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This item originally appeared in the April 28, 2005 issue of The Tech Talk.

To the editor:

At noon Monday, the Louisiana Legislature convened for the 2005 legislative session.

Thanks to (yet another) amendment to our state constitution, we have "fiscal" sessions in odd-numbered years and regular sessions in even-numbered years.

This will be the first year legislators are able to file five general (nonfiscal) bills and an unlimited number of local and fiscal bills.

This is certainly a welcome change for me because during previous fiscal sessions, none of my committees met.

My committee assignments include House and Governmental Affairs (vice-chairman), Judiciary and Civil Law.

The proposed bills receiving the most attention, so far, are the so-called "sin tax" bills that would fund teacher pay raises.

The various bills would increase the tax on tobacco products (smoke, chew, dip, etc), alcoholic beverages and video poker.

If past tax-increase measures are any indication, the amounts of the proposed increases will probably change as the authors try to gather enough votes to make it through the process.

Several bills have been filed to undo/change/repeal the "Stelly Plan."

Although this measure was supported by more than two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of the citizens who voted in 2002, constant attempts have been made to change or repeal it.

I voted for the Stelly Plan in 2002, and I stand behind that vote here in 2005. As a legislator and an attorney, I found it unfair that college students paid the same tax on a loaf of bread that I did or that a senior citizen on a fixed income paid the same tax on a gallon of milk that I did.

Do I like paying higher income taxes? No. Do I believe that "to whom much is given, much is required?"

Yes.

Stelly has been a step in the right direction for our state: Our bond rating has greatly improved, and we no longer have to rely on "temporary taxes" to balance our budget.

If you are interested in a nonpolitical analysis of Stelly, go to www.par-la.org and read the information provided by the Public Affairs Research Council.

We will hear several elections-related bills during the session, including a bill to replace our "absentee voting" with "early voting," which I support.

More of a change in labeling than in substance, it would, however, have the effect of adding time for citizens to vote early, if they so choose.

We will also hear a bill to shorten Election Day poll hours, which I oppose. We are spending billions of dollars so people in other countries can have the right to vote. Wouldn't it be a shame for our troops to risk their lives protecting voting rights overseas only to return home and find their own voting rights had been diminished?

Speaking of elections, I recently attended a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures where I learned that Oregon conducts its elections completely by mail.

According to the information given at this meeting, voter participation in Oregon is approximately 70 percent. Several recent special House of Representative elections in Louisiana had less than 20 percent.

I would be very interested to see what our citizens think about a "mail only" system of voting.

In response to recent "rants" I've received in person and through e-mail, I have some final thoughts to share.

First of all, the Louisiana state government is not operating in, has not operated in, and cannot operate in a deficit. Our constitution mandates that we operate with a balanced budget. Therefore, we are not spending more money than we are bringing in.

Our federal government in Washington, D.C. is operating with a deficit and borrowing money from foreign countries to pay our national debts; your state government in Baton Rouge is not.

I would also like to make it clear that the Louisiana Legislature has absolutely no control over "activist judges" who are "legislating from the bench."

All judgeships in the state of Louisiana, except for administrative law judges and judges temporarily appointed, are elected by the people in the district in which each judge serves. The Legislature has no authority to impeach judges elected in this state (or in Florida either).

If you have thoughts or ideas that you think will improve our state, don't just call your local talk radio show: contact your representative and/or senator.

During the session, representatives can be reached at (225) 342-6945 and senators at (225) 342-2040. You can e-mail me at rgallot@legis.state.la.us.

Rick Gallot

State Representative


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