Bill would create election day

No statewide election is scheduled this year but an effort is underway to slate one so Louisiana voters can decide the fate of proposed constitutional amendments approved in the current legislative session.

House Bill 522, which calls for an Oct. 19 special statewide election, moved out of committee Friday at the request of House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.

In an interview after the hearing, Kleckley said he wants to expedite a statewide vote on two propositions aimed at pumping more Medicaid dollars into the state’s health care system and locking up other health funds.

One proposition would set up a constitutional fund and authorize Louisiana community hospitals to contribute dollars that would then be used to attract one-and-a-half times that in federal Medicaid funds.

Kleckley said federal approvals are required as well as further legislative action after the constitutional amendment wins voter approval. “It’s a long process and we just don’t want to delay it any longer than we need to,” he said.

Another Kleckley proposition would lock up the health care financing fund in the constitution. Dollars from nursing home and intermediate care facilities “bed taxes” flow into that fund.

The two House-passed propositions are awaiting debate in the Senate.

If there’s no special statewide election, these propositions, as well as four others, possibly including the East Baton Rouge breakaway southeast school district, would not go before voters until fall 2014.

A statewide election would cost taxpayers $6 million.

Secretary of State’s Office legislative liaison Joe Salter said that municipal elections are already scheduled on the October date, and $1.7 million is budgeted for the purpose. Another $4.3 million would be required to fund statewide balloting, Salter said.

The legislation calling for the Oct. 19 election, HB522, will be sent to the House Appropriations Committee for review because of its cost, Kleckley said.

The legislation was filed by state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe.

The House and Governmental Affairs Committee quickly approved the bill after its chairman, state Rep. Tim Burns, R-Mandeville, told the panel that “leadership” had requested that the measure be advanced.

Public Affairs Research Council President Robert Travis Scott said proponents of the special statewide election plan will have to justify the added expense. “What I’m looking at is trying to figure out which of the constitutional amendments the leadership feels like it needs to have sooner rather than later,” Scott said.

Scott said that will drive the discussion about the October election.

“Is it the hospital assessment bill because that would have a revenue impact?” Scott asked.

Scott said the October election also would push up any election for the breakaway Baton Rouge southeast school district should that proposed constitutional amendment clear the legislative process.

The breakaway district legislation states the proposition would go to voters at the next statewide election, instead of mentioning the 2014 election.

Another proposed constitutional amendment would end the mandatory age 70 retirement for Louisiana judges.

Scott also said the October balloting is likely to be a low turnout election because only municipal elections are on tap otherwise.