Louisiana Legislative Brief 5/29
Fifty-five House members, more than a majority of the chamber, have promised to vote against a Senate proposal to reduce higher education funding cuts by delaying a tax break.

The mostly Republican bloc signed onto a news release, promising "No" votes against the proposal from Senator Lydia Jackson, of Shreveport, to postpone by three years a tax break the Legislature approved in 2007. Jackson's bill would delay from this year to 2012 a scheduled increase in the number of allowable income tax deductions for individual taxpayers.

Jackson has said her bill would get $118 million to Louisiana universities, to reduce proposed spending cuts. But House members in opposition said they're against the idea because they consider it a tax increase.

Forty-four of the House members promising to vote against it are Republicans. And 12 of the House opponents are on the Ways and Means Committee that hears tax bills, enough to bottle it up there before it could ever get to the House floor.

Jackson's bill awaits a vote in the Senate, where it has support from President Joel Chaisson and other leaders. As House members pledged to oppose the bill, the Senate released a packet of letters from business leaders around the state who support the bill as a way to stop higher education cuts.

Governor Bobby Jindal has said he will veto the bill if it passes. ***************************************************** A powerful lobbying group flexed its muscles - but its timing was off - when it opposed legislation dealing with family and marriage counselors.

Representative Charmaine Marchand Stiaes' bill passed the House easily, with a 66-26 vote. The measure, which deals with the training and education required for the counselors, was approved with little debate.

But more than a dozen lawmakers then rushed to change their votes, after learning that the Louisiana Family Forum opposed it. The socially conservative lobby had sent an e-mail to lawmakers saying the group opposed Stiaes' bill because a provision would allow a counselor to get credit for courses involving sexual orientation.

The Family Forum's e-mail said that provision could "force" universities with ties to religious denominations "to teach material with is montrary to their moral and religious beliefs." ***************************************************** A disagreement over whether lawmakers should have a say in hunting season dates and regulations flared up on the House floor yesterday.

The House refused an attempt by the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to steer the bill, which was approved by a House committee, to a second committee deemed less friendly to the measure. The move was defeated in an 85-7 vote.

The bill by Representative James Armes, of Leesville, would let lawmakers reject the hunting season dates and restrictions set each year by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, which works with the wildlife and fisheries department.

Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham said the current system works well and keeps the state from political management of the state's natural resources. But the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee approved the bill Wednesday, sending it to the full House. ******************************************************* Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has scrapped a proposal that would let his office hire outside lawyers on a contingency fee basis, a system in which the outside counsel would get a percentage of whatever damages are collected.

But Caldwell said he'll return with the idea in 2010.

Caldwell said an early version of his bill was inadequate and left the wrong impression of what he was trying to accomplish. He said the new version by Representative Herbert Dixon, of Alexandria, contained safeguards against outside lawyers abusing a contingency fee system to chase litigation for the sake of forcing a cash settlement with corporations.

After weeks of delays and negative publicity, Caldwell told the House Judiciary Committee that he'll work with lawmakers and opponents in the business community to try to find common ground for the reintroduction of the legislation next year. ************************************************************ In other legislative action:

-The Senate unanimously agreed yesterday that carnival krewe members should not have to pay state sales tax on beads and other parade trinkets they buy from their organizations. The bill by Senator Danny Martiny, of Kenner, heads next to the House for debate. It also would exempt specialty items - like cups and doubloons - that krewe members buy from nonprofit organizations for use in Mardi Gras activities.

-The House unanimously agreed to a bill that would divvy up $213 million from the state and federal government among private and community hospitals to help them cope with revenue losses caused by hurricanes over the last four years. The measure by House Speaker Jim Tucker heads to the Senate for debate.