Capitol Buzz for Jan. 26, 2014

Gov. Bobby Jindal previewed his $25 billion state spending plan for the new budget year Friday.

But in advance, the Jindal folks made sure special attention got paid to certain areas of the budget where he’s had political problems in the past.

A steady diet of news releases started Tuesday — each with a big announcement of funding for agencies that had gone wanting because of past Jindal budget decisions.

First, there was the announcement that he was setting aside about $54 million for higher education. Louisiana’s public colleges and universities have seen their budgets slashed by roughly $700 million since 2008.

On Wednesday came an announcement that the budget proposal would include pay raises for state employees — some for the first time in several years — at a cost of $60 million.

Then Thursday there was news of a new infusion of dollars so more of the state’s developmentally disabled and elderly could get services so they could stay at home and avoid institutions. Jindal vetoed funding last year generating headlines and an active — yet unsuccessful — movement to override the governor’s decision.

Late Thursday, a fourth pronouncement came that the Council for Development of French in Louisiana would be getting a $150,000 boost in its budget, which had been decimated by past budget decisions. Restoration of funding had been a top priority for Acadiana legislators for the last two years.

State Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, said the delegation had sought a $500,000 budget for the state agency; with the new cash it sits at $300,000.

“I think he’s reacting to a couple of things. Obviously, the Acadiana delegation has made an issue of it and he sees a lot of support for CODOFIL,” Ortego said. “It is important for cultural preservation and advancement, and education, too.”

British ambassador to discuss project

As chairman of the commission putting together the bicentennial remembrance of the Battle of New Orleans, W. Henson Moore III said he was excited that much of this week’s visit of the British ambassador to the United States will be taken up discussing a project to commemorate the 1815 battle as well as the bond forged between the two countries since.

Now called the Alliance Garden, the plan for the battlefield was unveiled last year after a competition hosted by LSU. It features an interactive trail past the various sites of major occurrences during the battle.

“We’re really celebrating our 200 years of alliance,” said Moore, a former congressman from Baton Rouge.

The National Park Service must first approve the changes to the historic battlefield, which could happen in July, then permit construction, which Moore says he hopes can begin by the 200th anniversary of the battle on Jan. 8, 2015.

It’ll cost about $1.5 million. Moore says he hopes to raise the money through contributions by corporations with British and American ties.

British Ambassador to United States Sir Peter Westmacott is scheduled to meet with business and political leaders in Baton Rouge and New Orleans on Thursday and Friday. He also is giving a speech at Tulane University and plans to walk the battlefield in Chalmette, Moore said.

Jindal a ‘potential ’16 candidate,’ group says

Gov. Bobby Jindal announced in an email to supporters that he is among the “potential 2016 Republican candidates” confirmed to address activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March.

The American Conservative Union confirmed the selection on its Facebook page.

Though Jindal famously, and repeatedly, says it’s too early to think about the 2016 race for the presidency, Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which sponsors the event, says the presidential cycle starts earlier than ever. “We’re almost off and running, and CPAC is the beginning of that journey,” he said in a press release.

Republican U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and Rand Paul, of Kentucky, will be among the headliners at the CPAC, which the National Journal called “the conservative movement’s annual pep rally and popularity contest for the Republican Party’s likely presidential contenders.”

Last year’s CPAC gathering peaked at around 10,000 activists, according to the Cardenas press release. The March 6-8 convention will be held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, which sits on the Potomac River south of the Beltway in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Sen. wants to dedicate pot legalization tax

Opelousas state Sen. Elbert Guillory is getting a little ahead of himself with a new proposal to help eliminate state pension system debt.

Republican Guillory wants the 2014 Legislature to dedicate 5 percent of each tax, assessment or fee collected related to the legalization of marijuana to debt retirement.

There’s one problem. Marijuana is not legal in Louisiana and doesn’t seem likely to be anytime soon.

Most of the conversation of late has been around reducing criminal penalties for simple possession and revitalizing an existing law that authorizes medical marijuana usable. And even those are controversial.

Nevertheless, Guillory has pre-filed legislation for consideration in the legislative session that opens March 10.

BR attorney to run for La. secretary of state

Baton Rouge attorney Chris Tyson is planning a run for Louisiana secretary of state next year.

It will be the first run for public office for Tyson, an LSU law school assistant professor.

The 38-year-old Democrat said the duties of the office — elections and business development — “strongly fit my background and my interest.”

Tyson said he has started raising campaign funds but wouldn’t say how much. Prospective candidates are due to file campaign finance reports in mid-February. “I’ll spend the next year and a half talking to voters about the job, my background and qualifications,” Tyson said.

Tyson said his background includes being a business attorney, practicing real estate law and owning a management consulting firm. He teaches real estate law at LSU. On the civic front, Tyson served on the CATS board and has participated in a north Baton Rouge revitalization effort.

Republican Secretary of State Tom Schedler is expected to seek re-election next year.

State Office of Group Benefits gets new CEO

The Office of Group Benefits, which handles health insurance for state employees, their families and retirees, is getting a new acting chief executive officer.

Susan T. West will replace Charles Calvi in the job on an interim basis.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said Calvi is leaving to take a job in the health insurance industry.

West has been the state risk administrator with the state Office of Risk Management, the state’s self-insurance arm. West has more than 30 years of experience in both public and private insurance as well as management in the areas of insurance policy, loss prevention and premium development, according to a news release from the governor’s Division of Administration.

Nichols said West’s salary will be about $170,000 annually.

Legislature’s gun law debate to continue

The debate will continue over the state’s gun laws during the 2014 Legislature.

The latest prefiled legislation includes a restriction on gun sales as well as an expansion of those who can possess guns in places that sell alcohol.

State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, is sponsoring a bill that would make it unlawful to sell a firearm without verification that the purchaser has completed a firearms safety or training course. Those who violate the law would be subject to a first-offense fine of $500. A second and subsequent offense would yield a $1,000 fine.

State Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, wants anyone with a concealed handgun permit to be able to take a weapon into restaurants with permits to sell alcohol. State Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, would include both concealed weapon permit holders as well as law enforcement officers on duty or off duty.

Today, only the facility’s owner and employees and law enforcement acting in their official capacity are allowed to possess guns in a restaurant serving alcohol. Legislation failed last year amid opposition from the Louisiana Hotel-Motel Association.

La. Republican Party leadership unchanged

There will be no changes in state Republican Party leadership as major federal and state elections loom.

Metairie business owner Roger Villere will remain in the chairman’s job, a post he’s held since 2004.

Also re-elected by the party’s governing committee were the Rev. Tommy French, vice chairman; former state Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle, treasurer; and Lillie Brady, secretary.

Villere said the party’s top priority is to defeat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who is running for re-election in November and in 2015 to keep the Governor’s Mansion and majorities in both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature.

And in 2015, the priority is to keep Louisiana’s statewide election positions from governor on down Republican and to keep the Legislature majority Republican, Villere said.

Villere said the party is working hard on building “more of a grassroots organization.”

Compiled by The Advocate Capitol news bureau. Contact email is cnb@theadvocate.com