Session enters final stretch

Special to the Herald-Guide
May 15, 2014 at 9:01 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

By John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford

There are only a few weeks remaining until legislators will adjourn their regular session on June 2. For bills that have not passed their house of origin, time is a factor.

The $25 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year that begins July 1 has made it through the House and is now pending action in the Senate. Still to be answered is how the state will address the federal government’s rejection of the governor’s hospital privatization plan.

That’s because the administration, citing the impact will be felt in later years, has been able to calm lawmakers’ concerns about the initial rejection, which it plans to appeal. It is still putting the last privatization piece in place this session with a bill to close Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville.

A new funding formula for public schools is likewise pending review by the Senate Education Committee after the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was unexpectedly forced to rewrite the plan.

Meanwhile, a couple attempts to derail Common Core standards have so far succeeded where others have failed. Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, was able to soften the impact by getting a floor amendment attached to HB 953 that would prevent school letter grades from dropping after only two years of implementation. Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, also attached an amendment to the operating budget, found in HB 1, to require that BESE solicit different testing options, other than Common Core, which the board could still select.

A constitutional amendment that would have steered more gaming-related proceeds toward education in the state has been deferred by the House Appropriations Committee. It targeted money generated by the Louisiana Lottery, casinos, racetracks and video poker machines.

Optometrists are staring down ophthalmologists in their bid to perform some surgical procedures under HB 1065, which passed the House after a heated lobbying battle got personal. A robocall by the ophthalmologists described the effort as a “money grab” by Sen. David Heitmeier, an optometrist. It caused House members to come to the New Orleans Democrat’s defense and probably helped to send the measure to the Senate, where it passed last year.

A bill that could close down most of the state’s abortion clinics has been sent to the Senate floor. Unlike a similar law passed in Texas, HB 388 by Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, the head of the Black Caucus, has sparked little opposition.

Two bills in the crusade by Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, against traffic light cameras won more yea votes than nays, but fell short of absolute majorities in the House.

In other action, a House committee shot down SB 330 to restrict drone flights over private property, while the full House has approved the sale of raw milk but not wine ice cream.

Finally, major legislation sought by the oil and gas industry, clarifying the process for cleaning up contaminated oilfields and for awarding damages to landowners, is headed to the House floor. By a 9-3 vote, the House Civil Law Committee restored SB 667 to its original version by stripping a Senate amendment that made it apply to future lawsuits only. As amended, the bill would apply to lawsuits for which a trial date has not been set.Senate polls show differing results

In their strongest poll showing yet, three Republican challengers lead U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu by 10 points in an independent poll of likely voters.

The survey by Southern Media and Opinion Research shows Landrieu at 36 percent; Congressman Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, 35.4; Rob Maness of Covington, 7.1; state Sen. Paul Hollis of Mandeville, 3.9; and undecided, 16.6.The sample of 600 likely voters was taken April 28-30, with a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. The poll was financed by the firm’s subscribers, according to partner Bernie Pinsonat.

The survey results contrast to a recent New York Times poll in which Landrieu led Cassidy, 42-18 percent. Pinsonat said his firm used the model of recent statewide non-presidential elections that forecast an overall turnout of less than 50 percent, with African-Americans comprising 26 percent of the electorate, compared to 31 percent of registration.

The New York Times’ poll was weighted toward Democrats. In that poll, 31 percent of respondents said they voted for President Barack Obama in 2012 to 28 percent who said they voted for Mitt Romney. Romney carried Louisiana, 59-41 percent.

The SMOR poll memo points out that Landrieu’s approval rating has slid over the last two years to 41 percent favorable and 58 percent unfavorable, not much better than the president’s 35 percent favorable and 63 percent unfavorable. She draws 79 percent of African-Americans but only 20 percent of whites.

Legacy attorneys had investment in legacy site

The Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello law firm has not only filed the majority of the legacy lawsuits pending in Louisiana’s courts, but its namesake partners also invested in a well site roughly four years ago that the state found had the same kind of environmental deficiencies that the attorneys have railed against in their many legal proceedings.

Don’t call it ironic, said partner John Carmouche, who told LaPolitics the pollution cited by the Department of Natural Resources in 2010 was caused by previous operators and a field partly shared with Shell.

“That is what we’re saying is the problem,” Carmouche said. “You have current owners out there being held liable for other peoples’ contamination.”

Carmouche likewise made the distinction that the firm’s lead partners — Don and John Carmouche and Vic Marcello — were only investors, not operators.

“I was just an investor of a well hoping it hits,” he said. The company operating the well was IEOG, which was founded by Gregory Miller and Patrick Broussard of ICON, who the law firm has used to provide expert testimony for its legacy lawsuits.

The Department of Natural Resources first sent IEOG a compliance order in 2010, informing the company that any failure to clean up the site would result in a civil penalty of up to $5,000 per day. In the wake of some back and forth between IEOG and DNR, documented in public records obtained by LaPolitics, it took slightly more than two years for the site to meet state standards, a timeline confirmed by John Carmouche.

“They basically cleaned up a site they didn’t pollute,” he said.They said it

“The good news is all of us walked out the way we walked in. No real injuries.” —Sen. Mike Walsworth on the annual Hoopla legislative basketball game, won by the House“You might be the first senator to filibuster his own bill.” —Sen. J.P. Morrell on Sen. Dan Claitor’s lengthy bill explanation.

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