Legislative fight over union dues resurrected

The reshuffling of embers and the chair on the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee has given yet another life to the debate over union dues.

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, told LaPolitics he is returning this session with a bill to ban union contributions through payroll, similar to what was passed in Wisconsin and caused an uproar there.

Last month Rep. Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, was appointed as chairman following the resignation of former chair Herbert Dixon. Williams was already a member of the committee, but no additional member has been added to replace Dixon.

Seabaugh said there could now be a slim advantage for proponents, which explains why some groups are said to be working on getting another member appointed.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry has made the issue a top priority as well, noting in a policy paper that “a united business community will once again support legislation to prohibit the current practice of requiring taxpayers to support union activities at taxpayer expense.”Seabaugh’s legislation would basically prohibit the collection and remittance of union dues by public bodies.

Like LABI, he said the public shouldn’t support a system that goes toward political activities. As an alternative, he has proposed in the past that unions could get their dues deducted directly from the bank accounts of members.

Opponents contend the law change would make it difficult to build up union memberships and would affect their freedom of political speech. They also claim that no additional public employees or resources are needed for the deductions. Many have framed the debate as a “union-busting” attack on teachers unions.

Nevers pushing processing fee, Medicaid expansion

Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, is teeing up two contentious issues for the session: a new oil and gas processing fee and another push to expand Medicaid.

Nevers said his constitutional amendment to create a hydrocarbon processing fee is still in the drafting stage and will not mirror previous proposals brought by Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and late Gov. Dave Treen.

He’s considering including some credits for severance tax payments in the mix and wants to raise around $1 billion annually. He would dedicate the funding to a variety of needs, ranging from early childhood education and higher ed to infrastructure and retirement debt.

While there are prohibitions against revenue-raising measures starting in the Senate, Nevers said there are previous rulings that should pave the way for a constitutional amendment.

The Washington Parish senator is also returning this year with another bill to expand Medicaid. He said it will not be a carbon copy of his 2014 legislation.

“The Indiana governor just signed on with an interesting plan,” he said. “I’m going to use that in this legislation.”Last year Nevers pushed a constitutional amendment that would have directed Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to accept participation in the federal program. The single committee hearing was packed with onlookers, including former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, who testified in favor.Breaux argued then that the President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act would help pay for a large share of the expansion.

Phillip Joffrion, state director for Americans for Prosperity, has said that Louisiana simply couldn’t afford the expansion and that promises of the federal government picking up a big portion of the tab were not guaranteed. A similar bill in 2013 made it through the committee process, but failed on the Senate floor. Last year’s bill faced a higher bar, with a two-thirds majority needed in both houses and a vote of the people, since it was a constitutional amendment.

Several reform bills on tap for session

Treasurer John Kennedy and Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux, say they plan to return this session with a bill to reduce the number of consulting contracts being underwritten with state money.

After years of seeing their proposal fail, the duo managed to get a version out of the Legislature last year that gave lawmakers oversight of certain contracts of $40,000 or more that relied on general fund or over-collections money. But Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed the legislation.

Kennedy wanted the money to go to higher education and told LaPolitics that he is partnering with another lawmaker this session to push a separate instrument to do the same. The bill would redirect certain federal grants away from NGOs, or non-governmental organizations, and give them to public universities instead.

Kennedy used after-school tutoring as an example. “It will be more transparent and it’ll help out universities,” he said. “They could use students and they would be in a better position to measure results.”

Richard, meanwhile, is sponsoring his own ambitious reform package that will feature several bills. Included is a proposal for automatic veto sessions, where lawmakers would return for a day or two after a session ends to consider gubernatorial vetoes that passed with a majority vote. He has another bill to take away the governor’s line-item veto authority and one to give the Legislature oversight of what the administration includes on its capital outlay agendas for approval by the Bond Commission. He further wants to eliminate funding for NGOs altogether and change the way members of the budget-drafting Appropriations Committee are selected.

“I know they’re all a long shot,” Richard said. “But we’ve got to start somewhere.”

They Said It

“Bobby Jindal is an intellectual who enjoys LSU football, as well as hunting and killing ducks, and then eating them.” -Gov. Bobby Jindal’s national strategist Curt Anderson, in PoliticoFor more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.

About Jeremy Alford 150 Articles
Jeremy Alford is an independent journalist and the co-author of LONG SHOT, which recounts Louisiana's 2015 race for governor. His bylines appear regularly in The New York Times and he has served as an on-camera analyst for CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

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