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Legislators correctly sidelined pair of bad bills

You win some and you don’t lose some describes the fate of a couple of meaningful bad bills from the Louisiana Legislature’s 2017 regular session.

Much discussion that session revolved around an unnecessary hike in the gasoline tax, which eventually went nowhere. Motorists didn’t need such a measure because over the past two years the state already proved that by boosting such spending by tens of millions of dollars.

That happened as it stopped diverting money paying for state police operations, which constitutionally allows up to 20 percent of gas taxes to go towards that function. The same can happen for sloughing off money to local government and subsidizing roads and facility operations for which users can pay, to use instead for roads work that benefits the state as a whole.

However, the legislation to remove that option for state police funding went too far. SB 57 by state Sen. Page Cortez would have amended the constitution to remove that option, but it fell just short in the House of Representatives. Voters would have had the final say later this year.

The idea that legislators should write into statute or the Constitution measures that prevent them from pursuing perfectly legitimate policy aims smacks of an odd distrust they have in themselves. Regardless, policy-makers should prefer greater rather than fewer options, particularly with the state’s fiscal system having a huge problem precisely because it limits lawmakers’ discretion too much, hampering their ability to match resources to prioritized genuine needs.

Just because the alternative remains doesn’t mean policy-makers must employ it, as the past couple of budgets have demonstrated. If they foolishly would have sent it to the people, voters hopefully would have been wise enough to reject it.

Discretion also proved the better part of valor when Republican state Sen. Ronnie Johns told his chamber to put his SB 144 out of its misery. The bill originally would have prohibited those aged 18-20 years old from working as strippers out of concern that people in this age group face increased pressure to enter the illicit sex trade.

The bill came as a response to a court ruling declaring parts of it unconstitutional due to vagueness in intent and application. It fixed these deficiencies and looked ready for a well-deserved passage into law, striking a blow against human trafficking.

But it got hijacked by Democrat state Sen. J.P. Morrell at the behest of club owners and leftist feminist groups who objected to the traditional morality underpinning the bill: that the profession denigrated women so younger ones especially needed some protection. Morrell rounded up the votes to gut it in committee, replacing it with a cumbersome, unworkable worker education requirement that would do nothing to help individuals most vulnerable to trafficking so as to give only the appearance that it addressed the problem.

Johns promised he would not lobby against his own stolen bill on the Senate floor, but said no such thing about the House and contemplated asking the other chamber to reinstate its original intent. For whatever reason, he decided not to go that route and pulled the plug, correctly telling Senate leaders not to bring up the perverted version for passage.

Appeals for the law as written that as a result stays on the books continue, but it appears these efforts will not save it. Johns vows to try corrective action again next year if necessary, which is the right thing to do. If necessary, this time hopefully he’ll be ready to avoid the sandbagging that in essence negated the bill last time around.

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