Number of items on 2014 legislative session agenda

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Huey P. Long's statue and grave in front of the State Capitol Building. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Huey P. Long's statue and grave in front of the State Capitol Building.

Decisions involving marijuana, Common Core, tort reform, gun control and the minimum wage await legislators at the State Capitol this year.

The 2014 legislative session kicks off Monday, when senators and representatives crowd into the House chamber to hear from Gov. Bobby Jindal. Lobbyists will get a bird’s-eye view from the second-floor gallery. For the next three months, legislators will craft new laws.

Unlike last year, when Jindal tried to set the tone with sweeping tax changes, the governor seems to be climbing into the back seat this year. Just a few days into the session, he will leave Louisiana for New Hampshire, where the focus will be on his national opportunities. Less than two years remain in his term.

“Right now, I haven’t heard of an agenda. I’m not sure what the governor’s agenda is or if he’ll have one,” said House Republican leader Lance Harris, of Alexandria.

Jindal isn’t even sitting down with Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, until the morning the session begins. Legislators also haven’t been trooping over to the Governor’s Mansion for policy discussions, as they did in previous years.

Rest assured, the governor said en route to the airport Thursday, he will have an agenda and it will focus on three areas: workforce training, human trafficking and tort reform.

He wants to ensure Louisiana has a supply of skilled workers, increase penalties for human trafficking and allow for more jury trials. He also plans to tinker with so-called legacy lawsuits involving the oil and gas industry.

“We’ll have dozens of bills in our package,” Jindal said.

The governor said the state’s economy is on the right course, with billions of dollars in economic wins and thousands of jobs to fill. The challenge, he said, is to match Louisiana’s residents with the skills needed to land those jobs. He wants workforce training to start in high school or even earlier.

Another component of the governor’s jobs push is the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy fund, also known as the WISE plan. Colleges will collaborate with the state Department of Economic Development and the Louisiana Workforce Commission to match the work that schools do with the needs of the state’s economy.

The governor went to north Louisiana on Friday to unveil the anti-abortion portion of his legislative package. Among the bills is House Bill 388 by Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe. The bill would require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

A similar abortion restriction in Texas caused problems for a dozen abortion clinics and ignited a court battle. The proposal is widely seen as a method of stopping abortions.

Overall, the governor’s legislative package is modest. Dramatic ideas like last year’s unsuccessful push to eliminate the state’s income taxes are absent.

Governors tend to lose political capital the closer they get to the end of their term. Jindal cannot seek re-election next year.

Legislators slid into the driver’s seat for the session by filing bills in the weeks leading up to Monday’s kickoff. At last count, the House had roughly 1,020 bills, and the Senate had more than half that number.

Common themes include:

“I generally support the idea we should raise the minimum wage. People who work 40 hours a week ought to be able to support their family and not live in poverty. It’s just a moral thing to do,” said House Democratic leader John Bel Edwards, of Amite.

The session also features a returning cast of characters. Legislators once again want to debate equal pay for women, to require dogs be crated in the backs of pickups and to tie drug testing to receipt of public assistance. Those measures tend to pop up every year, stir up the public, then die.

Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux, is back again this year with his bid to reduce the number of consulting contracts scattered across state government. Richard also is tired of the No Party behind his name. He wants to officially create an Independent designation.

Several legislators want to ensure that concealed weapon permit holders can carry their weapons into Applebee’s or Copeland’s. Another legislator, Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Meraux, wants teachers to be able to slip guns into their purses at the beginning of the school day. Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, wants to go even further and free concealed handgun owners of permit or license requirements.

Other bills focus on cost-of-living increases for retired teachers, state employees and others; a repeal of the state’s sodomy law; expanding reentry courts; eliminating the mandatory retirement age for judges; raising property taxes in New Orleans; and screening newborns for adrenoleukodystrophy.

Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, wants to slap smokers with a $25 fine if they light up within 25 feet of a state office building. Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, wants to ban motorists from talking on cellphones in school zones during posted hours; the fine for a first violation would be $175. Rep. Patrick Connick wants smokers to pay $300 for flicking a cigarette out of their cars.

Also on the agenda: bringing back the electric chair, eliminating speed traps and allowing the sale of wine ice cream. Louisiana could gain an official state book and a state fruit tree. Teenagers could find themselves banned from tanning beds. The use of handheld cellphones while driving could become a crime, although an expired inspection sticker could no longer be a stoppable offense.

From her home in Madisonville, Jennifer Hough-Loos will be anxiously awaiting the outcome of House Bill 216. Legislators already exempted cakes and cookies made by home cooks from the state sanitary code. HB216 would extend the exemption to pie bakers such as Hough-Loos, allowing her to work from her home without making expensive equipment upgrades to make the health inspectors happy.

Hough-Loos, a former pastry chef, sells seven or eight pies a month from home while tending to her infant daughter. “It’s not that much income, but I’m trying to build a customer base so I can open a storefront one day,” she said.