Lawmakers gearing up for their other session

While political eyes and ears are tuned into the ongoing special session, which was called to address a historic set of budget shortfalls, lawmakers are having to juggle their responsibilities to make time for the upcoming regular session that promises to host its own variety of policy debates.

The regular session is scheduled to convene on March 14, five days after the special session adjourns, and the first round of pre-filing deadlines for regular session bills will arrive over the next week or so.

The 2016-17 budget will undoubtedly hog a great deal of attention during the regular session, but it appears there are enough leftover, high-profile issues from last year’s regular session to keep lawmakers busy.

For example, Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, has HB 185 to prohibit public payrolls from being used to deduct union dues. The legislation was introduced last year as well but following an intense committee debate was never voted on by the full House.

The issue of raw milk will make a comeback as well, in terms of how it can be sold by a farmer to a consumer thanks for SB 29 by Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte. It was an unusual issue during the 2015 regular session that drew an unexpected amount of interest.

Another perennial topic, dating back further than union dues and raw milk, is the ability of legislators to award scholarships to Tulane University. HB 103 by Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodeaux, does away with the practice, which was attempted last year.

Then there are issues that have bubbled to the surface due to national politics. HB 151 by Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, would prohibit the creation of sanctuary cities, which is a term used to describe municipalities that supposedly have policies that prohibit the prosecution of undocumented immigrants.

Lawmakers will also be following up on a recent Louisiana Supreme Court decision ruling unconstitutional the law barring convicted felons from running for office for 15 years after their sentences end.

The court decided that the constitutional amendment approved by voters banning convicted felons from running excluded language that had been approved by the Legislature, thus making the law invalid.

Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, has HB 153 to fix that, and Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, has HB 83 to do the same. Both measures are constitutional amendments that will require voter approval.

Finally, no regular session is complete without a few bills to tickle the fancy of those policy trackers who demand lighter fare like HB 164 by Morris, which would designate the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, also referred to as the “passion butterfly,” as the official state butterfly.

Rep. Melinda White, D-Bogalusa, also has HB 179 to add “blaze pink” as an alternative to “hunter orange.” Current law requires hunters to display no less than 400 square inches of hunter orange. This would allow for blaze pink as well, which is defined in the legislation as a “daylight florescent pink color.”

Kennedy may move cash to super PACTreasurer John Kennedy has a comfortable polling lead in the developing U.S. Senate race that could eventually tighten up, but he is also positioned to be a money leader with roughly $3 million or more in his campaign finance account, based on his latest state report from 2015.

The problem is that he cannot use that money to run for the U.S. Senate, but he can transfer it to a sympathetic super PAC, like U.S. Sen. David Vitter did in last year’s governor’s race.

Super PACs are allowed to collected contributions in unlimited amounts.

Sources say Kennedy is prepared to make the financial leap and can argue that the U.S. Supreme Court, multiple federal courts and the District Court in New Orleans made clear there are no restrictions on contributions to super PACs. While some might counter that state law prohibits such contributions, a defense is ready — that federal constitutional law trumps state law.

The assumption is that the money will be transferred to the Make Louisiana Proud super PAC, which has already been fundraising independently and advocating for Kennedy.  Anti-tax advocate appeals to lawmakersGrover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, sent an email to every member of the Louisiana Legislature last week asking them to think twice before increases taxes during the special session.

Norquist, in particular, is pushing the Legislature to reject Gov. John Bel Edwards’ tax proposals. He made no mention of the SAVE act, which is on the verge of being repealed after his organization supported it last year.Among other things, the SAVE act created a convoluted offset in the budget that allowed lawmakers and former Gov. Bobby Jindal to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes while claiming it was done in a revenue neutral manner.

Lawmakers this session appear poised to pass legislation scrubbing it from the books.

From Norquist’s letter: “Pelican State taxpayers have been hit with more than 20 federal tax hikes over the last six years and state legislators enacted over $600 million in tax hikes just last year that reduced the job-creating capacity of Louisiana businesses. The last thing Louisiana taxpayers need, especially amid tepid economic growth and uncertainty, is to be hit with another round of tax increases at the state level.”They Said It“They’ve probably never fixed squirrel at the Governor’s Mansion.”— Gov. John Bel Edwards, speaking at the Coastal Conservation Association convention last weekend, which was the last weekend of the regular squirrel season.“We need to treat them fair even though sometimes they don’t treat us fair. I’m a grown woman and I said it.” — Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb on an amendment removing an additional sales tax on newspaper advertising, which was opposed by the Louisiana Press Association.

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