House Bill 1 features raise for teachers, firefighters, police

Tammy Sharp

Though legislators were not able to get a raise for themselves, they did give raises to teachers, firefighters and police and were able to secure a bonus for school support personnel. In addition, the lawmakers cut taxes. 

House Bill 1, which provides for the state’s normal operating expenses was sent to Governor Bobby Jindal on June 23 and is awaiting his signature.

“Very few people even know there was a tax cut of $150 million passed in this session,” said Sen. John Smith, D-Leesville. In addition, teachers received a raise of $1,019 to keep them at the southern regional average.

School support personnel are to receive a $1,000 bonus, while law enforcement and firefighters will receive a $75 per month increase in supplemental pay. 

The fiscal price tag on the teacher’s pay increase is $55 million, while the price tag on the bonus for school support personnel is $48 million, according to House Notes, which provides a summary of the 2008 regular session.

“If everyone took (the legislative) pay raise, it would be (a cost of) $3.3 million,” Smith said, who also said that Jindal’s recent veto of that piece of legislation was “probably the best thing overall.”

“At this point I think the best thing that could happen is for that issue to be resolved,” he said. “That allows us to move on....the issue had become such a distraction to all of the good things that happened (in the regular session).”

Though legislation by Representative James Armes, D-Leesville, that would have given bus drivers in the state an increase in their maintenance allowance died in the Appropriations Committee, Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria, and Armes found a rainy day fund in the budget which they suggested be amended to fund the bonus.

In the meantime, the House passed a resolution, Armes said, to study the feasibility of a raise for bus drivers in the next session. A joint committee will be meeting within the next two months.

“It’s not much. It’s not fun to tell a person you can’t help him,” said Armes who also said he has not lost hope that he will be able to help bus drivers in the future.

Representative Chris Roy, D-Alexandria, is also optimistic about future sessions.

“Armes and I and the other members in Vernon became really close,” he added. “I think that all of us who were new were learning. It’s like anything else. You learn some lessons through trial and error. I think we’ll be much better prepared in the future after going through what we did.”

The next legislative session convenes at noon on Monday, April 27, 2009 unless the governor calls an extraordinary session.

Though the session is over, work is not, said Smith, who maintains two offices, one in DeRidder and one in DeQuincy.

“We work seven days a week,” he added. “The office is open five days a week. We probably get 30 phone calls a day, requesting anything from help with drivers’ licenses to social security.”  In addition the senator answers dozens of e-mails and regular mail and attends “every possible thing I’m invited to,” he said.

Roy and Armes have plans to begin town meetings in August and September, the lawmakers said.

“I’d like to get into Vernon...with Armes to explain what went on in the session and to hear from our constituents about their expectations,” Roy added, naming Leesville, Simpson, Slagle and Hicks as possible spots for such meetings.

Leesville Daily Leader