April 26, 2017 08:08 AM

Legislators moving non-controversial legislation in advance of budget fight

Sen. Page Cortez, left, and Rep. Blake Miguez
Photos by Robin May

Two bills by area legislators are scheduled for floor debate and votes on passage in the House and Senate today as both bodies await the heavy lifting on the budget to begin in earnest next week.

Rep. Blake Miguez's HB75, which provides for an affidavit process to allow lower cost access to death certificates in connection with the settlement of small estates, is slated to come up for debate in the House today when that body convenes at 3 p.m.

Sen. Page Cortez's SB237, which would allow the Lafayette Parish School System to dedicate sales tax proceeds to 40-year loans with the USDA, could be brought up for final vote in the Senate when it convenes on the other side of the Capitol, also at 3 p.m.

The bills are part of the light workload in both chambers as committees deal with a relatively light hearing schedule tied to the fact that it is a fiscal-only session. The session is shorter but the number of bills introduced is restricted.

The House Order of the Day lists 23 bills that are up for debate and passage today.

As reported earlier, Miguez's bill would create an affidavit process for individuals involved in the settlement of estates valued at less than $75,000. Miguez says the bill will help reduce the costs of settling the estates and allow heirs to those small estates to inherit a bit more of the value of them.

The bill works within an existing $75,000 threshold in the law, but Miguez tells The Independent that the beneficiaries of his bill will be those families involved with estates smaller than that threshold.

"There are plenty of estates that are smaller than that and if people have to go through a formal court procedure to obtain a death certificate, it can eat up what little there is in the estate," Miguez says.

Sen. Cortez's bill would extend the period of time that revenue from LPSS sales taxes can be bonded. The current cap on the bonds is 25 years. Cortez's bill would extend that period to 40 years. The bill is listed as up for final passage on today's Senate Digest.

Cortez tells The Independent in a phone interview that the bill might not be called up for a vote today, but certainly will be by tomorrow.

"It's a local bill that has gone through all the notification processes," Cortez says. "It's non-controversial. It just updates some outdated language in the old statute and would enable the school board to save significant dollars on projects by being able to access loans from the USDA."

As LPSS Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry explained yesterday, the school system wants to borrow money from the USDA to help finance the construction of a new elementary school in Broussard. It intends to use existing sales tax proceeds to do that. USDA provides 40-year low-interest loans.

Guidry says the LPSS used property tax revenue to obtain USDA financing for the new Southside High School now under construction in Youngsville. There are no restrictions on the life of bonds related to property taxes, Guidry says.

Guidry says being able to access the USDA loans by bonding sales tax revenue for the Broussard project would save the school system a significant amount of money. The fiscal note attached to Cortez's bill confirms that fact.

The note compares borrowing costs on $26 million in the open market versus obtaining a loan from the USDA. It pegs open market bond costs at 4.228 percent while USDA rates come in at 3.25 percent. The Legislative Auditor's note estimates that the LPSS could save more than $5 million on interest rates over the life of the loan.

The bill is not directly tied to the LPSS's half-cent sales tax measure that is on the ballot on Saturday. The LPSS, according to Guidry, hopes to have financing in place for the Broussard elementary project by the first of the year with the goal of having the school open in time for the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

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