Louisiana Legislature passes pilot-reform bill

Louisiana Legislature passes pilot-reform bill

NEW ORLEANS - Louisiana lawmakers have signed off on a bill touted as a landmark reform of the state's river pilot system.

The measure appeared headed for certain stalemate last week until Gov. Kathleen Blanco intervened and persuaded opposing factions to agree to a compromise.

"Louisiana's economic development ship has come in," said state Rep. Gil Pinac, D-Crowley, whose pilot-backed measure ended up as the vehicle for the compromise legislation that subjects pilots to outside regulation for the first time in many years.

The House approved the bill unanimously on the Legislature's last day Monday. The bill now goes to Blanco for her signature.

State Sen. Jay Dardenne, R-Baton Rouge, authored the pilot-reform bill that essentially sought to eliminate the pilots' stranglehold monopoly on navigation of foreign vessels on the lower Mississippi River and the Calcasieu River.

Pinac sponsored a counter-bill backed by pilots that initially sought to keep the status quo.

Blanco met several times with both groups until a compromise bill was hammered out and submitted as amendments to Pinac's bill. The legislation easily passed both houses' two independent boards. The legislation will create two oversight boards. The first is a fee commission that will set pilot salaries, which average $340,000 a year on the Mississippi River and close to $500,000 a year on the Calcasieu River.

The second oversight board will be in charge of pilot disciplinary matters and licensing.

Each board will be comprised of eight members evenly split between pilots and industry groups, plus three independent members appointed by the governor.