(Editor's Note: See Rep. Reynolds' full response to these bills on his website goteamgene.com.)
The last two weeks have been very busy with various department bills, most dealing with technical changes and local issues. However, there were a few actions of particular interest to us here in District 10:
Education Bills – PASSED, both House and Senate
My position: AGAINST
Both of the significant education bills (vouchers and STOs) have passed in the House and the Senate and will be signed into law by Gov. Jindal in the coming weeks. While I opposed these bills for reasons I have previously discussed in great detail (see www.GoTeamGene.com to read past updates), I think that now we should focus on working together as best we can to make this reform function in the most efficient ways possible. The more time we spend fighting over it, the more money our state will lose trying to implement it.
We can work hard to find as many ways possible to reduce expense in implementing it and maximize what benefits we can find. Here in District 10, it's unlikely we will see significant impacts initially. Due to the fact that we currently have one private school and no charter schools in the district, the availability and convenience of voucher and tuition assistance use is greatly limited here, and those students already in private schools are not eligible for either form of school choice assistance as this bill was drafted.
The biggest initial local impacts of these bills will more likely be seen among the teachers who will now be evaluated differently. With the new rating system, teachers' effectiveness in the classroom will now have a greater weight in their overall evaluation, making it easier for them to be rewarded for their work (as opposed to seniority alone.) While this is great in many ways, the formula used in the new bill is flawed in that it only allows for a small percentage of the projected highly-ranked teachers to receive such rewards and leaves it open-ended as to who will be selected to receive them.
But again, while many flaws were left unaddressed during the mad rush to push these bills through, we can- – and we will – overcome. We must be smart, savvy, and cohesive as we move ahead so that we can mitigate potential negatives and capitalize on the proposed positives.
Local Election Bills - PASSED, House (pending Senate vote)
My position: FOR
This bill regarded local elections for term limits on school board members – as opposed to it being a State decision. I voted yes for this because it gives you, the voter, a chance to express your views on this topic. I believe it is vitally important that we retain such local power on local-impact decisions. This is a local issue – not a state issue. It should be decided on by the local citizens of the affected district – not by the state. If passed in Senate, this bill will provide for a local election regarding term limits of school board members this fall.
Economic Development Tax Incentive Bills - PASSED, House (pending Senate vote)
My position: FOR
Three major bills addressed various forms of tax incentives for businesses as a means of stimulating economic growth in our state. I supported these bills because they were concise, thoroughly explained and made good sense for not only new businesses, but for existing businesses as well and not only big business, but for small business, too.
This directly applies to District 10 because of the existing potential we have for growth right here! Our future can easily hold big growth in both manufacturing and distribution, specifically, and these bills were tailored to include these types of industries. A true selling point for these incentive projects, as worded in the bills, would provide incentives only to those companies who have established, proven income, meaning that we, as a state, would only be "throwing money" after good money and not losing money on empty promises.
There are several bills coming up for vote this week and next. I will discuss them briefly below, and I welcome your comments, opinions and views by email.
Scrap Metal Bills - This bill addresses scrap metal dealers, and is designed to help mitigate scrap metal theft and the impact of such thefts on dealers. Local law enforcement representatives from District 10 have reviewed the specifics of this bill and have submitted their input. I plan to support this bill on the House floor and welcome any additional feedback.
Pension/Retirement Bills - This is obviously a hot topic for people all across the state, and fortunately these bills have been appropriately divided into individual-impact areas (as opposed to the education bills, which were lumped together into only two.) This allows us, as legislators, to review each one and weigh its specific impacts carefully.
One, in particular, that is up for vote this week involves the merging of the Louisiana School Employees Retirement administration with the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL) administration. This bill would not merge assets, only administration. While it would eliminate an estimated 30 positions, if passed, that number has already been revised from 40 through open discussion alone. These eliminated positions are said to be done via attrition and are said to lead to substantial savings to the state over time.
Before vote, I have remaining questions to ask regarding the projected savings to the state from these cuts and expect to propose and/or support amendments to better define the proposed actions within this bill. These answers and/or results will determine how I will vote.
A second bill up for discussion and vote this week involves a cash-balance retirement plan for the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System (LASERS) and Higher Education employees in the TRSL. This bill proposes this as a mandatory program for incoming employees and as an optional program for existing employees.
Essentially, as the bill is stated, the retirement structure would be changed to that of a 401-K investment program with a non-negative clause, guaranteeing the employee no loss on their investments. Actually, this could be an advantage to the employee and would also save the state money over a longer period of time. It's not a "quick fix" for the state's budget, but it could better secure both the future of the state, and employee, simultaneously.
Additionally, this plan would be portable and transferrable to another job and, as currently written, would in no way affect the current retirement benefits of existing or retired employees. As it stands, I am considering voting in favor of this bill, although it's always possible additional amendments may be added to it before a final vote is called. In this case, my vote will be determined on the impact of such additions.
It is so important that I hear from all of you with concern, interest, and opinion to share on these issues. I welcome your input always. At this point, I am best reached by email due to the fact that I am in Baton Rouge each week while in Session.
It's also important to me that you understand the nature of our State's legislative process. It is not uncommon right now for a proposed bill to grow from 10 to 90 pages overnight. With such sensitive issues up for discussion and decision, the information is changing daily. However, I want the people of District 10 to know that I refuse to cast an uneducated vote.
I will continue to spend hours each day and night pouring over the details of each of these bills so that I can better understand, question, and weigh the factors involved before casting a vote. You are a part of that...so please let me hear from you!