MORGAN CITY -- Rep. Sam Jones has filed three bills for the upcoming state legislative session, he told the St. Mary Industrial Group Monday.
The deadline was Friday to pre-file measures for the session which begins Monday. So far, more than 1,500 bills have been filed.
Jones, D-Franklin, noted his three bills while saying that Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Gray, has filed 43. Harrison was scheduled to be in attendance but could not make it due to illness, Jones told the audience.
“At some point, don’t we have enough government?” Jones asked while referring to the numerous bills filed.
The three bills Jones filed include one providing for the procedure for discharging, demoting or disciplining a permanent teacher (concerning tenure issues), another requiring retirement systems to notify each other when certain retirees return to work, and the final one creating the St. Mary Economic Development District.
It was the latter that Jones spoke about Monday, saying he probably will not pursue passage this session, but wants it to be an instrument for discussion.
The proposed law creates the district complete with an 11-member board and a funding mechanism — a sales tax of not more than .25 percent — that would be used to, among other things, fund accounts for maintenance and operation of a governmental procurement center, an economic development operation fund and a revolving loan guarantee fund.
In Jones’ vision, it would be used to aid businesses wanting to locate to St. Mary Parish but which needed specific assistance, essentially assisting business and industry with gap funding.
Also discussed Monday were updates on several projects.
Jones told the SMIG assembly that bids are scheduled to be let Sept. 17 for the overlay of La. 70 between Doiron’s and Adam’s landings. He expects the work to begin in early 2013.
He noted that the state is close to completing the upgrade to I-49 status between Youngsville and the Wax Lake Outlet. The last of the frontage roads in New Iberia are being completed currently, and the interchange at La. 318 (Sorrel) is scheduled for construction in 2013. This leaves the section between the Wax Lake Outlet and the Atchafalaya River, encompassing eastern St. Mary Parish.
Jones said he will become an advocate of the state’s master plan by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority once the Bayou Chene project is included and have local representation on the CPRA board.
He is unlikely, however, to champion Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education plan.
“We’re going to have a very spirited debate,” Jones said.
While he supports tax credits for parents who choose to send their children to charter, private or parochial schools, his concerns lie with both overburdening those systems and with the estimated 97 percent of children who will not leave their failing schools to attend another.
The voucher system touted as a viable solution in the New Orleans Recovery District would allow students in schools graded C, D or F to move to a higher ranked school.
“If we’re not having trouble at Berwick High School, maybe we don’t need the New Orleans system,” Jones said, adding “one size doesn’t always fit all.”
The education plan also calls for charter schools to be paid for with Minimum Foundation Program money that previously would have gone to the public school system.
It will cause an estimated $2.2 million loss in St. Mary Parish, partially from the voucher payments and partially from a cut in MFP money because tax collections are high in the parish.
Jones’ problems with this method of paying for the charter schools, which previously were paid with funds outside of the MFP formula, are two-fold: where the money will end up, and the fact that officials elected by the citizenry will not have control over how the tax dollars are spent.
“It’s basically a shell game,” Jones said, explaining that while you can’t tag the money St. Mary is losing and follow it elsewhere, it will simply wind up in another area of the state.
On the subject of the state retirement system, Jones noted that during the 1980s and 1990s, municipal governments went through the same growing pains the state currently is with its retirement system. Both systems are structured nearly identically.
At that time, the municipalities indemnified their funds and made them sound, while the state didn’t. Currently, the municipal system is 95 percent funded, while the state system is funded at 57 percent, Jones said.
He added that he believes laws should be in place requiring the state to pay its complete match every year. There have been many lean years in which the state matched half or none of employee funds, Jones said.
Finally, he said two similar bills deal with funding charity hospitals and include St. Mary Parish — one for Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma and the other for University Medical Center in Lafayette.
Both essentially create a hospital district encompassing various parishes that would use a millage to create a funding mechanism for the hospitals. The bill supporting Chabert was filed by Harrison, while the UMC bill was filed by Sen. Fred H. Mills Jr., R-St. Martin Parish, and includes a local option vote for each parish to include itself or not.