Caucus chair: Stop vote switching in House

The chairman of the Democratic Caucus in the Legislature’s lower chamber has introduced a resolution that would remove the provision in House rules that allows representatives to switch, or correct, their votes.

Rep. Gene Reynolds, the caucus chairman from Minden, said the special session that just convened will have too many contentious issues and high-profile votes for this practice to continue.

“I watched last year when we were doing (tax) measures and I saw time after time people would change their votes,” he said in an interview. “If the tax bill had enough votes to pass, and they supported it, they would change their votes (later) to no so they could go home and do their song and dance.”

Under House rules a representative can change their vote on a previously debated topic as long as they request to do so, publicly at the microphone, on the same legislative day. That means a representative can vote yes on a bill first thing in the morning and then switch it to no at the end of the day, hours after the original vote was cast.

“You should be studying this issues before you vote and then standing by your vote,” said Reynolds.

The proposal can be found in HR 1, which has been filed for the special session. It is pending a hearing before the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Lawmakers have been charged with solving a budget shortfall for the current fiscal year that’s somewhere between $850 million and $940 million and a budget gap for the next fiscal year that surpasses $2 billion.

When it comes to the money committees in the Legislature’s lower chamber, there’s a lot of new blood.

There are eight true freshmen on the House Appropriations Committee and six freshmen on the House Ways and Means Committee, which are the largest term-starting totals many longtime Capitol-watchers can recall.

A group of freshmen played a key role in getting House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, elected, but the leadership said in recent interviews that the internal election had nothing to do with the assignments.

Instead, lawmakers contend several different factors played into the decisions. For instance, a number of third-term representatives who will not be up for re-election in 2019 were given chairmanships, while most others, knowing the stress and headaches involved, didn’t want to have anything to do with the money committees this term. That sentiment was shared by many second termers as well.

Barras also wanted to make sure, with a massive turnover expected in four years due to term limits, that the House would have some experienced budget and tax handlers in 2020. Democrats, unhappy with some of the appointments, insist they were done to stack the money committees with conservative votes. In some respects it shows how fractionalized the Republican Party is in the House, with conservatives complaining that the right kind of conservatives weren’t chosen in some instances.

Any which way you cut it, House freshmen are in a position to make a true impact. Should they get organized and decide to vote as a bloc, they could create a new element of politics in the lower chamber.

But with many of them new to the Legislature, especially on the Ways and Means Committee, where the real pressure will be applied, some are wondering if they actually know what they’ve gotten themselves into.

The Ways and Means Committee is the first stop for all tax-related bills.

Like he has in previous sessions, Treasurer John Kennedy plans to be an active player in budget and tax negotiations this session.

He’s pushing his own proposals, second-guessing the administration’s tax plan and playing the role of fiscal watchdog. He’ll be the usual thorn-in-the-side for the Division of Administration, he admits, and Kennedy is not making any apologies about it.

“It’s the spending, stupid,” he said in an interview.Kennedy is circulating a list of 165 statutory dedications to lawmakers and others. He argues that a majority vote can do away with them and raise some $480 million.

Administration officials claim the dedications, as they stand today, would only generate a fraction of that amount and they are in favor of reducing some of those funds, which hold fees from various groups for dedicated services, ranging from pet overpopulation to artificial reefs.

Kennedy also wants to do away with a large number of state consulting contracts, which the administration of Gov. John Bel Edwards is open to doing on some level but it questions Kennedy’s broad approach on the issue.

“I understand why the governor wants to scare everybody,” said Kennedy. “I’ve seen governors do that in the past. It’s to pass taxes.”

In his special session opening speech, Edwards said, in a thinly-veiled reference to Kennedy, who is running for the U.S. Senate, “Let’s ignore the self-serving voices of candidates running for office, after all, that’s what got us in this mess.”

Edwards added in his speech that cuts alone won’t solve Louisiana’s budget woes, that taxes will be needed as well.

“Now, I am mindful as I address this chamber that we will not agree on every solution,” Edwards said. “There are some that will tell you we have a spending problem. That simply ‘tightening our belts’ will eliminate this historic deficit, but let me be clear — we can’t just cut our way out of this crisis.”

Kennedy said he is working with lawmakers on legislation and plans to be at the witness table during session.

“I’ll be there,” the treasurer said. “I don’t want to intrude but I am going to be active. We need spending reforms, not new taxes. We are not one tax increase away from prosperity.”

In the race to replace Supreme Court Justice Jeannette Knoll, the field is shaping up just as it was predicted to develop by politicos and pundits more than a year ago. Judge Jimmy Genovese, who currently serves on the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, made his campaign official earlier this month and joins Judge Marilyn Castle, chief judge of the 15th Judicial District Court, in the early field. Both Castle and Genovese are Republicans.There’s already a great deal of interest in this race and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry has been rallying around Castle for some time. Genovese is expected to have a strong showing of support from the trial bar and is well known in Acadiana. The district encompasses Lafayette, Acadia, Vermilion, St. Landry, Avoyelles, Jeff Davis, Cameron and Calcasieu parishes.  Learn more about this developing race at JudgeGenovese.com and MarilynCastle.com.

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