Constitutional amendment filings reach six-year low

By Jeremy Alford & Mitch Rabalais

The number of proposed constitutional amendments introduced by state legislators during regular sessions has hit a six-year low, just as momentum is building for another constitutional convention.

For the 2018 regular session, which is underway right now in Baton Rouge, members of the House and Senate dropped 40 constitutional amendments into the hopper. That’s the lowest number on record since the 2011 regular session, which hosted 31 constitutional amendments.

Within this timeframe, the interest in amendment bills displayed by lawmakers peaked during the final year of the last term, in 2015, when there were 67 such instruments introduced for debate.

Preservers of the current Constitution that was drafted in 1974 welcome this trend with open arms, but readers of the lay of the land want to see a couple more years worth of data before labeling it as a trend or any kind of sea change approach to policymaking.

Plus, it’ll be worth waiting to see how many amendments are actually approved during the ongoing regular session.

Bill proposes pay bump for sheriffs

A House-backed bill that would pave the way for Louisiana sheriffs to receive a 7 percent increase in salary, if they meet the participation requirements for a certification program, was pending final passage in the Senate earlier this week.

HB 218 by Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, was scheduled to be heard on the upper chamber’s floor Monday.

The legislation has already received overwhelming support during its three previous votes. It passed the House Judiciary Committee 9-0 and then the House floor 79-9. (The latter tally doesn’t include 16 representatives who were recorded as absent.)

The Senate Judiciary B Committee did its part last week and sent the bill to the full Senate for further consideration.

“It’s not about the money,” Michael Ranatza, executive director of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, told the House Judiciary Committee last month. “It’s about the reward we get at the end of the day for doing this job.”

The provisions of the bill would not take hold immediately, and would only be applied beginning with the 2020 term.

The bill sets benchmarks for taking part in the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Certification Program, which would be administered and governed by the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Executive Management Institute Board.

Senator running for the House

A member of the upper chamber since 2008, Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, confirmed to LaPolitics recently that he will be a candidate in House District 20 next year.

That makes Riser the third senator to express an interest in running for the House after their time in the upper chamber concludes.

Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, is expected to qualify in House District 19, possibly alongside East Carroll Parish Police Jury President Lee Denny, who at one time was interested in the contest.

Then there’s Senate President John Alario, R-Alario, who is thinking about House District 83, but is in no way committed.

As for Riser and that northeast Louisiana House district, Catahoula Parish Police Juror Judy Duhon is also looking to run. The real question is whether incumbent Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, runs for re-election in House District 20.

He had publicly announced his intentions to not run last cycle, but qualified anyway. This go around, however, there are some local politicos who are urging Pylant to consider running in Senate District 32, which Riser is vacating due to term limits.

Political History: Mayor Maestri’s lunch with FDR

While last week marked the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Orleans, it was also the annual commemoration of a less heralded event in the city’s history that humorously embodies its unique flavors, particularly in politics and fine cuisine.

On April 29, 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his first official visit to the Big Easy. En route to a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico, Roosevelt was in town to meet with state officials and to dedicate the new Bonnet Carré spillway built by his New Deal programs.

The presidential visit was largely a diplomatic gesture as well, meant to signify a new working relationship between the state and the White House after years of conflict between Roosevelt and late Gov. Huey Long.

According to documents at the FDR Presidential Library, Roosevelt and his entourage (including mistress Missy LeHand) arrived in New Orleans via train at 1:30 p.m. The president then rode in an open-air vehicle through the city with sitting Gov. Richard Leche and then-New Orleans Mayor Bob Maestri before taking in a pre-scheduled lunch at Antoine’s, the famed French Quarter restaurant.

In his book Louisiana Hayride, Harnett Kane recounts the day in detail. On the ride over to the restaurant, FDR and the governor had conversed, but Maestri sat silent, having been instructed not to speak to the president. Organizers had thought that the the mayor, who had only a third grade education and a thick “Yat” accent, would embarrass them in front of the president.

Over their lunch of Oysters Rockefeller at Antoine’s, however, Maestri broke his silence, turned to the president and asked, “How do ya like dem ersters, chief?”

Roosevelt supposedly went on to tell the mayor about how much he enjoyed the food and how he wished that he could have similar dishes served at the White House on a regular basis.

Maestri followed up by asking, “So ya liked ‘em?”

The resident responded with more effusive praise for his meal.

When a friend later asked the mayor for his impression of Roosevelt, Maestri candidly observed, “Aw, he’s full of bull.”

They Said It

“You’re dressed like a lawyer.”

—State Rep. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, to Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, during committee testimony at the Capitol

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

—Harris, responding to Miguez


About Jeremy Alford 227 Articles
Jeremy Alford is an independent journalist and the co-author of LONG SHOT, which recounts Louisiana's 2015 race for governor. His bylines appear regularly in The New York Times and he has served as an on-camera analyst for CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

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