New details emerging for second special session

Those working in concert with Gov. John Bel Edwards on the possibility of a second special session say two options are on the table, including a start time of the evening of June 6, just moments after the ongoing regular session adjourns at 6 p.m.

That would allow for the initial reading in of bills as night falls on a revenue-raising session that would continue on for maybe two or three weeks.

The Legislature could also be reconvened several days following the June 6 adjournment of the regular session, which would give lawmakers time to return home and staffers an opportunity to work on the bills that will be needed.  What is likewise starting to be finalized is a draft of the special session call, with broad-stroke agenda items being put on paper by the administration.

While coming up with the revenue needed to close a $600 million hole for the next fiscal year is the anchor of the call, it may include another section of policy to address oversights and unintended consequences from the first special session held earlier this year.

That includes the mistake that accidentally yanked sales tax exemptions away from the New Orleans Saints and its NBA counterpart Pelicans. Also being discussed are the charities that got lumped into the changes made to the Louisiana sales tax code, like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, among others.Corporate income taxes are on the draft call as well, along with itemized deductions for individual income taxes and exemptions, although none are specifically being named yet. Even as all of this is coming together, there are still lobbyists, good government groups and many conservative lawmakers who aren’t convinced a second special session will be immediately needed.

With some tax collections picking up and revenue acts from previous sessions kicking in, Republicans, especially, are still hoping enough new money materializes to convince the governor to wait.

Edwards, though, seems as determined as ever and is expected to reveal his policy proposals soon. He needs a special session because tax-related matters cannot be voted on by lawmakers in a regular session during even-numbered years. Governor central to U.S. Senate bidThe Defend Louisiana super PAC has been created to back the U.S. Senate bid of Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat from Elm Grove.

Al Ater, a former legislator and one-time chief deputy insurance commissioner and first assistant secretary of state, is serving as chair of the super PAC. The group will be able to solicit unlimited donations to spend independently of the Campbell campaign.

The super PAC will surely play an important role in the upcoming race, but Gov. John Bel Edwards is shaping up to be Campbell’s most important surrogate.

Not only is Edwards featured in a new web video promoting Campbell, but later this month the governor is also hosting the first in a handful of fundraisers for the campaign.Budget could come down to four daysNow that the House has advanced the state budget to the upper chamber, senators have taken control of the revenue and spending process in what could become a last-minute dash to the finish line.

The ongoing regular session is set to adjourn on June 6 and Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, who is now steering House Bill 1, said he hopes to move the budget to the floor over the next week or so.

“We’re going to meet up to Memorial Day weekend to hear public testimony,” LaFleur told LaPolitics. “We want to get it on the floor of the Senate by the second or third (of June).”

Should there be any major disagreements between the House, Senate and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration over the session’s centerpiece spending plan, this timeframe could make a for a handful of tense, closing days.

If the Senate makes changes to the House version of the budget bill, and the House disagrees with those alterations, then both chambers will send representatives into a conference committee process to hammer out the differences. Senators are already skeptical of siphoning $100 million from statuary dedications and fee collections for other priorities, like the TOPS scholarship program, as identified by the House. Also in question is funding for the state’s safety net hospitals and waivers for children with developmental disabilities.

The two chambers clashed over much less during the first special session and by all indications the ongoing regular session will lead into a second special session.License plate readers could become a realityDespite privacy concerns and accusations of “crony capitalism,” the House, for now, is advancing legislation that would pave the way for electronic license plate readers to be used by law enforcement.

The proposal was sold to the House Committee on Criminal Justice recently as program that would encourage drivers to purchase liability insurance.

SB 54 by Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, would set up a pilot program in nine parishes that would utilize already-existing license plate reading cameras to issue tickets to uninsured drivers. The system would work by pairing the camera’s information with a database of license plates and their drivers who have lapsed insurance policies.

A similar bill by Johns was passed by the House and Senate last year but was vetoed after arriving on former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk.

The bill would levy a $200 fine to ticketed drivers, a portion of which would go to an outside vendor to pay for use of the multi-million dollar camera software.

“This has nothing to do with a money grab,” said Johns. “This is about trying to enforce a current law that is on the books. We still have more than 15 percent of drivers out there today who blatantly said ‘I’m not going to carry drivers insurance.’”

Opponents to the bill compared it to Louisiana’s red light cameras that are connected to out-of-state vendors. Critics complained that the bill had vague descriptions of how the license plate cameras would ultimately be used by law enforcement and how the $200 fine would be spent by the state.

“We have on the one hand somebody saying that this is about insurance, and then we have somebody from the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office who’s saying it’s not just about insurance, it’s about other investigations,” said Kyla Blanchard-Romanach from the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “That opens up this data to being looked at for all sorts of reasons and exposing innocent people’s information.”   Johns said his legislation would ultimately cost non-compliant drivers less. Currently, those without insurance coverage have to pay a $500 ticket and the driver’s car can towed away. They Said It“If that was the case I would have left nine years ago.” —Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, on the House floor, reacting to a news report that suggested he’s resigning due to displeasure with the GOP leadership

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