The book has closed on the 2013 Legislative Session. As local lawmakers have returned home from almost two months in Baton Rouge, Bossier’s representatives are pleased with the session overall.
“We did some good. There is still lots of room for improvement, and I have been busy already today working to continue forward with positive momentum as we start to plan for next year,” said Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City.
“One thing that came out of this session that people call historic is we all came together at the end and minimized use of one time money to make a balanced budget,” said Henry Burns, R-Haughton.
Thompson points out there were 969 bills introduced in both houses, 423 bills have completed the legislative process, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed 90 bills into law as of June 6. There were 8 proposed constitutional amendments which will go before voters on the next general election Nov. 4, 2014.
“There were some advancements in K-12 education, some new opportunities for growth and investment in our community and technical colleges across the state, a review of school safety and crisis management for all Louisiana school children, and efforts to promote a reliable and renewable funding source for the LSUHS-Shreveport hospital and medical center. More good than harm came out of this session and we have set the stage for future years through important budget reform,” said Thompson.
Most importantly, a $25.4 billion budget was approved.
The doubt that the House would be able to agree among themselves and make peace with the changes brought on in the Senate side meant the fiscal session came down to the “11th hour.”
“The day before the deadline, even into the evening of June 5, there were questions about everything coming into accord and accommodating concessions between the two goverening bodies,” said Burns.
“Our government has to stop spending money it doesn’t have and must prioritize where we spend the money taxpayers entrust to government. With independent budget negotiations going down to the wire between the House and Senate this year and with so little funding available for local projects, the actual capital outlay budget and the role of the Governor in the process was limited. That it came down to the 11th hour was not completely a surprise, but we are hopeful that with the slow recovery of our economy and with budget reforms moving forward that in the future we will see additional funds available for the limited role our government should play in our lives and in our businesses,” said Thompson.
But Burns noted that all the groups within the bodies — the Democratic, Republican, and Black Caucus and even the “Fiscal Hawks” — united to get the budget done. And he says there was a good balance of input from all groups.
“During tough economic times, it has ended up being indicative of good things for the future, showing that when it’s down to making tough decisions, we can all make good choices for the citizens of Louisiana,” said Burns.
The biggest obstacle from Thompson’s point of view this session was implementing a way to accurately gauge actual funding available to ensure higher education and health care aren’t decimated.
“For too long our government has opted to kick the can down the road and to slice into the only available targets — higher education and health care – every time a mid-year or end-of-year budget cut is necessary. It is like telling a pilot how much fuel they will have for their flight across the ocean, and then half way across go in and remove some of the fuel. Worse still is if they are able to get closer to dry land then come back with another round of budget cuts and remove more fuel from the plane which is still in the air,” Thompson explained. “We just can’t continue to do that.”
Burns said the most outstanding piece of legislation that came out of this year’s session was Senate Bill 204, authored by Senator Rober Aldey, R-Benton. This allowed for increased funding for state technical and community colleges.
“Everyone wants a fix for economic development and workforce. Finally, Louisiana took a position to put a huge emphasis on preparing our people for the workforce. I applaud Senator Adley for taking up this position,” said Burns.
When it comes to personal bills, Burns said he was please and not pleased at the same time.
He was excited over his bill that makes changes to reporting mental health information during the purchase of firearms.
“And the good news is, as a strong Second Amendment state, we have the allowance for a person to regain that right through a doctor’s permission,” he said.
He was motivated to bring a more watchful eye to tragedy with his resolution that asked the Department of Health and Hospitals to better address suicide risks. The resolution was made in honor of a neighbor’s son, who took his own life.
“The statistics are astounding. And when I made my presentation, there was not a dry eye in the room,” said Burns.
Thompson was especially pleased to garner support necessary to pass laws defending Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.
“We didn’t give an inch and through HB-8 and HB-98 were able to create significant penalties and make it a crime for those who intentionally publish the names and addresses of conceal carry permit holders, as we saw happen in New York,” he said.
Thompson also noted HB-659 , referred to as the “Freedom to Teach” bill, as the first in what will be an annual bill to reduce “the unnecessary paperwork and reporting that teachers and school systems have to waste time on rather than teaching students.”
And SB-58, which Thompson co-authored with Senator Sherri Buffington, resolved the issue which permitted the Department of Health and Hospitals to dispose of 1,600 pounds of donated deer meet to the Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission through the Hunters for the Hungry program, and now ensures that similar shelters across the state will be able to accept and serve harvested deer, hogs, and other game and fish harvested.