Lawmaker: Session was a success

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2001

FERRIDAY, La. – The legislative session that ended last month was an overall success, with the state having enough money to avoid major cuts in state programs, state Rep. Bryant Hammett, D-Ferriday, told the Ferriday Chamber of Commerce Monday.

&uot;We didn’t have to go in and cut a lot of programs. We weren’t running a deficit,&uot; Hammett said. &uot;In that vein, it was a very successful session.&uot; But he emphasized that it will not happen every year, quoting state Sen. Jay Dardenne: &uot;As far as the budget is concerned, eat, drink and be merry, for next year we may die.&uot;

Hammett said in this year’s regular session, several bills were passed that he considered legislative successes. Several bills were passed to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes such as drug-related offenses and driving while intoxicated, Hammett noted.

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&uot;We’ve found that lots of times, when you throw those kinds of people into general lockup, it makes them much more violent criminals,&uot; Hammett said. And with the thousands of dollars it costs per year to care for each prisoner, &uot;we felt like the money would be better spent in rehabilitation programs and (prisoners) getting degrees from the vo-tech school,&uot; he said.

Another bill Hammett considered a success was a measure to allow the state to sell up to 60 percent of the settlement it has reached with tobacco companies.

&uot;We’re getting proposals from bonding companies right now and should know in the next two to three months&uot; whether it would be in the state’s best interest to sell part of the settlement, probably for 50 cents on the dollar, he said.

In part, Hammett backed the measure because he believes that if current programs designed to curb use of tobacco are successful, tobacco companies might not have the money to pay the settlement in the future.

&uot;Or their attorneys might be able to get them out of paying it,&uot; so it is better to go ahead and sell some of the settlement as soon as possible, Hammett said.

The Legislature also gave the Department of Revenue more power to collect final judgments. There is no reason why those who pay their taxes on time should see their taxes go up while those with delinquent taxes get out of paying such judgments, Hammett said.

In all, 1,246 of the 3,185 bills filed prior to the session passed. Some of those that passed included measures to create a state groundwater task force and to merge the Department of Elections with the Secretary of State’s Office. Others will revoke the licenses of those who are delinquent in their child support payments and create the crimes of cyberstalking, computer tampering and theft of the assets of an aged or disabled person.

Many of those present, including Museum Committee Chairwoman Judith Bingham and Riverland Medical Center Administrator Vernon Stevens, thanked Hammett for his hard work on behalf of Ferriday and his entire district, as well as rural hospitals throughout the state.

Hammett also said special legislative sessions might be held later this year to reapportion voting districts due to changes in the state’s census numbers and to approve measures designed to keep the Saints in New Orleans.