Lawmakers to revisit perennial issues

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A ban on low-riding pants and on the cameras that snap photos of motorists who run red lights. The expansion of term-limits for elected officials. Tweaks in state ethics laws. A new twist on the crackdown against cockfighting.

Apparently state budget woes haven’t sidetracked lawmakers from many of the state Capitol’s perennial debates.

Louisiana’s worsening financial troubles will take center stage for the annual legislative session that started Monday. But amid ideas for budget cuts and government streamlining moves, lawmakers also are proposing to revisit a series of defeated ideas and to rewrite current laws that they debate tweaking annually.

They’ll again discuss whether Louisiana’s ban on smoking in restaurants should be extended to bars that serve food. They’ll again haggle over a state mandate that would require businesses to give equal pay to men and women performing the same jobs. And they’ll again consider a proposal to make more of the records in the governor’s office open to public view.

Legislators are a tenacious bunch, to say the least.

Of course, every lawmaker thinks his idea is a great one, so they’ll keep trying. Maybe they took Sen. John Alario’s oft-repeated words to heart: “In my experience, a good bill takes two or three years to pass. The bad ones we seem to pass the first time we see them,” Alario, D-Westwego, has said repeatedly over the years.

So, there will be more attempts to enact term limits on statewide elected officials who don’t have them and on judges, sheriffs and district attorneys as well.

Rep. John LaBruzzo is back with his divisive idea to require drug testing of welfare recipients. The bill was rejected last year amid complaints it would unfairly target one group of people who receive state public assistance.

But LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, argues the proposal could help families get addiction treatment and could save the state money from long-term health care problems caused by drug abuse.

The argument isn’t expected to fare any better with lawmakers this year.

Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, and others again are trying to ban the cameras that snap photos of speeders and motorists who run red lights. But they face the same objections as last year, from police chiefs and mayors who say the cameras make the streets safer – and who want the money those traffic fines generate.

Rep. Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette, is reviving the failed bill of a former lawmaker, trying to make it illegal for people to wear low-riding pants that expose underwear.

The measure would outlaw sagging pants or any other clothing style that “intentionally exposes undergarments” or more. The idea was proposed twice before by former Sen. Derrick Shepherd and generated jokes among lawmakers and around the country. The House killed the proposal in 2004, and the Senate killed the bill in 2008.

Lawmakers again will consider a litany of proposals to adjust ethics laws, determining who should be exempt from disclosure requirements and how ethics laws should be enforced.

And while legislators banned cockfighting a few years ago, they’ll again be discussing the rooster fights amid complaints they continue even though outlawed. Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, proposes making it a crime for a person to attend a cockfight, bet on a cockfight or pay admission to any place where people can watch or wager on a cockfight.

If that’s not enough of a diversion from the grim budget cut discussions, there’s even a bill to name an official state cookie. Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, D-Baton Rouge, wants it to be the “tea cake.”

Sen. Troy Hebert sums it up by saying the financial matters may absorb the time of the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, but not all lawmakers.

“The budget’s going to be consuming to the budget committees, as always,” said Hebert, I-Jeanerette. “The rest of the Legislature is going to be a lot like the Piccadilly. You can go in there and take your pick, whatever issue you want to consider, you have the time to do so.”