Newly-elected Rep. LeBas discusses responsibilities and plans for session
By: MICHAEL BORDELON
Newly-elected District 38 Representative Bernard LeBas is taking his new position seriously and said he hopes to do what is best for everyone in his district, starting with a special session Sunday, March 9.
LeBas said he has been spending a lot of time in Baton Rouge over the last few weeks getting acquainted with his fellow legislators as well as the political process.
For a freshman legislator, LeBas said he was happy to be named to some very important committees, including Appropriations, Health and Welfare and Agriculture. He said the Appropriations Committee has met on several occasions to discuss the recently-proposed $30.1 billion budget.
“It’s our job to review the budget and make adjustments where necessary,” LeBas said. He stated the committee makes sure adequate funds are there to fund all the state’s departments. On occasion, the committee will hear from a department head who feels his department should receive more money in the budget. It is the department head’s responsibility to make his case as to why his department needs and deserves more funding.
LeBas believes he will be able to make the biggest difference on the Health and Welfare Committee, having served Evangeline Parish as a pharmacist for many years. Health and Welfare, according to LeBas, oversees state health care institutions, such as Medicaid, the charity hospital system, LSU Medical Center and state-run health units. The Health and Welfare department receives more funding than any other department in the state.
LeBas is also happy to have been appointed to the Agriculture Committee, stating agriculture is the heart-and-soul of Louisiana. It is what supports many of the rural towns and parishes in the state and is very important to Louisiana’s economy. Here he hopes to make some changes for the better and a big part of that is as simple as repairing roadways. “We need good roads for farmers so they can transport their goods,” LeBas said. “Agriculture and roads seem to work together.”
In a recent special session of the legislature, an ethics code was passed to improve transparency in state government. LeBas said the new code has moved Louisiana from 44th in the nation to first as far as legislation is concerned. “We wanted to be able to compete with other states in attracting businesses to Louisiana,” he said.
“After two-and-a-half weeks of hard work and bipartisan efforts, Louisiana has a better, more transparent ethics system.” Some of these reforms included a strict $50 cap on the amount lobbyists can spend on legislators’ meals, as well as detailed income and liability disclosure for state and local elected officials.
LeBas said, “Many of these recently-passed ethics reforms should have a positive impact on our state’s future. Stronger ethics legislation will bring more money to the state by attracting new companies and encouraging already existing companies to invest more in our economy. These extra dollars could lead to higher employee salaries, improved road systems (from more tax dollars collected) and an increase in the amount of benefits, such as health insurance, that employees receive.”
Out of 105 representatives in the state, LeBas said 60 of them are freshmen. And they all come from remarkably different backgrounds. LeBas stated legislators come from such varied backgrounds as a stock trader, an alligator meat processor, retired school teachers, the owner of a lawn care service, attorneys, nurses, mayors, police jurors and school board members.
The special session beginning March 9, will focus on tax incentives for businesses across the state. LeBas said these incentives will not only be for big companies, but for small businesses as well. He stated small businesses account for 70-80 percent of the workforce in Louisiana and are vitally important to the health of the state’s economy. He also added these small businesses are the lifeblood of rural areas of the state. When donations are needed for local programs, small businesses step up and give their support. “We’re not just here for big business,” he said.
The special session also will see the possibility of breaking the state’s spending cap in an attempt to put over $1 billion in surplus funding to good use. However, LeBas said he will wait to see the details of exactly what will be done with this surplus before he agrees to breaking the spending cap. “If it will all be spent in New Orleans or another large city and District 38 gets none, then it’s not good,” he said.
Twenty days have been set aside for the special session, after which the regular session will begin on March 30. “It’s going to be a busy time for us,” LeBas said. “We will be in session for the next few months, but I’m really enjoying it.”
LeBas stated if any of his constituents need to speak to him, they could leave a message for him at the legislative office in Baton Rouge. He said he will return all calls. Or, if you’re near the Baton Rouge area, LeBas recommended stopping by the capitol building to see the legislators in person.