Local bills on governor’s desk, awaiting signatures

05 25, 2012 by Daily Comet

The state House of Representatives granted final passage to five local bills Thursday, and now Gov. Bobby Jindal has the choice to veto the proposals or sign them into law.

They range in scope from defining the Houma police chief’s job classification and regulating Bayou Lafourche to expanding oyster research in Grand Isle and permitting ultra-deep drilling.

With the regular session slated to adjourn June 4, there’s a little more than a week for lawmakers to finish their work. That creates a fast-paced environment in the session’s closing days, and Thursday’s action in the House showed how quickly proposed laws can near the proverbial finish line.

House Bill 504 would allow the Department of Natural Resources to consolidate leased lands so operational costs for ultra-deep drilling exceeding 22,000 feet could be shared.

The proposed act by House Natural Resources Chairman Gordon Dove, R-Houma, gives an investor or oil company the right to petition for the creation of a unit of up to 9,000 acres.

It’s a process known as “unitization,” and it allows for the price tag of a costly ultra-deep operation to be shouldered by leaseholders around the drilling site.

If the petition is approved, following public hearings and a waiting period, the petitioner would be allowed to approach the other leaseholders inside the unit about paying for their proportional share of the drilling operations.

Dove’s bill details a payoff model based on what level leaseholders decide to participate, and the Senate inserted protections for landowners that the House agreed to Thursday.

Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, said the legislation essentially updates existing state law in a way that recognizes advancements in drilling technology.

“Increased drilling from ultra-deep exploration will bring a significant economic boost to all of Louisiana, specifically south Louisiana, revitalizing oil and gas activity in the region,” John said.

He added that the resulting projects will generate “thousands of much-needed, well-paying jobs and increase revenues for the state and landowners through severance taxes and royalties.”

Dove is also the sponsor of House Bill 106, which was one of the most hotly debated local issues of the session — a temporary departure from the civil service system for Houma’s police chief.

Terrebonne Parish officials initially removed the police chief from the system in 2009 with permission from the Legislature, but that law is set to expire July 1. Dove’s legislation would extend the provision until July 2016.

While the Terrebonne Parish Council voted unanimously to extend the provision for another four years, the Houma Police Association and others argued against the change.

Under classified service, an employee can only be fired for wrongdoing after a hearing and due process. But in the case of Houma’s police chief, which is an unclassified position, the Terrebonne Parish president can hire and fire at will.

Dove said he wanted the state law to mirror the Parish Charter, which grants the parish president the authority to hire and fire the police chief.

“This is important to the region,” Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, told the House Thursday before it gave final approval.

Harrison, meanwhile, passed his own House Bill 413 through the lower chamber to create a new management structure for one of the most recognizable bayous in the nation.

If Jindal endorses the proposal, members of the Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District Board could gain the authority to regulate a wide range of activities along the banks of the bayou.

More specifically, the board would have the ability to “regulate the location, construction, or use of any building or structure within the district where such structure or building may interfere with water resources development or integrated coastal protection.”

The state recently spent $20 million on rehabbing the Donaldsonville-to-Belle Rose stretch and has dedicated another $20 million to continue the clean up to the Gulf of Mexico. Harrison said his proposed legislation would help leverage that money.

The bill also transfers engineering responsibility and other tasks from the Department of Transportation and Development to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. In turn, the CPRA would have the final say over any decisions the local board makes in regard to activities that take place along the banks of Bayou Lafourche.

Rep. Truck Gisclair, D-Larose, pushed two of his bills through the final legislative hurdle Thursday as well.

House Bill 317 would authorize the state to begin using salvage materials from construction projects to bolster coastal restoration and protection initiatives. Gisclair said there are a number of places where the proposed law could be beneficial, like in Grand Isle, where pieces of an outdated bridge can be leveraged.

Existing state law already allows the secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development to donate to any political subdivision “salvage recovered from the reconstruction or repair of any state road or bridge, or from any other work performed by the department.”

Gisclair’s bill would allow the same material to be used on coastal protection and restoration projects, as long as state officials deem them of “no salvage value.”

As proposed, the salvaged materials would be donated to the nearest coastal project. Gisclair said the concrete and metal could be used for breakwater materials and other purposes.

House Bill 478 expands the oyster research being conducted by the Louisiana Sea Grant program in conjunction with the Grand Isle Port Commission.

The seafood production research is located in the vicinity of Caminada Pass and focuses on new oyster culture methods, meaning those that don’t involve wild seed or on-bottom production. Gisclair’s proposal seeks to leverage these methods, which have been proven to improve survival rates.

John Supan of the LSU AgCenter, who is heading up the research, said the legislation would expand the research area from 5 acres of water bottoms to about 25 acres. Alternative oyster culture activity, which the research supports, is generally defined as any method of growing oysters that doesn’t involve harvesting directly on reefs or other water bottoms.

Supan’s research shows oyster crops actually grow faster and more successfully when they’re suspended high up in the water column, in part to improve water flow. He said the method is more efficient and faster to harvest. It also speeds up the growth rate to one year, compared to two or three with traditional methods, research shows.

He said that’s especially important to remember in light of recent oil spills, hurricanes and freshwater diversions.

To view all of the bills being considered by Jindal, visit http://www.legis.state.la.us/.