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NW LA delegation provides good, bad, ugly 2007 work

Northwest Louisiana got a comprehensive taste of the good, bad, and the ugly from its delegation in the 2007 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature. Let’s review these:

THE GOOD: Rep. Mike Powell’s HB 113 turned out the best of a thin lineup of superior legislation coming from the delegation. This new law creates the crime of organized retail theft and will make it easier to prosecute and thus deter a crime, one where petty thieves are organized to sell to a fence, that has been growing rapidly.

THE BAD: It’s curious to find someone who tried hard to get passed good bills like SB 313, which would give tax exemptions to those buying vehicles converted for handicapped use, and SB 365, which would have brought some semblance of order to the capital outlay budgeting process, yet who at the same time whiffed so badly on other bills to the detriment of Louisiana, as did Sen. Robert Adley.

Adley kowtowed to Gov. Kathleen Blanco and in his role as vice chairman of the Senate Fiscal and Revenue Affairs Committee with a few other Democrat leaders stood firmly against returning more than a pittance (barely a half percent of the combined state budget, or five percent of the total surplus) of the peoples’ tax dollars to them. One notorious example was his rhetoric in committee which helped kill the bill against area Sen. Max Malone’s very reasonable SB 29 which would have phased out state income taxes, calling it “irresponsible.” (A little research would show just how reasonable, with some other changes, Malone’s idea is – for example, several states including Texas do not have this tax.)

Worse, along with Senate Pres. Don Hines, Adley was most responsible for stopping ethics reform in the state. After joining a unanimous Senate in approving a disclosure bill (HB 730) including local officials, in conference committee Adley and Hines declared they would sign no report that included local officials. This contravened the House’s wishes and the bill died as a result.

Many states include local officials in reporting requirements so there is nothing onerous or revolutionary about such a clause. Most curiously, why was Adley disingenuous enough to favor that provision, and then blackmail the bill to defeat? A principled response would have been to show opposition to it from the start by voting against it, and then defer if appointed to the conference committee (three members from each chamber are appointed where at least two from each must agree to common language) because his view clearly was against the will of the Senate. Instead, he flip-flopped to ensure the bill’s death.

Adley insisted that he was tying to save the bill by removing the provision. But that means he bungled his reading of the House’s mood and allowed himself to be used as an instrument by Hines to kill the bill.

THE UGLY: Rep. Billy Montgomery’s actions regarding getting funding for I-49 reflected style over substance – and what substance he provided almost cost a it huge chunk of funding.

In the debate on the supplemental appropriations bill HB 765, Montgomery (and others including local Reps. Jim Morris, Wayne Waddell, and Jane Smith) subsequently, after local Reps. Roy Burrell and Ernest Baylor had gotten put in $60 million towards I-49, oddly amended into it language which would have deprived I-49 of that funding. The bill passed the House and a couple of days later the committee on which local Sens. Sherri Smith Cheek and Lydia Jackson sit got the Montgomery amendments altered so no harm was done.

(Even more surreally, when HB 765 was voted on in the House with the original amendments and the only local member to vote against it was Powell, Montgomery indirectly chastised Powell for voting against it – when, in the bill’s posture then was the best thing to do of which Montgomery seemed blissfully unaware.)

Montgomery’s HB 531 also addressed I-49 funding, making slow progress from his previous legislation that had set aside money from the state’s unclaimed property fund towards I-49. His previous act failed to include appropriations for the purpose, and HB 531 did that. The problem is that potentially the $7.5 million a year for the north section comes good only if the federal government provides its match. (The same applies for the HB 765 funding.) In essence, HB 531 does little to produce monetary progress for I-49; one would have hoped a legislator of 20 years could have done a better job of securing funds for it.

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