Brief highlights of 2014 legislative session

Jindal signs retiree pension raise into law

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Sunday legislation that gives the first bump on monthly retirement checks for about 100,000 retired state employees in about six years.

The package linked the 1.5 percent increase in retiree pension checks to passage of separate legislation that would limit the amount and frequency of future increases. The increase represents a roughly $350 average annual benefit increase, according to the Governor’s Office.

“It’s a victory on a number of different fronts,” said state Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette.

Retirement system investment earnings over an amount set in law go into the special accounts the Legislature set up for the purpose of cost-of-living adjustment granting.

Robideaux sponsored House Bill 1225, which would require more of the systems’ investment earning to go into reduction of their unfunded accrued liabilities — money required to fill commitments made to retirees and current members over time.

“This legislation is a fiscally responsible way to give retirees a COLA and to reform the systems to make them financially stable for future retirees,” Jindal said.

If the system is less than 55 percent funded, no benefit increase would be granted. If it’s 55 percent but less than 65 percent funded, and the Legislature hasn’t granted an increase in the prior year, a 1.5 percent raise could be granted.

The systems would have to be 85 percent or greater funded to get a 3 percent benefit increase.

HB1225 had to pass in order for the COLAs into effect.

Jindal also signed the measures that actually put the COLAs into effect: Senate Bill 18 grants COLAs for members of the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System; Senate Bill 16 gives the raises to retired State Police officers; Senate Bill 19 for Louisiana School Employees’ Retirement System; and Senate Bill 21 for Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana.

House approves plumbing code deal

The Louisiana House approved changing the decades-old plumbing standards to a new code Sunday evening.

Voting 69 to 22, representatives approved a settlement that would require plumbers to meet the International Plumbing Code instead of the Louisiana Plumbing Code.

House Bill 1048 returns again to the state Senate for consideration of the settlement, called a conference committee report. If senators also approve, then the measure would go to Gov. Bobby Jindal.

HB1048 came out of the state Senate with provisions that would have put residential plumbing under the IPC and leave commercial work under the Louisiana Plumbing Code. Under the settlement, both residential and commercial plumbing would have to adhere to the International Plumbing Code.

State Rep. Erich Ponti, a Baton Rouge Republican and general contractor, said all sides of the negotiation, including organized labor, signed off on the measure that had attracted hundreds of plumbers to the State Capitol during the session.

“I can’t say every single plumber,” approves, Ponti said. “But everyone involved in negotiations signed off on it.”

The negotiated settlement of the issue postponed the implementation of the new code for 1½ years , Ponti said. The deal creates a subcommittee that would come up with recommendations on how the new code goes into effect.

Ponti said 35 other states have adopted the International Plumbing Code.

“This is a big, significant change,” said state Rep. Tom Willmott, R-Kenner. “We are unique in our ways in dealing with plumbing issues.”

Jindal OKs toughening cockfighting ban

Louisiana’s ban on cockfighting will mirror similar laws that prohibit dogfighting in the state.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed Senate Bill 523 by New Orleans state Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat. It becomes law Aug. 1, closing loopholes that existed in the 2008 law that prohibits cockfighting.

The measure broadens the definition of “chicken” in the current law to include roosters, game fowl and other birds.

It also criminalizes the possession, manufacturing, buying and selling of spurs, gaffs and knives if there is evidence the paraphernalia is being used to fight chickens. And it toughens the penalties for anyone convicted of cockfighting.

Louisiana was the last state to make the rooster fights illegal.

Jindal’s office announced the bill signing this weekend.

Senate compromises on commissioner hiring

The state Senate agreed Sunday to remove a layer of bureaucracy in the hiring of the state’s higher education commissioner.

At issue in Senate Bill 108 was whether to strip Senate confirmation of the hire as well as salary approval by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget for the leader of the state’s public colleges and universities. In a compromise, the Senate voted 36-0 in favor of stripping the salary approval while retaining Senate confirmation. The Louisiana House also must agree to the compromise.

State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said the salary approval was something that stuck after former Commissioner Sally Clausen angered legislators several years ago. Clausen secretly retired, then had herself rehired, forcing the state to cut her a check for nearly $90,000 in vacation and sick leave time.

Appel said the salary approval poses problems in trying to court quality candidates for a job that currently sits vacant. “(We’re) trying to lure someone away from Chicago or California, and you have to face all those hurdles,” he said.

Jindal signs exemption for former senator

Gov. Bobby Jindal has agreed to carve out a special ethics exemption for a former state senator, allowing the ex-lawmaker to lobby the Legislature even though his brother is currently in the state Senate.

Jindal’s office announced the bill signing this weekend, and it became law immediately.

House Bill 459 doesn’t name who it was designed to help. But its sponsor, Democratic Rep. Jeff Arnold, of New Orleans, has said it was written for former state Sen. Francis Heitmeier, whose brother, David, is a state senator. Both Heitmeiers are Democrats.

Francis Heitmeier represents the New Orleans Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association, a river pilots organization.

State Sen. David Heitmeier, of New Orleans, didn’t vote on the measure when the bill was up for consideration.

Lawmakers seek to hide Capitol video

Lawmakers want to make secret the security surveillance video from the Louisiana Capitol complex.

Senators on Sunday passed the final version of Senate Bill 446 to exempt the video from the public records law. A 32-1 vote sent the measure to Gov. Bobby Jindal for consideration.

State Sen. Sherri Buffington, R-Keithville, says she doesn’t want people to use surveillance footage from the Capitol to spot vulnerabilities in the building’s security.

When the Senate first passed it, the bill would have exempted all state building security footage from Louisiana’s public records law, including thousands of facilities across the state.

Senators agreed to a House rewrite that limited the measure to the Capitol and its immediate buildings, grounds and parking areas.