Southwest Daily News - Sulphur, LA
  • Local legislators try to get past pay raise shadow

  • Four local legislators would like the public to know that no, they did not vote for the pay raise.

    Senator Willie Mount, along with Representatives Chuck Kleckley, Mike Danahay and Brett Geymann, spoke to the League of Women Voters during a legislative recap luncheon Friday.

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  • Four local legislators would like the public to know that no, they did not vote for the pay raise.
    Senator Willie Mount, along with Representatives Chuck Kleckley, Mike Danahay and Brett Geymann, spoke to the League of Women Voters during a legislative recap luncheon Friday.
    "I think so much has been discussed about the pay raise that it's been forgotten that we've done so many other things," Mount said.
    "It really has overshadowed everything we've done this session," Geymann echoed.
    "We've had great opportunities; ethics reform, a tax session where we rolled back or eliminated taxes on industry across the state, which will save our local industry about $50 million annually," Kleckley said.
    Each legislator took time to appear at the League's luncheon to touch upon some of the issues and achievements that occurred during the first six months of 2008.
    "A great deal of work has been done, and we will continue to focus on shoring up those idiosyncrasies within the ethics laws, and we're very proud, as a delegation, to be a part of those ethics reforms," Mount said.
    The ethics laws required a bit of tweaking, Danahay said.
    "Things like the fact that we could not go out and get a driver's license or a hunting license because that's contractual between the state and the official, and it was prohibited," he said.
    Mount said that the legislators have had a jam packed session in the last three months.
    She said that legislative work included a redistribution of some of the responsibility in workforce development.
    "We began that process by making it a priority. We're working, in some ways, decentralizing where we're going to overhaul the Department of Labor, turning it into a workforce commission," said Mount.
    A bill was passed with the aim of keeping teacher pay in line with averages across the South. On average, teachers across the state received a $1,019 raise.
    "We've continued to target trying to pay our teachers an average pay that equals, at least, the southern regional average. This pay raise will keep us benchmarking with that southern regional average," Mount said.
    According to the Senator, average teacher pay in Louisiana is about $45,000 a year. Teacher support workers received a $1,000 raise as well.
    The Governor added additional money, to the tune of $90 million, for incentive pay for teacher accreditation and innovative teaching methods.
    This is something we want to encourage, Mount said.
    Senator Mount also touted a new bill that ties student truancy with the privilege of driving.
    "Students that apply for a drivers license will now be required to bring a document from their school that shows if they have been habitually truant from school, and if so, will be denied a driver's license," Mount said.
    Page 2 of 3 - The bill's wording includes an option for local school boards whether or not to implement this law.
    Representative Geymann said that "the difference between last term and this term is like night and day."
    "I would argue that this is the best legislative body and the best governor in the history of the state," he continued.
    Geymann is chair of the Appropriations Committee.
    This year we broke down the appropriations process into subcommittees, Geymann said. Legislators that had budget items would come before these subcommittees and would be "grilled," Geymann noted, "about 'Why are we increasing spending here, why are we decreasing there, where is this going?'"
    "It's the beginning of what I call true budget reform. We have no one-time money paying for recurring budget expenses," he continued.
    Representative Kleckley touted a victory in health insurance care.
    "What we did in the committee was we passed a law that requires health insurance to cover autism," he said.
    "We all know someone who has autism. Autism is a disease that, if you can catch it at an early age, you can turn it around,” Kleckley said.
    There is an annual cap of $36,000 that health insurance providers must adhere to, along with a lifetime cap of $150,000.
    "One lady said that her child, had we not addressed the autism issue, would have been institutionalized, and over the course of his life would have cost $5 million," Kleckley said.
    Kleckley also indicated that the homeowner's insurance market in Louisiana is stabilizing.
    "We've worked really hard to try and stabilize the homeowner's market here in Louisiana, and I think we've really done some good things."
    Homeowner insurance writers now have criteria they must follow. One of those criteria is that companies that want to write insurance in the state of Louisiana must cover those along the coast.
    "No more picking only those in north Louisiana," Kleckley said.
    They also have to write companies out of the Citizen's Plans, which are the plans of last resort.
    Legislation also passed that allows insurance companies to set their own hurricane deductible zones. This means that no longer will someone in Sherveport have to pay the same hurricane deductible as someone in Grand Isle.
    Locally, a bill failed to pass committee that would use tax money generated from L’Auberge du Lac and Sugarcane Bay to help pay for a reconstruction of the Nelson/I-210 area.
    "You always learn something when you file a bill. I talked to several legislators about the bill and we talked about our challenges, not only at that intersection but other state roads in Calcasieu Parish. Whether it was Country Club Road or Highway 27 south to the parish line, or a road connecting Moss Bluff to Westlake; I thought those were very critical issues that need to be addressed," Kleckley said.
    Page 3 of 3 - He also said that there were alternative, more aggressive ways to get their goal accomplished, including bond issues, tax incremental financing and local money that could be applied to these projects.
    "What they tell me is that if you continue to wait on the state, then you'll end up waiting a long, long, long time for it to happen."
    "I think we can get some local money, whether it be taxes or gaming money, but we need to address these roads," Kleckley said.