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House passes budget, now on to senate

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The House approved Thursday Gov. Bobby Jindal’s nearly $25 billion budget for next year. The budget includes proposals for new spending on health care, colleges and state worker pay.

The House voted 65-34 for the 2014-15 budget after seven hours of debate, sending the bill next to the Senate for consideration.

“Tough sessions with elusive resolutions are dominating the 2014 session,” said State Representative Henry Burns, R-Haughton. “Although one hurdle has been eliminated with passage of HB1 on the House floor, now the Senate has to address it before it is made final.”

State Senator Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, assured, “The budget will be the main focus as we finish this legislative session on June 2.”

In review of the budget, problems appeared — tax amnesty proceeds were double-counted, the public school formula didn’t have enough money to pay for all students, and the free college tuition program called TOPS was short.

To balance it all, lawmakers proposed new cuts in state contracts, reductions across agencies and removal of funding for vacant jobs to prevent those jobs from being filled.

Burns said tough sessions with “elusive resolutions” are dominating this year’s session. A view seconded by Peacock, “Things were more intense and difficult as we begin the final weeks of the 2014 session.”

“We will continue to deal with clearing our calendar of House bills that are in the Senate and will deal with a number of controversial topics ranging from legacy lawsuits, flood protection authorities and optometrists wanting to expand their scope of practice as an example of some of the topics.”

In addition to the big ticket item of the budget, Peacock says the Senate’s main concern is the appeals process with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for the financing of the public-private partnerships with LSU being approved.

“Having been in meetings and what I’ve been informed, I am very mindful that this needs to be worked out for the citizens of Louisiana,” said Peacock.

As for local bills last week, tthe Senate approved State Representative Jeff Thompson’s, R-Bossier City, House Bill 146, which creates the specialized license plate to support “Hunters for the Hungry” and the fees generated by the plates helps offset the costs of processing deer which meat is donated to local shelters.

“This provides money to help with the processing fees to get that donated deer processed and to the table,” he said.

Thompson’s HB1277, addressing tenure and discipline of tenured and non-tenured teachers, was negotiated between teachers and the administration and other stakeholders and was passed the House and will now go before Senate Education this week.

HB782, dealing with funding the fight against giant salvinia at Lake Bistineau and Cypress Black Bayou by prohibiting exemption from state fees of use of water from bodies of water infested with invasive aquatic species comes up for full Senate approval Monday.

“This bill provides that previously waived fees would no longer be waived and that those proceeds would be dedicated to fighting giant salvinia,” said Thompson.

HB1066 regarding expediting for conceal carry permit holders the process of going through NICS process for purchasing firearms has been approved by the full House and the Senate Judiciary Committee and is scheduled for consideration by the full Senate Monday.

Burns’ HB404 reinstitutes the Veterans Affair Department which will sunset in July 2014 is pending approval from the Senate Health and Welfare committee and HB466 deals with the military service member decision on who would handle matters related to the disposition of their remains is pending Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs.

In the Senate, Peacock’s SB4 was deferred. The bill was retirement reform for the Firefighters’ Retirement System. The legislating would have affected only new hires to the fire departments and is modeled after all the other retirement systems in the state for new hires.

“The public service union of the firefighters, the Professional Firefighters Association of Louisiana, was opposed to this bill and was able to defeat it in the House retirement committee,” said Peacock. “If this bill had passed, it would have had a $4 million short-term savings and a 3.26 percent long-term savings for our municipalities such as Bossier City and Shreveport. This is an ongoing struggle that we are having in our state and country that we must address our retirement systems’ unfunded accrued liability and Senate Bill 4 would have helped and not changed any benefits for current employees.”