Watching the Legislature in action can be both a rewarding and frustrating exercise. Seeing good bills pass is uplifting. However, bad legislation can give you heartburn in a hurry. Today, let’s talk about some of the positives.
My favorites during the recent session aren’t monumental measures, but they render valuable services to the citizens that public officials serve. One makes it possible for motorists to get their auto inspections every two years. They will still cost the same $10 per year, but the convenience of getting that extra year is worth both time and money.
Maybe one of these days legislators will decide to let owners of new vehicles get a three-year grace period. Shouldn’t a car or truck be safe enough when it’s that new without having to be inspected? However, the inspection stations, State Police and the Office of Motor Vehicles wouldn’t be happy about losing the revenues they receive from the inspections. The stations keep $4.75 per year, State Police get $4 and the OMV receives $1.25 for administrative costs.
Legislators finally showed some courage by reducing by one hour the time election polls are open on Saturdays. Voting places would open at 7 a.m. instead of 6 a.m., but still be open until 8 p.m. The change wouldn’t apply to congressional and presidential elections held on Tuesdays.
Most of the polls are manned by older citizens, and 14 hours or more is simply too much to ask. Secretaries of state have been trying to shorten the hours for years, and this is their first victory — small though it is. Early voting has been expanded and complaints that shorter hours deny people a chance to vote are ridiculous. Voting hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. would be ideal, and citizens would get much earlier election returns.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has already signed a bill that allows police officers to tow a vehicle on a first violation if the driver can’t show proof of insurance. Previous law gave the police discretion about whether to tow a vehicle in such circumstances, but there is no reliable way to know how many times a driver has been ticketed for failing to show proof of insurance.
Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, sponsored the legislation. He said 869,000 of the state’s 3.3 million vehicles — 26 percent — don’t have insurance. Too many innocent parties end up paying for repairs after accidents when there are that many drivers on the road without insurance. Failure to strictly enforce the insurance requirement makes a mockery of state law.
The governor has signed two bills that make it possible for veterans to have that designation stamped on their driver’s licenses. Veterans have every right to get that recognition, especially since driver’s licenses are used so often for identification. Proper paperwork would have to be provided to the Office of Motor Vehicles showing proof of veteran status.
Positive steps were also taken on the state’s ethics program. One law that passed gives the Board of Ethics authority to appeal decisions made by the Ethics Adjudicatory Board that hears and decides cases. Another extends investigations beyond the one-year limit under certain circumstances. Both are designed to fix flaws that have stymied ethics enforcement.
A third measure was defeated, and that’s a good thing. It would have exempted architects, engineers, certified public accountants, abstractors and land surveyors who are working for state and local governments from the ethics code. The state’s ethics laws need more teeth and this would have taken them in the opposite direction.
The House is used to seeing the Senate unravel a number of bills it sends to the upper chamber, but the House killed a bad bill that the Senate had approved 34-3. It would have allowed the state to use surplus property as an incentive to lure companies to the state. The Department of Economic Development would have been able to sell or lease the property without public auction or sealed bid.
One piece of property next to the state Capitol used to be the home of the state Department of Insurance, and it was being considered as a bargaining chip. Why the state would want to get rid of such valuable property that close to the seat of government is mind-boggling.
Legislators let three bad video poker bills slip through the cracks, but Gov. Jindal vetoed them all. Each liberalized the rules under which video poker establishments operate. They would have made it more difficult to revoke or suspend video poker licenses, easier to operate more machines and let outlets close their restaurants while allowing customers to continue playing the machines.
Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, perhaps one of the best gambling experts in the country, was right on target when he called video poker the “crack cocaine of gambling.” The odds of winning are high, it preys on the poorest among us, is too accessible and extremely addictive. The governor’s vetoes will help protect video poker gamblers from themselves.
Thank goodness there was some uplifting news coming out of a session that was wracked by controversy almost from the beginning.