It Isn’t Just Education And Pension Reform Up At The Capitol

State legislators at their current session have spent most of their time debating education and retirement reform. However, other bills affecting everyday life for Louisiana citizens are either speeding along to passage or dying quick deaths.

Motorists who don’t have proof of insurance need to know a bill has cleared a House committee that would allow police officers to tow a vehicle if the driver can’t show proof of insurance on a first violation. Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Meaux, sponsor of House Bill 1053, said 869,000 of the state’s 3.3 million vehicles — 26 percent — don’t have insurance.

Current law gives police discretion about when to tow an uninsured vehicle, but Garofalo said there is no reliable method for knowing how many times a driver has been ticketed for failing to show proof of insurance. Whether this is the answer, it’s obvious having 26 percent of the state’s drivers on the highways without insurance is much too high. HB 1053 still has to pass the full House and Senate.

Vehicle owners who grow weary of having to get those annual auto inspections will be happy to know a bill has passed the Senate unanimously that would give them a chance to get the inspections every two years. The cost would be $20, but the option wouldn’t be available in parishes where there are clean air restraints. Senate Bill 601 is awaiting action in a House committee.

The House has passed HB 713 that requires the public be given advance notice when law enforcement agencies plan traffic stops to check motor vehicle inspection stickers. That is already done for seat belt and proof of insurance checkpoints.

Smokers are targeted again in HB 378 that passed the House 81-12. It would ban smoking within 25 feet of handicapped ramps and entrances to public and private buildings where inside smoking is already banned. Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, the bill’s author, said “there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.” The legislation is awaiting action in the Senate.

Pet overpopulation has spurred House passage of a bill that outlaws the selling of cats and dogs from roadside stands and other public places. HB 231 wouldn’t apply to legitimate pet outlets, at humane societies and to individuals who sell dogs and cats from their homes. Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Metairie, told the House no reputable breeder sells dogs and cats on the side of the road. His bill is in the Senate.

Humane societies will like that restriction, but they lost another one by a wide margin. Rep. Tom Willmott, R-Kenner, wanted to prohibit dogs and cats from riding unrestrained in the back of pickup trucks and utility trailers. The prohibition would have only applied to roads where the speed limit is 40 or more miles per hour.

Willmott ran head-on into the hunting culture in Louisiana, which is one of the more powerful interest groups at the Capitol. Legislators opposing the restrictions talked passionately about hunters being used to having their dogs jump into the back of their pickups and taking short trips with them in the state’s rural areas.

HB 676 was defeated in committee by a 12-2 vote, even after Willmott read a letter from a veterinarian talking about the serious injuries and horrible deaths of unrestrained dogs. Some drivers feel loose animals in trucks pose a hazard to them as well.

The House was scheduled to debate HB 47 Wednesday that says a driver convicted of a second drunken driving charge within a year of a first conviction should have to spend at least 30 days in jail and undergo substance abuse counseling. The sentence could be lowered if the driver undergoes court-approved driver improvement and substance abuse counseling.

Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Livingston, the author, said, “I am not locking people up and throwing away the key. If you get two in a year, you have a problem and need to fix the problem.”

Rep. Henry Burns, R-Haughton, confused many legislators when he explained HB 197 that requires all occupants of a motor vehicle wear seat belts. Burns said he’s updating the seat belt law for drivers and passengers in sports utility vehicles. He said SUVs didn’t exist when the original seat belt law was passed. His legislation was approved 89-1 and is awaiting Senate action.

Red light and speed cameras in cities and parishes that have them are always under attack. Legislators don’t like to mess around with local government decisions and have already rejected nearly a half-dozen anti-traffic camera bills. Motorists don’t like the cameras, but officials in localities that have them insist they do improve driver behavior and reduce accidents.

One of the best ways to kill a bill — good or bad — is to say it’s too much government intrusion into people’s lives. I have seen that tactic used successfully over and over again at legislative sessions. Governments go too far at times, but they also play a vital role in protecting the best interests of the citizens they serve.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than ÿve decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected]

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