date of the longer odd-numbered sessions, while Richard’s would continue session commencement at the later even-numbered time.


Edwards expansion assumptions highly questionable

More questions have surfaced over the mysterious and increasingly extravagant claims made by the Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration over alleged savings from Medicaid expansion, claims that threaten to introduce budgetary chaos in the upcoming fiscal year.

It’s not just that the Department of Health and Hospitals continues to hike the “savings” number for fiscal year 2017, currently up to $184 million, while refusing to make public the details of its analysis despite data from other states’ experiences continuing to show steep underestimations in the costs involved. For example, commonly the numbers of people coming onto to Medicaid as a result of expansion include not just new enrollees at the expanded, designed-to-addict-states lower rate, but also others at the higher standard rate, many of whom abandon private plans voluntarily or otherwise. So while DHH may have forecast 300,000 new enrollees, it acknowledges this could go as high as 450,000 in the first year – a figure much more in line with a 2013 previous analysis by DHH under former Gov. Bobby Jindal.

But now a pair of the hospital partners operating designated state charity hospitals have expressed doubt over another component comprising the reputed savings – reductions in state payments for uncompensated care costs. The state sees a reduction of these because, theoretically, the more people insured through Medicaid, the fewer UCC dollars needed. The partners think the state’s estimates too rosy, requiring at least 70 percent of the uninsured enrolling in the first year.


Edwards' order keeps encouraging dependency

It makes for great politics, but the executive order Gov. John Bel Edwards issued regarding receipt of food aid to single, able-bodied individuals changes next to nothing.

Towards the end of his term, former Gov. Bobby Jindal wisely passed on extending the waiver the state accepted for recipients aged 18-49 for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This meant that, to receive typically $194 a month in vouchers to buy staple food items, qualifiers did not have to show they had worked, or participated in a training program, or volunteered at least 20 hours a week, no later than three months preceding SNAP utilization.

With a measure in place to allow states with a certain level of unemployment of opt out of imposing the requirements, recently an increasing number of states have gone this route of refusing the waiver with success in employment stimulation, volunteerism, and citizens going without hunger. But when Edwards took control of the state’s executive branch he made the implementation short-lived as he immediately reversed that decision.


LA must avoid endorsing surrogacy by its regulation

In the years since former Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed bills that would allow the state to enforce surrogacy contracts, the case against them still remains in the current incarnation of the notion.

HB 1102 by state Rep. Stuart Bishop largely tracks the language of the 2014 bill vetoed by Jindal. It would give state backing to the contracts, justiciable in state courts. The practice goes on legally in Louisiana, but if one party alleges breach no judicial remedy currently exists.

The bill provides one, but the merit of that framework does not obviate its disqualification as meritorious public policy. Rather, its basic concept makes it unsuitable for that produces two deleterious impacts on society.


LA ganja law revisions must restrict, not expand, use

At least they listened to this space and took another whack at it. But there’s no real evidence that the bill offered will provide any real benefits and threatens unseemly costs. Indeed, it heads in the wrong direction.

Yesterday the Louisiana Senate passed SB 271 by state Sen. Fred Mills. It makes changes to the medical marijuana law passed last year that left many holes and questions in its wake. Among other things, the production mechanism makes this part of the process clumsy, the restricted distribution network invites cronyism and corruption, it sidesteps federal law that will discourage legal authorization for its use, it legally allows for a potentially incomplete range of uses, and the scientific evidence for the efficacy justifying those uses remains at best sketchy.

This updated version tries to address many of these questions by changing language regarding authorization of use and production and swelling considerably the number of conditions eligible for its use. Application of cannabis according to it remains in liquid form.


Problematic attitudes hamper fixing LA budget

Look no further for why Louisiana’s legislators submit to tax increases rather than inducing enhanced fiscal rationality into the budgeting process than recent remakes regarding bills that would impact the issue of dedicated funding.

During a recent meeting of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, a representative from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries complained about measures that would allow redirections of more money from several dedicated funds that funnel money to the department or abolish these funds entirely. In the convoluted world of Louisiana bureaucracy, the Commission deals with policy in the form of rulemaking, licensing, regulation, enforcement, and adjudication, while the Department deals with all other administrative matters including budgeting, personnel and legal and public representation.

Redirection or abolishment from two funds, the Artificial Reef Development Fund and the Conservation Fund, particularly concerned the Department. The former collects donations from oil producers decommissioning platforms where instead of spending to remove them these may stay offshore by coughing up half that projected charge to the state, while the latter captures revenues from a multitude of sources, mainly licenses for outdoors-related activities and sales thereof, fines, fees from prestige license plates, and mineral royalties from state lands. The former contributed about one-sixteenth percent of the Department’s budget, while the latter constituted just over half.