Hopping Around the House

House committees were hopping Wednesday and Thursday, taking testimony on as many bills as possible before the three-day Easter weekend. Several bills taken up Wednesday had compassionate results, in keeping with the spirit of the season. HB 627 by Rep. Rodney Lyons (D-Harvey) would permit medical marijuana prescriptions for children suffering from autism-related seizures. Head of the Louisiana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. John Vanchierre, argued we don’t know if it’s safe. “Allowing medical marijuana to be used, without FDA standards in place, is not appropriate,” Vanchierre said. “Some kids are more prone to seizures if they have medical marijuana.” But Dr. James Smith, a Baton Rouge cardiologist, disagreed. “Cannabis is a safe medicine,” he explained. “Last year, 900 people died from acetominophen (Tylenol). None have ever died from cannabis.” The bill advanced to the full House, 9-4. HB 284, by Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge) would prohibit the practice of effectively shaming school children unable to pay for school lunches. Last year, Louisiana schools denied 439 meals. The bill requires schools to serve the standard meal to children – rather than a simple cheese sandwich — even if their parents are in arrears on paying for those meals. It also bans the practice of excluding kids from school activities due to the unpaid bill. Collection efforts would be made administratively. The House Education Committee voted 7-4 to advance the measure for a full House vote. Schoolkids aren’t the only ones who will get to continue eating. HB 128 by Rep. Jay Morris (R-West Monroe) was aimed at SNAP (food stamp) recipients – though to be perfectly accurate, it was aimed more at restricting the power of the governor and his administration. The bill would require the legislature to approve any waiver requested of federal work requirements for able-bodied adults who do not have dependents. These waivers have been requested – and granted – for years, providing food stamps for the long-term unemployed and those who are awaiting decisions on their disability claims. (They can’t work because they’re disabled, but have not yet been officially designated disabled.) The bill further required the Department of Children and Family Services (which administers the federally funded SNAP program) to start assigning those individuals to work programs, which would cost that department an additional $5-million per year. Objections to this fiscal note, more than the mean-spiritedness behind the bill, ultimately persuaded the bill’s author to voluntarily withdraw it from further consideration. In addition, House Insurance committee members advanced three bills brought by Rep. Julie Stokes (R-Kenner), to require medical insurers to cover the tests and procedures needed for the diagnosis of and recovery from breast cancer – as well as subsequent testing for recurrence. Stokes was diagnosed last summer, and dropped out of the Treasurer’s race last fall because of it. She is cancer-free now, but it has been a grueling battle. On Thursday, it was back to business, as usual. Equal pay opponents doubled-down on victim blaming when HB 251 – requiring those seeking state contracts to comply with the same law that covers state workers — came up in the House Labor committee Thursday. Rene Amar with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) told the committee Louisiana’s worst-in-the-nation wage gap is primarily because women choose to work in jobs that pay less. “The husband goes to work for the refineries, making $100,000 a year. The wife chooses to be a schoolteacher, making $45,000 a year,” Amar said. “It’s about the professions we choose.” Additionally, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) state director Dawn Starns said the bill shouldn’t pass because, “Employers are here to create jobs. They don’t want to live in constant fear of being sued. And, as we all know, Louisiana is ranked #7 in the nation for being a ‘judicial hellhole’.” That gave Rep. Blake Miguez (R- Erath) an opening to take the “blame-game” in another direction. “You know, when I’m driving in my district, or over here to Baton Rouge, all I see are billboards for trial attorneys. They can afford to put up these billboards, but small businesses can’t even afford a receptionist! Trial attorneys are the problem!” Despite the author’s (Rep. Joe Bouie, D-New Orleans) impassioned argument to “Let this bill be debated on the House floor, and represent the interests of our women constituents, not just the interests of the business community,” one of the two women on House Labor moved to kill the bill. Rep. Beryl Amedee (R-Houma), joined by Rep. Dodie Horton (R-Haughton) and the seven male Republicans on the committee prevailed over the four Democrats who wished to advance the bill. Similarly, Rep. Bouie’s HB 192, to establish a state minimum wage of $15.00 per hour, was killed by the same committee, on a straight party-line vote. A measure which had been deflecting a lot of social media attention from the bills addressing the more comprehensive problem of low pay in Louisiana fared quite differently in the House Agriculture Committee Thursday. HB 561, by Rep. Julie Emerson (R-Carencro) would do away with the licensing requirement for florists. The law, established in 1950, was intended to provide a layer of protection from spreading insects and pests to Louisiana’s agricultural crops, according to state Ag Commissioner Mike Strain. The law currently requires applicants to pass a written exam, though until 2010, those seeking to arrange flowers also had to pass a 4-hour long practical exam, as well. Louisiana is the only state to mandate florists be licensed. The crucial question was asked by Rep. Gene Reynolds (D-Minden): “Does arranging flowers pose any threat to public health or safety?” Supported by LABI, Americans for Prosperity, and the Governor’s Office, the bill advanced to the full House on an 8-6 vote. There, it will join another Emerson measure, HCR 7, to regarding licensing for hair braiders. When lawmakers return to work Monday, the full House will consider Rep. Nancy Landry’s (R-Lafayette) bill to increase the criminal penalties for hazing, as well as Rep. Pat Smith’s bill to assist in early childhood education for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Then Tuesday, they’ll debate and vote on Rep. Sherman Mack’s (R-Albany) bill to roll back some of the probation provisions from 2016’s criminal justice reforms.