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'07 Legislative Session Recap

July 1, 2007 12:00 AM

As expected, the 2007 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature was relatively light on conservation and sportsmen's issues.  The session focused on fiscal matters as required by the Louisiana constitution for regular sessions held in odd-numbered years.  Legislators were allowed to introduce only 5 bills each on subject matter not fiscal in nature, and being an election year, most were reluctant to introduce anything outside the fiscal agenda that might "rock the boat" for their sporting constituency.  That said, there were a few major bills passed and some resolutions that will be important if followed through on.

By far the most significant legislation of the session for conservationists was the proposed state sales tax dedication to the Conservation Fund.  HB 919 started out to allocate one-twentieth of a penny of the 4-cent state sales tax to the Conservation Fund, the operating fund of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  The fiscal note on the bill estimated that it would bring in up to $43 million annually.  That amount represents nearly half of the LDWF budget.  Observers were amazed that legislators did not balk at this significant allocation of state general funds.  The bill sailed through the House of Representatives without opposition like a lot of other bills committing millions of dollars for projects and programs as legislators sought to find uses for the $3 billion surplus in state revenues that had accumulated in the wake of the storms of 2005.

Apparently the Governor and Division of Administration had not signed off on the concept of dedicating state sales tax which is typically used to fund purposes like higher education and public health and social services that do not have sources of dedicated funds to operate from.  That fact hit home in the Senate Finance Committee when senators agreed to pass the bill out of the committee with the understanding that it would be amended to reduce the impact on the state general fund before final adoption by the full Senate.  Passing the committee was dicey as a reluctant member or two had to be called back into the room to make a quorum for the vote.

Ultimately, the bill was amended to delete the sales tax dedication and substitute the dedication of mineral revenues from the Attakapas Wildlife Management Area in the Atchafalaya Basin to the Conservation Fund, but not without being placed back on the Senate calendar in the final hour before the deadline for passing House bills off the Senate floor.  Apparently the Division of Administration objected to making the mineral dedication permanent.  After notifying the Commissioner of Administration that only a statutory dedication of the Attakapas mineral revenue would be acceptable to supporters of the legislation, Senator Joe McPherson of Woodworth was able to get his colleagues to agree take the bill off the calendar and finally adopt it.  The amended bill's fiscal note estimates $19.2 million annually to the CF over the next 5 years from mineral production on the area.  Although this essentially is general fund money, state mineral revenues go through a series of trust funds and the state's "rainy day" fund and only the excess becomes available in the general fund for appropriation by the Legislature, so mineral revenue dedications have a less direct impact on the state general fund than a dedication of sales taxes which are mainlined to the fund.

It is worth noting that the two other states which have harnessed a percentage of state sales tax revenue to fund their fish and wildlife (and parks) conservation agencies (Missouri and Arkansas) mounted multi-year campaigns to have the proposition placed on the ballot and voted on by the people of their states.  The dedication is not revocable by simple act of their legislatures.  It is possible that any statutory dedication of state sales tax by a simple majority vote of the Louisiana Legislature could be repealed in future years if the state found itself in dire financial straits.  Some predict that will happen sooner than later.

Unknown to most legislators and constituents of LDWF, the Attakapas mineral revenues have been allocated to the Conservation Fund for the immediate past and current fiscal years by proclamation of the Governor in an agreement secured by former agency head, Dwight Landreneau.  That is the reason that predicted shortfalls to the Conservation Fund have not occurred the past and new fiscal years and the Legislature was able to approve a record FY 07 appropriation to the agency with funds to spare in the Conservation Fund.  Assuming steady income from the Attakapas minerals for the next several years, the LDWF should be able to meet its existing obligations and provide services at current levels.

Before leaving this subject a few more observations are in order.  The original proposal of HB 919 to dedicate a portion of the state sales tax to the Conservation Fund was supported by most conservation organizations and many legislators based on the premise that the outdoor activities of boating, fishing, hunting, birding, etc. that are enhanced and regulated by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries stimulate the purchase of gear, fuel, groceries and other goods and services that generate millions of dollars in state and local sales taxes and support many jobs and associated state income taxes, and that some reasonable amount of those revenues should be made available to fund the work of the agency in addition to the traditional self-generated revenue of license and permit fees.  Such general fund support is warranted further by the expanding responsibilities given to the agency by the Legislature and Governor that are not related to its core fish and wildlife conservation mission, such as the regulation of big cats, big snakes and nonhuman primates, emergency preparedness, search and rescue, to name a few. Those points were not very well articulated by the LDWF in the process of seeking the dedication of $40 million in state sales tax revenue to the CF, a substantial sum by any gauge.  Neither was the agency forthcoming about how it intended to use an infusion of dollars representing 40-50% of its current budget at a level of detail necessary to inspire confidence that the new dollars would put to the highest and best use.  Perhaps the hope was that, considering the state's flush fiscal situation, the idea would pass under the radar.  That strategy should be rethought for the next time around.  It would also be a good idea for the LDWF to follow the statutory requirement for a biannual review of its funding needs and fee structure by the Natural Resources Committees of the Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives to garner legislative and public support for future efforts to raise funds for the agency.

The list appended to this column describes in pertinent part the conservation-related legislation that was finally adopted by the Legislature.  In addition to HB 919 already covered, the appropriations and capital outlay bills are of interest with regard to funding for the LDWF and other agencies and projects.  One thing that continues to be troublesome is the commitment of state funds to the construction of reservoirs without a preliminary process for assessing impacts to forestland, streams and riparian habitat and evaluating the proposals within the context of local and regional water supply needs.  Some of the proposed reservoir projects are primarily real estate development plans, having little to do with producing water for agriculture, industrial or domestic uses.

The boat trailer fee allocated to aquatic vegetation research and control was extended (HB 159) thus continuing to support efforts to manage hydrilla, water hyacinth and other noxious aquatic plants that plague Louisiana waterways.  HB 524 establishes a program for titling vessels which will be mandatory for new vessels valued $2500 and over and transferred for the first time on or after July 1, 2008. Titling will be optional for used vessels.  HCR 265 sets up a Recreational Freshwater Fishing Task Force emphasizing habitat development and restoration, access and promotion of the recreational fishing industry in the state.

The state's coastal restoration plan received $147.3 million of the state surplus (HB 765) in addition to ongoing funding to the Department of Natural Resources for coastal restoration work and SB 53 will allow securitization of the anticipated offshore mineral revenue dollars that will be coming to Louisiana in future years so that rights to those anticipated revenues can be sold now for upfront cash to apply to coastal restoration.  This is patterned after the way the state handled the tobacco settlement money and based on the premise that it will be too late to "save the coast" if Louisiana has to wait 10 years for the anticipated large sums of offshore mineral revenue to fund major restoration projects.

SCR 49 puts the state on record in support of reestablishment of the whooping crane to areas of the state that historically supported this impressive bird and urges support from the Louisiana Congressional Delegation and U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service to make it happen.  SCR 95 cites the rationale for the establishment of a state coastal land trust to acquire and manage coastal habitats consistent with the state's coastal restoration plan and requests the Department of Natural Resources to study the concept and report back to the Legislature.  Similarly, SCR 96 requests the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to develop habitat acquisition priorities and make recommendations for funding strategies and report its findings to the Legislature prior to the next session.

 

HB 1 by Alario.  APPROPRIATIONS. Dept. of Agriculture & Forestry - $102,337,147 ($37,710,352 general fund [GF]), 829 positions; Dept. of Culture, Recreation & Tourism: Office of State Parks - $31,578,181 ($29,636,663GF), 421 positions; Dept. of Natural Resources: Atchafalaya Basin Program ?-$544,375, 4 positions; Office of Coastal Restoration & Management - $101,939,673, 150 positions; Dept. of Environmental Quality ?-$148,246,372 ($12,949,058 GF), 986 positions; Department of Wildlife & Fisheries - $99,521,763 [positions: 9 Office of Secretary ($959,882), 79 Office of Management & Finance ($10,742,704), 4 Seafood Promotion and Marketing (877,150), 261 Enforcement Division ($24,668,410), 217 Office of Wildlife ($36,894,205), 230 Office of Fisheries ($25,379,412 plus $14,950,250 federal hurricane relief funds not included in total)].

HB 2 by Townsend, et al.  CAPITAL OUTLAY.  Provides for the capital spending of state government; includes $25,515,000 in Priority 1 (P1), $18,392,000 in Priority 2 (P2), $10,000,000 in Priority 3 (P3), $22,230,000 in Priority 4 (P4) and $37,038,000 in Priority 5 (P5) bond funding, $5,700,000 in State Parks Improvement and Repair Fund, and $200,000 direct from the state general fund for various acquisition, planning and construction projects (AP&C) and maintenance and repairs for state parks and preservation areas administered by the Office of State Parks; $2,625,000 in P1, $1,200,000 in P2 and $2,150,000 in P5 bond funding for AP&C for the Washington Parish Reservoir; $100,000 in P1 bond funding for AP&C for the Castor Creek-Little River Reservoir in LaSalle Parish; $1,000,000 P1, $500,000 P2, bond funding and $500,000 in general funds for AP&C for the Poverty Point Reservoir in Richland Parish; $400,000 in P1 bond funding for AP&C for the Ouachita Water Supply Reservoir; $800,000 in P1, $1,000,000 in P2 and $1,000,000 in P5 bond funding for AP&C for the Allen Parish Reservoir; $1,415,000 in P1, $500,000 P2, and $1,000,000 P3 bond funding for AP&C for the Bayou Duchene Reservoir in Caldwell Parish; $9,000,000 in P1, $4,000,000 in P5 bond funding for the Atchafalaya Basin Protection and Enhancement Program; $2,000,000 in P2, $3,000,000 P3, $3,000,000 P4 and $10,104,250 P5 for Wildlife & Fisheries Enforcement Training Academy; $500,000 in state duck stamp funding, $500,000 in Rockefeller Funds and $1,000,000 in Wildlife Habitat & Natural Heritage Trust funds for wildlife habitat acquisition by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; $4,213,603 from Rockefeller Funds for interpretive center at Rockefeller Refuge; $500,000 from Alligator Resource Fund and $460,000 from Rockefeller Fund for alligator grow out facility at Rockefeller Refuge; $2,500,000 in P1 for LDWF Minden District; $500,000 in P2, $2,380,000 in P3 and $2,000,000 in P5 for LDWF Lake Charles District Office.

HB 159 (Act 183) by Morrish.  BOAT TRAILER FEE/AQUATIC PLANT CONTROL.  Extends without sunset the $3.25 additional annual fee on boat trailer registration (assessed on a 4-year registration renewal basis) that is dedicated to the Aquatic Plant Control Fund.

HB 298 (Act 79) by Pitre. GRAND ISLE PORT COMMISSION/SEAFOOD RESEARCH. Authorizes the Grand Isle Port Commission to utilize a designated 5-acre portion of Caminada Pass for seafood production research.

HB 302 (Act 33) by Quezaire.  COASTAL PROTECTION & RESTORATION.  Abolishes the Hurricane Flood Protection Advisory Commission within the Department of Transportation & Development and adds the chairmen (or designees) of the House and Senate Committees on Transportation and Public Works of the Louisiana Legislature to the Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection and Restoration.

HB 326 (Act 83) by Jack Smith, et al.  MOTORBOAT REGISTRATION FEE.  Makes housekeeping changes to the law regarding motorboat registration fees.

HB 327 (84) by Lambert, et al.  OBSTRUCTION OF CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS.  Prohibits the concealment, destruction or deposit of fish/wildlife taken illegally when such would affect a criminal proceeding; makes such a Class Six violation.

HB 328 (85) by Pierre, et al.  LDWF ELECTRONIC LICENSING.  Authorizes the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries to enter into multi-year contracts up to 10 years in duration for issuing licenses electronically and provides for RFPs for such services.

HB 329 by St. Germain, et al.  SHRIMPING GEAR/BUTTERFLY & SKIMMER NETS.  Includes butterfly and skimmer nets along with trawls with respect to various restrictions and allowances for use for taking shrimp and other species in certain coastal waters.

HB 331 (Act 81) by St. Germain, et al.  REPTILES/AMPHIBIANS.  Provides for a 3-consecutive-day nonresident reptile/amphibian wholesale-retail dealer's license for a $75 fee.

HB 356 (Act 92) by Frith.  OYSTERS/VERMILION BAY.  Extends the time for transplanting oysters and oyster cultch in a portion of Vermilion Bay from the opening date in September through Dec. 1, until 2010.

HB 378 (Act 149) by Baldone.  LITTER PICK-UP/ADOPT A BAYOU.  Establishes an "Adopt A Bayou" litter abatement program and requirements for participation.

HB 407 (Act 190) by K. Carter, et al.  LITTER/DRIVER'S LICENSE FEE.  Extends thru Aug. 15, 2011 the $1 additional fee for Louisiana driver's licenses allocated to litter control.

HB 428 by John Smith, et al.  MILITARY HUNTING/FISHING LICENSE TAX CREDIT.  Provides for, in lieu of reduced license fees, a refundable state income tax credit to active military personnel and their immediate families representing the amount paid for noncommercial Louisiana hunting and fishing licenses purchased; further provides details of the information required on the tax credit application form.

HB 430 by Burns.  LITTERING/GARBAGE TRUCKS.  Modifies the exception for commercial vehicles collecting and transporting refuse from the prohibition against simple littering.

HB 453 by Odinet.  OYSTER VIOLATIONS/VMS.  Applies the requirement of fishing only from a vessel equipped with a vessel monitoring device to penalties for all violations of law and regulation pertaining to oyster harvest, the duration of such requirement depending on the frequency of violation by the offender.

HB 514 by Kenney.  GAMEFISH IMPORTATION.  Allows the importation of certain gamefish fingerlings and all sizes of largemouth bass for stocking in private and approved public waters.

HB 524 by Jack Smith.  VESSEL TITLING ACT.  Authorizes the establishment of a vessel titling program for new vessels transferred for the first time on or after July 1, 2008 vessels with a minimum value of $2,500; requires the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to promulgate rules and regulations to implement the program and provides for a fee of $8 for a certificate of title and an additional $8 handling fee.

HB 765 (Act 203) by Alario and Thompson. SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS/COASTAL PROTECTION & RESTORATION. Among other appropriations, appropriates $147,300,000 to the Coastal Protection & Restoration Fund in the Office of Coastal Restoration & Management in DNR for coastal protection and restoration plan projects.

HB 919 by Alario, et al.  CONSERVATION FUND/ATTAKAPAS WMA MINERAL REVENUE. Dedicates the mineral revenues from the Attakapas Wildlife Management Area to the Conservation Fund which is projected to yield $19.2 Million annually for the next 5 years.

HCR 56 by Badon.  C & D LANDFILL AT MRGO.  Urges the Governor and state and federal permitting agencies not to allow the siting and operation of a construction and demolition debris landfill at the intersection of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet and Bayou Bienvenue in New Orleans, and in particular a 347-acre tract at that location for which a permit for a C & D landfill has been requested.

HCR 67 by Odinet.  MRGO CLOSURE/FLOOD CONTROL AID FOR ST. BERNARD PARISH.  Memorialized Congress to take action needed to expedite the repair of the St. Bernard levee system and to immediately close the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.

HCR 72 by Hutter.  MRGO CLOSURE.  Directs the U. S. Army, Corps of Engineers to begin the process of closing the Mississippi River gulf Outlet.

HCR 80 by Pitre.  GULF HYPOXIA.  Memorializes Congress, the President and the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Reduction Task Force to fulfill the commitment to address the problem of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico by timely and effective actions within the cooperative framework established by the Action Plan for Reducing, Mitigating and Controlling Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.

HCR 192 by Fannin.  WILD HOG CONTROL.  Requests the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to study methods to reduce feral hog populations in areas adjacent to wildlife management areas.

HCR 265 by Townsend.  FRESHWATER ANGLING.  Establishes the 12-member Louisiana Recreational Freshwater Fishing Task Force to advise the LDWF, LWFC and Legislature on matters pertaining to the management, development, and promotion of the freshwater recreational fishing industry in Louisiana including recreational fishing access and opportunities, improving communications between the users of the resource and the department, addressing the need for water body restoration, and providing advice on new water body development to improve fisheries.

HR 97 by Barrow. GREEN BUILDING STANDARDS. Urges the House Committee on Commerce to study and make recommendations regarding the establishment of green building standards for the construction and renovation of public buildings; further identifies organizations the committee should request input from in developing its recommendations.

 

SB 19 (Act 7) by McPherson.  WMA PERMIT FEE/USERS WITH DISABILITIES.  Waives the fee (but not the permit requirement) for users of Wildlife Management Areas with qualifying disabilities.

SB 53 by Dupre, et al.  COASTAL PROTECTION & RESTORATION FINANCING/OCS REVENUE SHARING.  Creates the Louisiana Coastal Protection & Restoration Financing Authority to generate revenue by selling bonds based on the potential future revenues due to the state from leasing and production of minerals on the outer continental shelf offshore Louisiana.

SB 90 by N. Gautreaux.  RENEWABLE ENERGY TAX CREDIT.  Provides for a refundable state tax credit for the purchase and residential installation of solar or wind energy systems, up to 50% of the cost of purchase and installation.

SCR 4 by Duplessis.  ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY/NEW ORLEANS. Urges federal and state government assistance in addressing the disposal of hurricane-related demolition debris disposal in New Orleans and prohibiting the illegal dumping of such debris.

SCR 11 by Dupre and Rep. Pitre.  COASTAL RESTORATION & PROTECTION.  Approves the Comprehensive Master Coastal Protection Plan proposed by the Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority and urges that the entities implementing the plan extend protection to the greatest number of coastal communities as practicable.

SCR 12 by Dupre.  COASTAL PROTECTION PLAN APPROVAL.  Approves the FY ?07-?08 Coastal Protection Plan adopted by the Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority.

SCR 34 by Dupre & B. Gautreaux.  COASTAL PROTECTION / PIPELINE SEDIMENT SLURRY.  Expresses the intent of the legislature that the Comprehensive Master Plan for Coastal Protection include a secondary level of hurricane protection and extend coastal protection to include and protect the greatest number of coastal communities as practicable; and urges the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to consider the feasibility of using the transport of sediment slurry dredged from the Lower Atchafalaya River to the Terrebonne Basin to restore wetlands and protect infrastructure and the "third delta" conveyance channel.

SCR 49 by Nick Gautreaux.  WHOOPING CRANE RECOVERY.  Urges and requests the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, in cooperation with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the coastal landowners of Southwest Louisiana, to investigate the feasibility of reestablishing both migratory and nonmigratory flocks of whooping cranes in Louisiana.

SCR 94 by McPherson.  BLACK CREEK/SCENIC STREAM.  Nominates Black Creek in Grant Parish for inclusion in the Louisiana Natural and Scenic Streams system.

SCR 95 by McPherson.  STATE COASTAL LAND TRUST.  Requests the Department of Natural Resources to study the establishment of a state coastal land trust to acquire, accept and manage coastal lands consistent with the state's coastal protection and restoration plan and to report its findings to the Legislature by February 1, 2008.

SCR 96 by McPherson.  HABITAT ACQUISITION.  Requests the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries, in consultation with other state agencies and private oranizations, to develop a master list of priority unprotected wildlife habitats and to recommend strategies for funding the acquisition and protection of such habitats, and to report its recommendations to the Legislature by February 1, 2008.

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House Bills & Resolutions


 
 
 
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