Roundup: House unanimously passes Bishop’s spending bill

Photo by Robert Buckman

The House unanimously approved a $4.9 billion capital outlay bill Thursday afternoon after months of backroom negotiating.

The 99-page spending bill, HB2 by Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, passed 99-0. 

“I saved money last year,” Bishop told the House, “but this year I knew we had to respond to the pandemic.

“I’m not Santa Claus,” he added. “Sometimes I’m the Grinch. But I made sure there were projects in there for your communities.”

Included in the bill are three capital outlay projects for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette: $18 million for the Madison Hall renovations; $13.8 million for planning and construction of an engineering classroom building; and $13,350,000 for planning and construction of a health care education and training facility. 

Lafayette Parish capital improvement projects contained in the bill include $14 million for University Avenue corridor improvements, $13 million of it payable by general obligation bonds; $10,746,000 for the Kaliste Saloom Road widening, all from bonds; $6,233,600 for the planning and construction of the Lafayette Parish government complex, all from bonds; $2 million for Bayou Vermilion flood control planning, $1.5 million coming from the general fund and $500,000 from bonds; and $1 million for Heymann Park improvements, all from bonds. 

It also provides $7 million for planning and construction of a Lafayette Innovation Center for the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. 

Coussan’s industry self-audit bill passes 87-7

After adding an amendment that assuaged concerns over polluters enjoying immunity or hiding environmental violations from the public, Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan, R-Lafayette, finally saw his HB72 receive House passage Thursday, 87-7.

Coussan fielded several questions on the floor from members still concerned about pollution of groundwater being kept from the public under the bill’s confidentiality provisions. Coussan said the confidentiality of business information is already protected by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Under the bill, the investigation of violations would be secret for two years or “until the enforcement action is completed,” Coussan said.

“The department (DEQ) is expecting thousands more inspections” under the self-audit program, Coussan insisted, adding that the DEQ would “look at the past histories of companies” to determine their reliability for self-auditing.

“This bill is an addition to all the laws that are already in place,” he said. “They’re (DEQ) not going to allow bad actors to continue to use the self-auditing program.”

The amended bill excludes several types of violations from those that would be eligible for a company to participate in the self-audit program. Among them are: violations that result in serious actual harm to the environment, that may present an imminent or substantial endangerment to public health or the environment, that are discovered by the Department of Environmental Quality prior to the written disclosure of the violation to the department, and “violations detected through monitoring, sampling, or auditing procedures that are required by statute.”

Bill on Toussaint song stalls over language

A seemingly innocuous bill by Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, designating the late Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” as the “official state cultural song,” was returned to the calendar Thursday when several members complained that the language suggests that it will replace former Gov. Jimmie Davis’ “You Are My Sunshine” as the official state song.

Pierre insisted that the bill would make “Southern Nights” the third state song, after “You Are My Sunshine” and “Give Me Louisiana,” by Doralice Fontane, not replace either.

Pierre was supported in the debate by Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, who said he is co-sponsoring the bill because Toussaint was inspired to write the song during a visit to Terrebonne Parish. But several members noted that the wording of an amendment by Magee removed the word “cultural” and implies that “Southern Nights” would be the state song. Magee returned the bill to the calendar subject to call, pending clarification of the language.

In other action, HB7, a bill by Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman, D-New Orleans, to exempt feminine hygiene products and diapers from the state sales tax, was deferred for debate until Monday.

The Senate adjourned on Wednesday until Monday.