Dig Baton Rouge

Bills, Bills, Bills

Navigating the Louisiana Legislative Session is no small task – nigh, a fool’s errand. There are hundreds of bills, many designed to do the same thing in a different way, that float in and out of relevance. One wonders if it was designed to be so confusing, but in the end it moves on and the best we can do is keep track of where it goes. This list is a jumping off point – detailing eight bills that caught Dig’s eye.  More information and the entire list of bills up for consideration can be found at www.legis.la.gov/legis/home.aspx. By the way, there’s plenty of time to get familiar with this circus – the session begins on March 10 and concludes no later than 6 p.m. on June 2.

Senate Bills

SB 79, written by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton – Could hamper lawsuits against several oil companies

The Louisiana Flood Control Board and the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East launched lawsuits against 97 gas, oil and pipeline companies in June 2013 that allegedly contributed to the erosion of wetlands and coastal areas. However SB 79, which among other things will give Gov. Bobby Jindal power to reject independent committee nominations for membership of the SLFPA-E, may hamper those efforts. Jindal does not support the lawsuits against these companies, who allegedly contributed to coastal erosion damage by cutting transport canals in the wetlands around the coast. Several environmental groups such as Levees.Org, Sierra Club, The gulf Restoration Network and the Louisiana bucket Brigade have announced plans to fight this bill.

SB 330, written by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge – Criminalizing unofficial drones in LA

The prospect of using drones in the United States has ruffled more than a few feathers – though this bill may smooth out many a plumage. If adopted by the Legislature, this bill will make it illegal to photograph a person on private property without his permission using an unmanned aircraft.  Claitor added into the language of the bill that the law is based on a measure already in effect in Texas. Violators of the law can be fined up to $500 for possession of the illegal surveillance data. Distributing the information carries stiffer penalty of a $2000 fine and six months in jail.  Of course, the bill details exemptions to the law – 16 actually. Drones can be used to survey private property without permission of they are used for mapping purposes, maintaining utility services, and military operations. Law enforcement agencies will be allowed the same privilege after obtaining a search warrant, surveying a crime scene, searching for a missing person or responding to the release of hazardous chemicals.

SB 46, written by Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa and 123, written by Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge – Minimum Wage to be raised

Louisiana is one of the few states that does not maintain its own minimum wage rate, opting to use the federal limit of $7.25 per hour. Not only would both bills establish a rate in the state, but they would raise the lowest possible wage to $9.50 (Nevers) or $10 (Dorsey-Colomb). Both Proposals would go into effect on July 1, 2015. Proposals to raise the minimum wage have also been seen in the House of Representatives – notably from Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, and Herb Dixon, D-Alexandria. Brossett has proposed that the minimum wage be raised to $10.10 by July 2015 and Dixon would increase the wage over two years – $8.25 per hour in 2015 and $9 per hour in 2016.

House Bills

HB 503, written by State Rep. Thomas Carmody, R- Shreveport – Bible as the state book

At first glance this looks like another move to destroy the thin veil between church and state in Louisiana but it actually has a more interesting and secular angle, if such a choice would ruffle your feathers. Carmody’s bill calls for one very specific Bible, possibly the oldest book in the state, to be labeled the State Book of Louisiana. This specific Bible, published by Johannes Prevel from 1510 to 1518 (before the land that would eventually become Louisiana was even discovered) is currently on display in the Louisiana State Museum.

HB 559, written by State Rep. Barry Ivey, R – Central – Louisiana’s own education standards

Love it or hate it, the Common Core Standards adopted in 2008 will be the defining issue of the 2014 Session. Ivey has already filed legislation that would remove Louisiana from these standards and the related tests called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. This has proven to be a controversial move, as many question why Ivey would move to block something that doesn’t yet exist within the state. Speaker Pro Temp Walt Leger, D – New Orleans, is a Common Core proponent and has announced plans to file a “placeholder” bill that can be amended to outdo any changes to the CC program approved by lawmakers during the session.

HB 494, written by State Rep. Barry Ivey, R – Central – The right to keep and carry a concealed handgun without permit or license.

Exactly as it sounds. Given the history of weapon permit-abolishing bills in the session and the political climate swirling around gun control this bill is likely to fail. However, gun legislation is prolific in this year’s session and the opinions on both sides always make for interesting discussion.

HB 521, written by State Rep. Barry Ivey, R – Central – establishes a closed federal election in October.

For those of you unfamiliar with the election process for federal offices in Louisiana, it’s a mess. LA currently chooses it’s elected officials through an open primary election. Basically, all of the candidates – regardless of political party – run against each other on election day in November. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates go into a run-off election to decide who wins the office. Ivey’s bill would streamline this process by holding elections for the nominees in October. Voters registered as either Democrat or republican will be restricted to their own parties primary under this law, if passed. Independents will be allowed to vote in any primary they choose.


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