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by mark ballard This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

JUN 5, 2016 - 1:23 PM

 

The Louisiana House gave final passage Sunday night to the last of the four bills ending a feud that has been going on between the City of New Orleans and its firefighters for almost 40 years.

The package of four measures will put into law the compromises both sides made to end an ongoing dispute over back pay and the set-up of pensions for city firemen.

“We had worked out an amendment in the Senate,” chief sponsor Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, said in asking his colleagues in the House to agree with the changes.

 

It took longer to count the vote than it did to recommend the House agree to the new wording. The House agreed on an 89-0 vote.

House Bill 58 was the last measure over which the two sides bickered throughout the legislative session, which ends Monday at 6 p.m.

The other three bills in the package were approved last week and are on their way to the governor’s desk. Gov. John Bel Edwards must sign all four bills for them to become law.

Since the 1970s, city firefighters and successive New Orleans mayors — most recently Mayor Mitch Landrieu — fought over the dismal state of the firefighters’ pension system and over a decades-old $75 million lawsuit against the city over back pay.

The retirement system had fallen to near insolvency due to poor investment decisions and what the Landrieu administration said were policies overly generous to retirees. Landrieu argued that back pay the city owed the firefighters and the pension problems were linked.

Firefighters won a court order last year holding the city in contempt for failing to pay the back pay judgment. Landrieu was ordered by the court not to leave his house on weekends. (The Louisiana Supreme Court stopped that ruling from going into effect.)

Landrieu responded that the firefighters needed to negotiate the deal or he would give up on the process.

A deal was struck that gave firefighters their money in exchange for agreeing to supporting a package of bills that overhaul the pension system.

The four bills are the result of the deal.

 

Generally under the pact, newly hired firefighters will have to work longer before retiring and receive less in benefits.

House Bill 56, would raise the retirement age from 52 to 57 and lower the rate by which retirement benefits are calculated. The accrual rate is now 2.75 percent; under the legislation, that multiplier becomes 2.5 percent. That means the benefit would be the product of years of service times final compensation times 2.5 percent.

House Bill 57 would base the contributions to the retirement system on compensation instead of salary. Compensation includes factors such as overtime and lump-sum pay.

House Bill 58 would restrict those firefighters — including the 60 or so already in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan — from also participating in the Partial Lump-Sum Option Payment Account. DROP allows working employees in the last five years of their careers to start being paid retirement benefits while also collecting a paycheck. PLOP allows retirees on their last day of work to take a lump sum payment from their retirement accounts.

House Bill 59 codifies the way sick and annual leave are treated in calculating benefits.

BY jessica williams

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MAY 3, 2016 - 10:24 AM

 

A bill in the Legislature that would relieve New Orleans police officers of the duty of investigating many traffic accidents in the city is facing fierce opposition from the state’s insurance industry, which says it relies on law enforcement to determine who is at fault in accidents.

Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, filed House Bill 417 in March on behalf of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, with the goal of freeing up more members of the city’s depleted police force to deal with serious crimes and reduce lengthy response times.

The bill would require the city’s law enforcement officers to investigate only crashes that result in death or injury; involve drivers who do not have or who refuse to provide driver’s licenses, proof of insurance or vehicle registrations; or involve drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol, drugs or other controlled substances.

 

As it stands, state law requires police to investigate any crash, no matter how minor. “By eliminating the mandate that NOPD respond to non-injury vehicle accidents, our police officers will have more flexibility to fight violent crime and not spend valuable manpower on traffic accidents,” city spokesman Hayne Rainey said.

In cases of minor crashes, it already has become a common practice for motorists to trade contact and insurance information and let their insurance companies sort it out, Rainey noted.

The city’s need to reduce the burden on police is all the more acute in the wake of the recent defeat of a higher public safety millage, which would have helped police hire hundreds of additional officers by 2020.

While HB417 was referred to the House’s Judiciary Committee, it has not been given a hearing there, and it again was absent from the committee’s schedule this week. While delays happen for many reasons, they often are a sign that the sponsor has decided a bill does not have enough support to move forward.

Insurance companies and brokers understand the sense in having police focus on serious crimes in times of lean budgets, a spokesman said. However, “The bottom line is that without an official police report it will be very difficult to determine fault in a traffic accident, and therefore it will be very difficult to determine whose insurance is going to pay the claim,” Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of Louisiana Chief Executive Officer Jeff Albright said.

Many lawmakers thus far seem sympathetic to the industry’s position, he added.

Less sympathetic is New Orleans City Councilwoman Stacy Head, who said Monday that state legislators should not be kowtowing to insurance interests.

 

“HB417 is recommended by experts, it is common sense, and it would result in the equivalent of putting 14 more officers on the streets. If our Legislature bows to the powerful insurance lobby instead of ensuring public safety, we all lose, and the public should be outraged,” she said.

It’s one of the rare times that Head and Landrieu — frequently at odds — have been on the same side of an issue.

The bill is one of several that Landrieu is hoping will pass state lawmakers’ scrutiny. One of them, House Bill 418, also aimed at freeing up police officers’ time, would allow civilians to handle traffic control in the Central Business District.

A separate city program that sought to use civilians to monitor traffic and quality-of-life issues in the French Quarter has been terminated, city officials said last week, due in part to legal limits on their authority and a need to divert funding to other public safety priorities.

The House Retirement Committee passed four bills Thursday (May 12) to overhaul the Firefighter's Pension System of New Orleans in accordance with an agreement between the city and the firefighters negotiated in October, prompting a fight between the mayor's office and the firefighters' union.

 

House Bills 56 through 59 modify eligibility for benefits, contribution rates, cash-out programs and the value of sick leave within the Firefighter's Pension and Relief Fund.

Speaker Pro Temp Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, brought the bills and met with the parties involved before the hearing in an attempt to bring peace to the traditionally combative parties.

"Walt is trying," said Nick Felton, president of the local chapter of the New Orleans Firefighters union. "It's like being a marriage counselor."

The parties are still arguing over whether restrictions on a cash-out program, found in House Bill 58, should apply to those who have been in the retirement system for years. The city wants the restrictions to apply only to current firefighters and new hires. The union says that is not fair to those who made retirement decisions based on the options available to them at the time.  The union also claims such applications of the restrictions may be unconstitutional.

In his discussion before the meeting, Leger told the firefighters' representatives he agrees people should not have something taken away from them that they made decisions about in the past. However, he noted the firefighters agreed last year to the restrictions applying to more than new hires. He told them also just because they believe something is unfair does not necessarily make it unconstitutional.

Both of the parties agreed to bring the bills, but representatives for firefighters said after the committee meeting the city introduced changes to the bills contrary to the agreement they negotiated.  

Deputy Mayor of New Orleans Andrew Kopplin, claimed the structural reforms to the pension system will save $300 million. The reports from state actuary Paul Richmond do not offer specific numbers of cost savings to retirement systems, but do show three of the bills increase the actuarial cost on state retirement systems, instead of saving money like Kopplin claims.

Kopplin said the $300 million in projected savings is over 30 years and came from the entire deal between the firefighters' union and the City, not just from the package of bills. He said $200 million of the total savings comes from stipulations in the agreement that the firefighters' pension would not give out higher cost of living adjustments to retirees until the system is substantially funded. Kopplin noted the majority of the cost savings in the package of bills will come from House Bill 56.

Felton said Kopplin was not telling the truth following the hearing in reference to the $300 million figure.

"There is bad blood," Felton said. "There is an extremely large distrust on both sides"

Felton claimed the reforms would not save anywhere near $300 million, suggesting the reforms might not save any money due to the nature of retirement systems. Felton said the city demanded structural reforms to the retirement system to spite the union.

The majority of New Orleans firefighters are in the firefighter's union and in the pension system, which has an unfunded accrued liability, or lack of funds to pay benefits, of several hundred million dollars. The two parties have been involved in lawsuits stretching back 30 years.

The bills now go to the full House, where more amendments will be offered.

By Katherine Sayre, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune 

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on April 21, 2016 at 9:57 AM, updated April 21, 2016 at 11:33 AM

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center would get power to issue taxes within its own district to develop a 1,200-room hotel and a surrounding neighborhood on vacant riverfront land, under proposed legislation.

An economic development district for the convention center -- the New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority Economic Growth and Development District -- was created by state lawmakers last year, but taxing authority was specifically written out as an option.

Now, Rep. Walt Leger is pushing legislation that would add that taxing authority within the district. The bill passed a House committee last week.

The possibilities including tax increment financing, typically a special sales tax that goes to pay for infrastructure to boost a commercial development.

Convention and tourism industry leaders envision a mixed-use development on 47 acres of vacant land upriver from the center, between the Pontchartrain Expressway and the Market Street power plant. The center plans to spend up to $175 million on infrastructure and improvements on Convention Center Boulevard to attract up to $1 billion in private investment in a 1,200-room hotel, condos and apartments, restaurants and entertainment.

 

Developers envision 'The Trade District' on riverfront

Developers envision 'The Trade District' on riverfront

A group of developers have presented an ambitious vision for a shiny new neighborhood on the riverfront.

 

Stephen Perry, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO, said there are no specific plans for tax increment financing or other taxes in the district at this point.

"The bill is really to give more flexibility for the convention center and the tourism industry to work with state legislative leaders, the governor, the mayor, the City Council and our representatives on getting a universal buy-in on the development," Perry said. 

Perry said New Orleans is among the top convention and business meeting markets nationwide, and competitors are frequently upgrading hotels and attractions to get new business. The riverfront anchor hotel and neighborhood is an effort to stay competitive. 

"This legislation is absolutely critical to what will be the single largest most economically powerful development in New Orleans in many, many years," he said.

"It would involve the kind of atmosphere that, along the river, would make it not only an attractive neighborhood but would create, along with Convention Center Boulevard's complete redo, a convention village that would make it a very appealing destination and make it very real," he said.

The convention center has been in talks with local real estate developers Joe Jaeger and Darryl Berger and The Howard Hughes Corp., developer of the Riverwalk and other retail and mixed use projects nationwide. Last year, they released a proposal for the new development called "The Trade District," although the head of the Convention Center has said the name isn't settled.

Bob Johnson, the center's general manager, couldn't be reached for comment this week. 

In a committee meeting last week, Leger said an anchor hotel and new meeting space will allow New Orleans to stay competitive with convention cities such as Orlando, Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Conference space at the hotel will help attract smaller but higher-end meetings, such as doctors' groups or drug manufacturers, he said. "It makes it easier for us to compete," Leger said.

 

To Be Recognized at National Event in Washington, D.C.
 
U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond will celebrate Louisiana State Representative Walt Leger III as a 2016 Angels in Adoption® awardee for his outstanding advocacy of adoption and foster care issues. The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), which orchestrates the Angels in Adoption® Program, will honor Rep. Leger at an awards ceremony on September 20 and gala on September 21 in Washington, D.C. 
 
“I entered public service to give voice to the voiceless, and I am honored and humbled to be recognized with an Angels in Adoption award.” said Rep. Leger, who is Speaker Pro Tempore of the Louisiana House of Representatives. “Every child deserves to be in a loving, nurturing home. And having just last month become a new father, I now, more than ever, truly appreciate the joy a child can bring to one’s life.”
 
Rep. Leger is being honored for his record as a champion for children. In 2015, along with State Senator Ronnie Johns, Rep. Leger helped launch the Foster Care and Adoption Caucus in the Louisiana Legislature as a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of members from around the state who work together to improve the outcomes for children in foster care. In 2014, Rep. Leger was a founding board member of the Louisiana Institute of Children in Families (LICF)- a non-profit support organization that connects child welfare service providers to elected officials in the administration, legislative body and judicial branch. LICF supports the work of the Foster Care & Adoption Caucus, provides regular briefings on national best practices in child welfare and hosts an annual gala to spotlight champions in adoption and foster care. Additionally, Rep. Leger is a fellow in the Early Childhood Policy Leadership Institute at the Tulane University School of Medicine. In recognition of his work on behalf of children, Rep. Leger has been awarded numerous honors, including: Aspen Institute Rodel Fellowship in Public Leadership, Champion for Children Award by Childcare Association of Louisiana, Legislative Champion Award by United Way of Southeast Louisiana, Education Champion by Louisiana Federation for Children, Whole Child Champion by Childhood & Family Learning Foundation, Libby Milton Champion for Children Award by Kingsley House New Orleans, and Legislator of the Year Award by Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families.
 
The Angels in Adoption® Program is CCAI’s signature public awareness event and provides an opportunity for all members of the U.S. Congress to honor the good work of their constituents who have enriched the lives of foster children and orphans in the United States and abroad. This year, more than 140 “Angels” are being honored through the Angels in Adoption® Program.
 
“The Angels in Adoption® Program is a unique annual opportunity in the nation’s Capital to shine a well-deserved spotlight on the power of adoption and the unspoken heroes who have made the dream of a family a reality for children. Since the program’s inception, over 2,500 Angels have come to Washington to share their firsthand adoption experiences with Members of Congress, highlighting its joys, as well as the barriers encountered in the process,” said Becky Weichhand, Executive Director at CCAI. “Members of Congress are then able to use their new experiential understanding of these issues to create policy improvements that better support these children and the families that open their hearts and homes to them.”  
 
In addition to the more than 140 Angels from around the country, National Angels in Adoption® honorees will be recognized at the gala for their dedication and commitment nationally and internationally to child welfare on a grand scale. This year’s National Angels in Adoption® honoree is the Minnesota Vikings. Former National Angels include Korie and Willie Robertson, Shonda Rhimes, Deborra-Lee Furness Jackman, First Lady Laura Bush, Patti LaBelle, Jane Seymour, Muhammad Ali, the late Dave Thomas, Steven Curtis Chapman, Bruce Willis, Alonzo Mourning, Rhea Perlman and Kristin Chenoweth.
 
CCAI is a 501(c)3 nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness about the tens of thousands of orphans and foster children in the United States and the millions of orphans around the world in need of permanent, safe and loving homes through adoption.  
 
CCAI was created in 2001 by the active co-chairs of the bicameral, bipartisan Congressional Coalition on Adoption, one of Congress’ premiere caucuses. The goal of the caucus is to eliminate policy barriers that hinder children from realizing their basic right of a family and more effectively raise Congressional and public awareness about adoption.  
 
The Angels in Adoption® Program was established in 1999 as a Congressional press conference to honor outstanding individuals. Since then, the program has developed into a yearlong public awareness campaign, culminating in an extraordinary awards gala and celebration in Washington, D.C.  
 
CCAI does not receive any government funding and relies on the generous support of foundations, corporations, and individuals to accomplish this mission. For more information, visit www.ccainstitute.org or www.angelsinadoption.org
By Greg LaRose, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
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on June 17, 2016 at 6:54 AM, updated June 17, 2016 at 7:41 AM
 

The fatigue was evident in state Rep. Walt Leger's voice at a New Orleans Chamber of Commerce luncheon this week. While the content of his speech balanced optimism and reality, the House speaker pro tem's typical enthusiasm was somewhat toned down.

He spoke with only days remaining in the Louisiana Legislature's second special session to deal with a $600 million budget gap. Time is of the essence, with the session ending June 23 and the new fiscal year starting July 1.

"It's gonna be tough," Leger said after his speech Tuesday (June 14) at the New Orleans Sheraton. "People are really tired and have very strong opinions on whether we should do this now or whether we should wait until next year.

"The problem is once we hit July 1, everybody's got to put their plans in motion. If you got to cut, you got to plan for that cut. That means potential layoffs. It means reduction or programs at colleges. It means cutbacks. So they can't wait until September or October to see if additional revenue comes in."

Fiscal conservatives, especially those holding sway in the House, are holding firm despite Gov. John Bel Edwards' appeal for new taxes to spare additional cuts to higher education, health care and other services. As of Thursday, the House had approved $222 million and the Senate $400 million, with each chamber having yet to consider the other's tax proposal.

Leger, D-New Orleans, has been front and center for the debate and the discord. The 19 consecutive weeks lawmakers have convened in 2016 is a record for the 204-year-old institution. Meanwhile, he and his wife, Danielle, are expecting a child in August.

"I can happily report the pregnancy is going much smoother than the legislative session," Leger said.  

The rancor he references was evident a month before the first special session began in mid-February. Even before taking office, Edwards had tapped Leger as his choice for House speaker. The Republican majority in the chamber wasn't keen on allowing the new governor hand-select his leader. Rep. Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, became the compromise selection, leaving Leger in the No. 2 role.

But Leger said Tuesday he refused to consider the outcome of the leadership elections a "bitter defeat," especially in light of the progress made in the first special session toward closing a $943 million gap in the current fiscal year budget.

The process to fashion next year's $26.1 billion spending plan has not gone as smoothly, culminating with the separate state construction budget being held up in the waning hours of the regular session. It, too, is being hammered out in the special session.

Leger said the legislative maelstrom was predictable, given the Jindal administration's questionable use of $800 million in nonrecurring revenue to balance the state budget in recent years. Combined with a nosedive in state revenue from oil and gas exploration, the scenario was set for Louisiana's fiscal house of cards to collapse.

"The same people (in the Legislature) who are crying now ... were in charge of the budget when this happened," he said.

During the first special session, Leger succeeded in getting a bill passed that he says is a step toward overhauling the state's budget policies.

It creates the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund, which would receive money from the state's mineral revenues -- taxes on oil and gas production -- between $650 million and $950 million. Also going into the fund are state corporate income and franchise taxes surpassing $500 million in collections.

Leger's bill outlines how money from the trust fund would be allocated, including a dedication to the Louisiana 8g Fund for elementary and high school education. The Legislature is not allowed to touch the stabilization fund except when its balance exceeds $5 billion at the beginning of the year. At that point, it can appropriate up to 10 percent of the balance for specified uses that include state debt retirement, new highways and construction projects in the state capital outlay budget.

Leger originally called the bill the Restrict, Restore, Rebuild Act. He said the fund's value is twofold: It creates fiscal discipline because its uses are restricted, and there are incentives for it to grow.

Similar funds exist in other states like Louisiana with a heavy reliance on mineral revenue, and Leger said they have provided a fallback for when that money source dries up. Wyoming's fund reached $3.9 billion and provided the state with nearly $390 million in interest from the fund.

Another measure Leger believes would steady the state's fiscal ship is restoring a portion of the Legislature's peel-back from the Stelly Plan. In 2002, Louisiana voters approved a trade-off between lower state sales taxes on food and utilities and higher state income taxes for the middle class and higher.

But in 2007, when the state coffers were flush with tax revenue from the Hurricane Katrina recovery, lawmakers started stripping away the income tax provisions of the Stelly Plan. The absence of that revenue has become more acute with the accompanying decline in mineral taxes from the plummeting price of oil.

"If we wanted to go back to pre-Stelly, we could do that and it would be responsible. But the way we are currently is just totally out of balance," Leger said.

The middle ground he sees is between current tax rates and the restoring of the full Stelly Plan. It would amount to a 0.4 percent increase on personal income taxes -- enough to fund the priorities Edwards set for the second special session.

For someone making $100,000, Leger said the increase would add about $500 to their income taxes. That boost in state taxes could be claimed against federal income taxes, he said.

"We need people to understand that it's a small change that would make things steady and put us in a posture that would be very much sustainable."

 

The Childcare Association of Louisiana (CCAL) has named State Representative Walt Leger as the 2015 Champion for Children on Wednesday. CCAL has presented an award to Representative Leger.

CCAL is honoring Representative Leger for his tireless efforts in early childhood education this past legislative session. His efforts to raise the earned income tax credit for working families in Louisiana were extraordinary.

Representative Leger represents Orleans Parish and serves as Speaker Pro Tempore in the Louisiana House of Representatives. He is also a fierce advocate for early childhood education and serves on the House Education Committee.

For more information about the Childcare Association of Louisiana, visit the Association’s website at www.childcarelouisiana.org

 

The Southern Rail Commission, a group that advocates for passenger rail service, has released a briefing book that outlines critical next steps for the proposed passenger line connecting the Baton Rouge-New Orleans corridor. “Baton Rouge and New Orleans by Intercity Passenger Rail” details the pivotal role of Louisiana’s next governor in advancing the project.

“A sense of urgency and strong leadership from the next governor and Legislature is critical to moving this project forward,” says State Representative and Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger III, Commissioner with the Southern Rail Commission. “There are many moving and interconnected parts. The best way to commit all parties and ensure progress is making clear that the goal is to start this service as soon as possible.”

The briefing book includes information on local, state and federal funding sources, as well as case studies from other states that have successfully connected major cities with passenger rail service.

“One of the Southern Rail Commission’s top priority projects is connecting Louisiana’s two largest cities with passenger rail,” says Greg White, the commission’s incoming chairman. “SRC also recognizes the importance of how this project fits into the overall national network of passenger rail that will eventually connect all Southern states.”

The briefing book, which is being distributed to Louisiana gubernatorial candidates, is available online at www.SouthernRailCommission.org.

Earlier this month, leaders of seven southeast Louisiana parishes that comprise the Louisiana Super Region Rail Authority held a press conference calling on the state’s next governor to establish passenger rail service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Southern Rail Commission Chairman Knox Ross also participated in the event.

About the Southern Rail Commission
Established by an act of Congress in 1982, the Southern Rail Commission engages and informs public and private rail interests to support and influence rail initiatives across its member states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. For more information about the Southern Rail Commission please visit www.SouthernRailCommission.org.

LIDEA recognizes the efforts of State Representative and Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger III to support economic development during the 2015 Regular Legislative Session.

Rep. Leger, along with other legislators across the state who are being honored, supported LIDEA’s efforts to provide tools for state, regional and local economic developers to improve the economic health of their respective communities.

Rep. Leger will receive the Legislative Allies award for his efforts to support LIDEA's agenda during floor debates and in committee.

"We recognize the difficulty all of our legislators faced going into the session and are proud to have worked with them to continue to strengthen our economic development tools for greater returns to both the State and local communities, as well as the companies which make the investment in capital and jobs, " stated Rhonda Reap-Curiel, LIDEA Legislative Chair.

"The legislators we recognize this year are representative of those who continue to support our efforts to increase capital investment, increase wages and increase the ability of our citizens to qualify for higher wage jobs in their communities."

The awards are not based solely on scorecard reporting, but on efforts recognized by LIDEA's legislative committee.

Formal presentation of the awards will take place in Baton Rouge on October 20 as part of LIDEA's annual conference.

About LIDEA
LIDEA is a statewide professional trade organization whose mission is to increase the effectiveness of individuals involved in the practice of economic development in Louisiana through professional development, public policy advocacy, networking, and collaboration with community and business stakeholders. More information can be found at www.lidea.org.

By Emily Lane, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Leaders out of the seven parishes from Baton Rouge to New Orleans joined Wednesday (Sept. 16) to voice support for a proposed passenger rail line connecting the state's two largest cities -- with stops along the way...

State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans... said a passenger rail would help relieve congestion on Interstate 10, connect communities and provide better access via affordable transportation to health care and other amenities.

Moreover, he said, a passenger rail would provide better access to new jobs added along the corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge as part of the industrial development renaissance occurring in the parishes there.

Read about the proposed rail line, including stop locations, here and here

Read the full article on NOLA.com here