Taxes, education and budget will be highlights of crucial session for Gov … –

education and budget will be highlights of crucial session for GovWhen the 2013 legislative session begins Monday, Gov. Bobby Jindal will face perhaps his greatest test to date: managing a less accommodating Legislature even as he seeks to shepherd through a dramatic reworking of the state’s tax code, reauthorize last year’s education overhaul and get approval for the coming year’s spending plan. At the same time a host of other issues, ranging from gun rights to higher education funding to the sinkhole near Bayou Corne, will jostle for attention and approval in the 60 days before lawmakers adjourn on June 6.

Jindal appears to be entering his sixth regular legislative session with a weaker hand than in previous years. While the administration has been able to advance significant agendas on ethics, education and other issues in the past, the governor faces a difficult political battle this year on multiple fronts, with lawmakers criticizing both the tax plan that serves as the centerpiece of his legislative agenda and his handling of the state budget.

It’s not clear how those battles will spill over into other areas of the legislative process and, with more than two years left in his term Jindal may need to prove that he still has leverage over lawmakers and is not yet a lame duck. The governor’s performance this year could also reverberate beyond Louisiana, particularly if his eye truly is on the 2016 presidential race. The stakes will be high, with every victory and defeat transformed into a test of Jindal’s viability for higher office.

Story by

Jeff Adelson,

Lauren McGaughy

and Sheila V Kumar

Staff writers

While legislators have already file 901 bills in advance of the start of session Monday, with the ability to file five more each in the next two weeks, the agenda item receiving arguably the most intense scrutiny is the governor’s tax swap plan.

Tax plan

The most discussed issue of the session will be Jindal’s tax plan, which has been the subject of speculation and criticism in the months leading up to the session.

Under the proposal, personal income and corporate taxes would be eliminated and replaced with a 6.25 percent sales tax that would be expanded to include a variety of goods and service that are not currently taxed. The plan also increases the cigarette tax from 36 cents a pack to $ 1.41 cents a pack, eliminates some tax exemptions and scales back tax breaks for oil and gas production.

The plan also calls for the creation of two rebate systems to offset the cost of higher sales taxes on low-income residents and some retirees who do not currently pay income taxes. Those programs would be administered by the Division of Children and Family Service and the Department of Revenue.

Finally, the proposal would centralize sales tax collection in the state in an effort to tie into proposed federal legislation that would allow the taxing of internet purchases and create a single tax court to issue rulings on tax issues.

Jindal and other administration officials have said eliminating the income tax is their primary goal for the year, arguing that doing so would lead to economic benefits since businesses would be dealing with a simpler tax code and residents would not have to pay the income tax.

But the proposal has been hammered in recent weeks by critics who argue it would hurt the poor and overly burden businesses with new taxes. The administration has also run into problems getting the numbers in the plan to add up to ensure the state does not lose or gain revenue as a result of the swap, a requirement Jindal has imposed on any tax legislation to come out of the session.

The full package is contained in a series of 11 bills by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, and Senate Revenue and Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia. The legislation is made up of House Bills 441, 456, 518, 571, 574, 616, 639, 653 and 656 and Senate Bills 230 and 233.

The bills that make up the tax plan are tied together and cannot be passed separately. House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, has already said that the bills will not move until the Legislative Fiscal Office provides lawmakers with “accurate” numbers on the plan, a process that is expected to take weeks. That’s a departure from last year’s session, which saw Jindal move his education overhaul quickly through the Legislature.

While Jindal’s plan has served as a focus of the tax debate, it faces competition from alternatives as well. Reps. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, and Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, have separately put forward several bills that they each said are intended as placeholders for competing plans. Those join a more fleshed out proposal from the Legislative Black Caucus, which would lower tax rates by eliminating deductions for high-income residents and increasing cigarette taxes. Several lawmakers have also put forward their own bills that would eliminate the income tax, phasing it out over a period of years without replacing the lost revenue.

K-12 Education

Last year, the Legislature approved a major Jindal-backed education package that took the New Orleans voucher program statewide and made significant changes to teacher evaluations, tenure and salaries.

This year, with the package awaiting judgment by the state Supreme Court after being ruled unconstitutional by two Baton Rouge judges, Jindal is re-entering the education debate by filing the same legislation as last year in smaller pieces.

The administration and its legislative allies called the re-filing “an insurance policy” in case the court upholds the unconstitutional ruling or doesn’t rule by the end of session in early June. Last year’s two-part package, called Acts 1 and 2, has been re-filed as eight separate bills.

State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, one of the sponsors of the Act 1 re-filed bills, is also filing legislation to give all day care centers and pre-kindergarten programs letter grades based on student achievement and classroom observations. The bill, Senate Bill 130, will enact changes spelled out in Act 3, the last part of Jindal’s education overhaul passed last year.

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shooting, school safety is also a focus of the Louisiana lawmakers this year. Three bills have been filed that would require school officials to work with local law enforcement on emergency procedures in the event of an on-campus shooting.

Higher Education

Appel, head of the Senate’s education committee, is also spearheading a movement to overhaul higher education. Appel and Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, have filed legislation to make state funding for colleges dependent on how their graduation and retention rates stack up compared to other southern universities.

If this “outcomes-based funding” bill passes, Carter would then push forward House Bill 401 to give colleges more freedom to control their tuition rates, which are currently set by the Legislature.

The TOPS scholarship is also the focus of several bills this year. Two bills seek to expand the program while three others change high school curriculum requirements for eligibility and put a cap on the amount the state can spend on the scholarship.


Jindal’s $ 24.7 billion budget for the year, contained in House Bill 1, is expected to be a flash point for legislators on a number of fronts. The plan relies heavily on expected savings from the privatization of public hospitals now run by LSU and comes in about a billion dollars less than last year’s spending plan.

The proposal also includes at least $ 424 million in so-called “one-time money” and contingencies, money that is either non-recurring or is expected to be generated from events such as the future sale of state properties. That’s been the focus of criticism from a group of lawmakers organized as the Louisiana Budget Reform Campaign, and more informally known as the fiscal hawks, who argue the proposal amounts to irresponsible budgeting.

The hawks have filed a number of bills they say would improve the state’s budgeting process, largely through procedural measures.

All the one-time money in the budget is directed at the state’s institutions of higher education and officials at the Board of Regents have worried that some of the money will not materialize even as they’ve complained about the decreasing amount of state funding for public colleges and universities. Without non-recurring revenue, the administration has countered, higher education would see a 19 percent cut.


Despite pushback from health care advocacy organizations, the AARP and Democratic groups, Jindal has held firm on his rejection of President Barack Obama’s federal Medicaid expansion.

In response, five lawmakers have filed bills that would require the state to conform to the standards set by Obama’s Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, by Jan. 1 of next year.

If implemented, the healthcare overhaul would be fully financed by the federal government for the first three years and would cover everyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or $ 15,864 for one person. Estimates say opting into the program would expand healthcare coverage for more than 400,000 uninsured state residents.

Jindal has repeatedly opposed the universal expansion, saying it would cost the state $ 1.2 billion over the next 10 years.

One legislator, Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville, has taken Jindal’s side and filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would bar any law or administrative rule from requiring employers, person or health care providers to participate in a health care system.


A year after passing a constitutional amendment making gun ownership a fundamental right in Louisiana, state lawmakers will consider two bills that seek to block any federal gun control legislation at odds with state law.

In contrast to tougher gun control bills filed in four states this week, 10 of the 12 gun bills filed this year would further bolster Louisianan’s gun rights. House Bill 265 would make concealed carry permits last for life and two others would bolster the right and privileges of permit holders.

Only two, House Bill 4 and 141, would place any restrictions on gun owners. The former would require firearms to be locked and secured while in the home. The latter would require gun buyers to take a safety course before purchasing a weapon.

Another, backed by Jindal, would require mental health information to be reported to the FBI to ensure those with a history of mental illness would be blocked from firearms purchases.

Crime and Justice

Bills dealing with crime and the justice system this year focus on easing penalties and sentencing requirements for juveniles and drug offenders. Under current law, juveniles who commit first or second-degree murder are automatically given a life sentence.

But, after the Supreme Court ruled last year that mandatory life sentences for juveniles amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, lawmakers are attempting to bring state law more in line with this ruling.

Two house bills, 152 and 319, would allow juveniles sentenced to life for first or second-degree murder to apply for parole after a certain number of years. Two other bills backed by Gov. Jindal would create an integrated management system for at-risk youth and make changes to the Families in Need of Services (FINS) program to keep kids out of juvenile justice system.

Jindal’s third bill would provide more treatment options for adult repeat drug offenders and allow for early release of some offenders who sign up for rehabilitation programs.

House Bill 103 also seeks to reduce penalties for drug offenders by removing marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids from the state’s habitual offender under which a state resident charged with three previous felonies would receive a mandatory sentence of 20 or more years in jail for marijuana possession.


Drivers who paid Crescent City Connections tolls or were issued red light tickets in the last few months might want to watch bills headed to the transportation committee this year.

House Bill 560, the most comprehensive CCC bill, would provide amnesty for anyone assessed a late fee for a toll fine between January 1 and March 5 and would provide refunds for anyone who paid the tolls during that time.

Two other CCC bills would repeal late fees assessed for toll violations, with one calling for the continued suspension of tolls until early May. Voters in Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes return to the polls again next month to determine whether the tolls should be allowed for another 20 years.

Anyone who has received one of those $ 135 red light tickets in the mail will be sure to watch House Bills 47 and 217.

Bill sponsor Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, said these tickets should only be issued to drivers registered in the parish where the camera is located. His bill would prohibit any of his constituents — or those from other parishes that also don’t employ cameras — from being issued automatic tickets in any part of the state.

The second, authored by Democratic New Orleans Rep. Jeff Arnold, would require voters to approve any traffic camera fines before they could be imposed on drivers. If it passes, Arnold’s bill would allow cities and parishes currently using traffic cameras to impose fines until July 1, 2014.

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