Our annual North Shore Focus day at the legislature is now behind us. Each year, we encourage local business leaders to make this the one day that they take the time to travel to Baton Rouge during the session to see and be seen, and to prove to legislators that we as a region are listening and watching as well as speaking out on issues of concern to us. Together with our growing list of partners from the economic development offices, tourist commissions, and chambers of commerce from Livingston, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington and St. Helena Parishes, we always like to re-affirm the fact that yes, the North Shore is the state’s fastest growing region, and we are working together to create better awareness of that fact.
This year’s event began with Governor and Mrs. John Bel Edwards hosting a Coffee at the Mansion, where the Governor answered questions about TOPS and the budget. At a special meeting with Secretary of State Tom Schedler later in the day, we were pleased to hear that the number of elections has decreased from 70 in a 60-month time period to 31 in the recent 60 months and will go even lower. Our Governmental Affairs Committee has addressed the number of elections for tax renewals and proposals as being too high, with too low voter turnout, so we were especially pleased to hear this progress. Also impressive is that Louisiana was the first in the nation to introduce a mobile app for all elections-related information and live election results. He reminded us that TV stations may predict winners early but his job is to be right, not to predict!
There are numerous issues and bills that we are currently following in the legislature, including
HB 862 by our very own Representative Reid Falconer, which deals with persons with developmental disabilities. This bill passed the House and Senate and has been sent to the Governor for executive approval. Bill supporters expressed appreciation to Representative Falconer and Senator Sharon Hewitt, “Your commitment and support for families of children with special needs is greatly appreciated.”
SB 254 by Senator JP Morrell, which provides that the Louisiana Equal Pay Act be applicable to men and private employers and requires government contractors to verify equal pay practices, was rejected by the House Labor Committee. Louisiana Association for Business and Industry testified against this bill claiming the result would be a floodgate of lawsuits against employers. LABI fully supports equal pay and the current state and federal laws that are already in place to protect employees.
HB105 by Representative Cameron Henry, which provides for the ordinary operating expenses of the Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, for Fiscal Year 2016-2017, is pending Senate Finance. Representative Blake Miguez feels the bill is an important step to a more fiscally responsible budget and state government.
HB1137 by Representative Sherman Q. Mack, which provides with respect to indigent defense, is pending Senate final passage scheduled for May 23. A Senate judiciary committee voted 4-1 to send Mack’s bill to the full Senate. It already has won House support. The debate comes as local public defenders in some parts of the state have stopped taking cases because of money shortages, prompting prisoner releases, lawsuits and widespread concerns about the state of the justice system. This crisis was discussed by Judge Peter Garcia at our State of the Judicial System Breakfast last week.
We are also staying on top of and speaking out on federal issues that affect businesses both large and small. As soon as the pending Special Session is scheduled, we will announce the date of our annual Legislative Wrap-Up luncheon. Check our website and Facebook page for specific event and issues information.