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22.6.21

Avoid distractions, keep tort reform on course

Policy-makers need to keep their eyes on the ball and not let themselves become distracted by cheap political stunts that distort rather than inform.

That lesson comes from recent political theater staged by the secretive Real Reform Louisiana interest group. Its four dozen employees and $9 million in revenues hail courtesy of donors the group refuses to reveal, but whom likely overwhelmingly are trial lawyers who profit from a legal environment that is one of the most encouraging for lawsuits in the country.

It recently left tiki torches at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, explaining that this would equip LABI’s executive director Stephen Waguespack to go march on the Capitol. Last year, Waguespack said he would do that with such instruments in hand if passenger car rates didn’t drop in a year as a result of the Civil Justice Reform Act. That bill changed state tort laws to mirror more closely, although not that closely, such laws in other states, many whose residents pay far lower rates.

21.6.21

LA govts must clip wings of privileged solar

If it were a level playing field, perhaps Louisiana wouldn’t have to act. But with federal law tilting the scales in favor of solar energy production, the state and/or its agents of local government must take measures to erase this bias.

As production costs come down, solar energy farms have sprouted in Louisiana, without any regulation. This has caused some concern that this will distort land use patterns, particularly in sapping potential farm land. Legislators have responded by mandating the state derive regulations over solar placements.

Normally, this market shouldn’t need such government interference, although this new law doesn’t commit the state to anything but the lightest regulation. Unfortunately, federal law vastly privileges hanging up solar panels in commercial settings through a vast and costly array of subsidies. This creates oversupply, ironically enough, of production of something (at least the onshore version) now admitted to have become price competitive with other forms, including dispatchable ones, without government using tax dollars to prop it up. (And, in fact, much of the subsidies go to foreign entities.)

20.6.21

New LA holiday wastes more taxpayer dollars

If Louisiana doesn’t appear as idiotic this time as it typically does in its policy-making, it’s only because the rest of the country joined in.

Barely beating a deadline inherent to the bill’s subject matter, last week Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards signed HB 554 by Democrat state Rep. Larry Selders. This makes the third Saturday in June a legal state holiday, in honor of “Juneteenth.”

Those who didn’t grow up in Texas, and especially not close to Galveston, mayn’t know that on Jun. 19, 1865, the U.S. Army arrived there and, with the state essentially now entirely under military occupation (the Civil War’s last battle occurred about a month earlier in south Texas, and Shreveport was headquarters of the last organized ground forces of the Confederacy, surrendering under the Appomattox terms almost two months later than when the terms were accepted back east) and with the state technically not in rebellion, the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation needed reenactment.

Juneteenth, a local holiday for over a century, went statewide just as I headed out for college. That treatment is entirely appropriate, for it was a significant event in the state’s history – but nowhere else. However, over the years, its use as an instrument of virtue signaling picked up and other states, with no connection at all to the event, began commemorating it. In fact, Louisiana was rather late to the party, even though few states made it a paid holiday (although the state has had the authority to commemorate the third Saturday as Juneteenth for nearly two decades).

And now preempted, for the virtue signaling finally swamped the federal government. A large House of Representatives majority and unanimous Senate just about beat Louisiana to the punch to make it a federal holiday. Thus, more taxpayer dollars will go to waste with most of the federal workforce taking another day off to the tune of around $600 million lost to egregious symbolism.

No Louisiana member of Congress had to good sense to vote against it, although Republican Rep. Clay Higgins added a caveat to his affirmative ballot. With its official name “Juneteenth National Independence Day,” Higgins complained, “Why would the Democrats want to politicize this by co-opting the name of our sacred holiday of Independence Day?” in arguing they should have instead used the word “emancipation.”

Note as well that the federal version gives the day special importance above most other holidays. Most are designated as a specific day of the week, not a date. Until now, only New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and Christmas have it occur on a specific date (although as well Thanksgiving Day always occurs on a Thursday). Juneteenth incredibly now joins that pantheon, and thus becomes part of the observational rule that if it occurs not during the work week, either Friday or Monday becomes the holiday.

Because of legal niceties, Edwards only could declare a half-holiday for last Friday, but next year it’s another paid entire day off for state employees, except potentially in higher education which are limited to 14 such days off a year. Otherwise, the cost of letting off around 40,000 employees averaging around $48,500 (classified) and $69,500 (unclassified) annually of $8.2 million in taxpayer bucks going down the drain would be higher.

If they had to do it, why not remove the secular New Year’s Day designation and convert Jan. 1 into a day celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued that day in 1863 and has relevance to the state that Juneteenth doesn’t? Instead, it’s just more government waste, courtesy of Edwards and every single Louisiana legislator who voted on the bill.

17.6.21

LA must resist wasting bonus for water systems

Even though Louisiana doesn’t have a great history in these situations, odds of success can improve if lawmakers put the people’s interests ahead of politics.

Because of a tremendous debt-laden federal government gift, well beyond any genuine necessity, the state will receive $3 billion from national taxpayers (which, of course, includes Louisianans). In essence, this gives the state one shot at fixing some longstanding infrastructure woes.

While not all of the mortgaging of future generations’ prospects went to best uses, one provision in HB 642 passed this session (and awaiting gubernatorial approval) did address a pressing need: putting water systems on a solid operational footing. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor has noted dozens of instances where smaller water providers owned by government have reached a point where it has become prohibitively expensive for them to maintain and operate a workable system.

16.6.21

Appointment illustrates opaque Bossier Jury

How the Bossier Parish Police Jury handled its recent vacancy illuminates why it has remained the most opaque of major northwest Louisiana governments.

You don’t get much transparency or sunshine from parish government, compared to Shreveport, Bossier City, the parishes’ school districts, or Caddo Parish. Besides live cable television coverage of some of these, all have high-quality Internet video delivered live and on demand of past meetings.

Further, all provide citizens with online information about agenda items typically a few days in advance of a meeting. This gives the public a chance to review upcoming matters and facilitates its members participation in the legally-mandated comment periods during governing bodies’ open meetings.

15.6.21

Cortez, Schexnayder fail leadership tests

The 2021 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature closed with confirmation of the utter failure of leadership of its Republican majorities, at the hands of House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate Pres. Page Cortez.

All around them in neighboring southern states, enlightened bill after enlightened bill made it into law. Matters such as net income tax cuts, concealed carry of firearms without permit, protection of children from genital mutilation or harmful drugs, ensuring fair play for female scholastic and college athletes, preventing the teaching of neo-racism in schools and in government seminars, making election administration less amenable to outside influences, and budgeting that didn’t kick cans down the road all will become law in these places.

Likely none of this will happen in Louisiana. These others states did benefit from having Republican governors, although occasionally legislators had to override a misguided veto here and there. By contrast, Louisiana is saddled with Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards – but like these other states have, on these issues working majorities of Republicans and a few Democrats or no party legislators here and there differing from issue to issue that could override a veto.

14.6.21

GOP shoots own goal with bad UI benefits swap

Louisiana conservatives must scratch their heads and wonder what is wrong with Republican legislators when mainly their votes send to the governor a bill like HB 183 by Democrat state Rep. Chad Brown.

The bill started out innocuously as giving claimants the ability not to have taxes withheld from emergency unemployment benefits, such as the extra $300 a week the federal government doles out through Sep. 6 on a state’s request. Half the states have signaled an intention not to participate in this through to that date.

Louisiana isn’t one of them, as surveys show the bonus payments discourage a portion of the unemployed from seeking work (despite that most states, including Louisiana, require that recipients seek jobs and take one if offered, but this requirement easily is gamed by recipients, for example, by inquiring repeatedly about jobs which they know for various reasons they will not be offered). Despite every southern state with a Republican governor having opted out, Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has joined with the region’s other two Democrat chief executives in letting this form of universal basic income continue.

13.6.21

Democrats gamble on long shot map redraw hope

Louisiana House Democrats, in particular the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus members of that chamber, seem willing to look a gift horse in the mouth apparently longing for a bigger, if unlikely, payoff in the future.

SB 163 by Republican state Sen. Patrick McMath would have added two state Supreme Court seats, bringing the total to nine. While this constitutional amendment, which would have taken effect in 2025 with voter approval in 2022, doesn’t set out the actual districting, its standard that districts be roughly equiproportional would mean the creation of two majority-minority districts, where just one exists at present.

Democrats, particularly blacks of the party, have carped about just the one, and this bill would have delivered a likely two of nine. Better still, Republicans magnanimously offered it up, despite the fact that no constitutional jurisprudence would force the state to draw districts in this fashion.

10.6.21

GOP leadership failure risks popular bills

What could have turned out to be a session-defining game of chicken fell flat, due to poor legislative leadership more interested in avoiding conflict than in promoting the goals of the Republican majority, reflecting voters’ wishes.

A number of important bills muscled their way through the two chambers despite the lukewarm support given, if not outright hostility displayed to them, by GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Sen. Pres. Page Cortez. Although leaders have discretion in the fate of bills, such as in point of order rulings, committee assignments of members and (in the case of some bills) bill disposition, and in timing when to move legislation, when an overwhelming portion of the majority party membership wants something to pass, they can’t stop it.

But if they concede to do the bidding of the governor, they can find a way to sabotage such bills from becoming law. The surest way uses methods to slow down bill passage just enough so that a bill doesn’t go to the governor for signature or veto within 15 days prior to the end of the session. This is because bills passed in identical form have three days for transmission to the governor, ten days for gubernatorial decision (failing to veto within that span makes the bill law), and if vetoed two days for transmission back to the chamber.

9.6.21

Deal good, if LA lawmakers keep their resolve

The deal struck in the Louisiana Legislature to advance roads construction works well on many levels – if lawmakers resist falling into a trap.

State senators whipsawed again HB 514 by Republican state Rep. Tanner Magee. It now steers starting in fiscal year 2023 a quarter, then for FY 2024 half, and finally for FY 2025 and beyond three-quarters of the estimated $500 million a year in vehicle sales taxation away from the general fund and towards transportation infrastructure. Something close to its present form should emerge from conference before the end of the session.

The instrument hardly resembles it original posture, which would have taxed medical marijuana and sent a portion of that to roads. In the interim, it became a vehicle for extending one temporary sales tax and making another permanent, dedicating much of that to roads.