Holden weighs in on issues post-session

Mayor-President Kip Holden didn’t come into the Louisiana Legislature’s 2014 session with a hefty wish list, but the former legislator and potential lieutenant governor candidate’s administration has deemed the session successful.

The Legislature didn’t pass bills that would have barred the use of cameras to bust people for running red lights, Holden’s Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel noted. Nor did state lawmakers hand down “unfunded mandates” that the city-parish will have to cover.

“We’re always playing defense on those issues,” Daniel said. “Those are things we watch.”

Holden’s administration was watching legislation that sought to hamper efforts to create a new city in East Baton Rouge Parish. Holden spoke out in favor of bills that could have placed additional hurdles on St. George supporters and had been working to build support for the legislation, but Daniel said none of those bills was part of the administration’s official agenda for the session. In the end, none of the anti-St. George legislation passed.

In the final days of the session, the House abandoned legislation that would have set a deadline for St. George supporters to collect signatures to get their incorporation attempt on a ballot. They face no deadline to get the 18,000 signatures they need. Meanwhile, a separate bill that would have allowed everyone in East Baton Rouge Parish to vote on the incorporation plan — rather than just those voters who live in the proposed city’s boundaries — was shelved earlier in the session.

The “wins” for Holden’s administration weren’t as high profile, but Daniel said they were important.

“We are very supportive of our legislative delegation doing what they do to help our area,” he said. “The things we were trying to do with photo enforcement and fending off unfunded mandates, I think we were very successful.”

Baton Rouge monitors intersections with red light cameras, but some in the State Capitol had hoped to curb their use.

Holden testified this session against a bill that would have kept local governments from using traffic cameras to issue tickets on state highways, including those within city limits, unless motorists are traveling more than 10 mph over the posted speed limit. Another bill would have made yellow lights last longer, effectively cutting down the number of red-light runners. Both died in the House.

Despite a stinging loss on an education overhaul bill, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber hailed “many positive outcomes in the areas of crime, small business and workforce.”

“These wins will have long-lasting, positive impacts on the capital region,” BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp said in a statement.

The city’s public works director is slated to become a standing member of the Capital Area Ground Water Conservation Commission.

“We know how important water is for the area, and we want to make sure it stays a viable resource,” Daniel said.

Law enforcement-backed legislation that creates a funding stream for a misdemeanor jail in East Baton Rouge Parish by allowing an assessment on bench warrant fees. It’s up to judges whether to assess the additional fee.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said he thinks the misdemeanor jail could improve crime rates in the parish. “When there’s no consequences, people tend not to abide by it,” he said.

Misdemeanor offenders could face jail time, instead of a summons. Offenders also would go through the booking process, so their names, fingerprints, photos and offenses would be logged in the criminal system.

Daniel said Holden’s administration believes a misdemeanor jail “could be helpful” but is concerned about funding.

“We’re not sure that bill’s going to solve it,” he said, noting that the additional fees are at the discretion of judges.

Also on the law enforcement side, the Legislature didn’t pass a bill that would have changed the way City Court judges are elected in Baton Rouge — legislation also backed by Claitor. Baton Rouge’s City Court bench has been a long-standing issue, and a federal judge has strongly urged the Louisiana Legislature to reapportion to better reflect the city’s majority black population.

Claitor proposed shifting districts to allow an at-large member, but some members of the Legislative Black Caucus opposed the plan, saying it would add a layer of racially-driven politics to the at-large position.

“The plan that was presented was generally proportional, in addition to being a legal legitimate plan,” Claitor said. “Others had a different idea about it.”

It’s unclear whether Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson plans to follow through with threats and intervene before legislators get another chance to try to address the issue.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of the Louisiana Legislature, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .