The regular session of the Louisiana Legislature doesn’t convene until March 12. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait until then to see what lawmakers are working on.
As of Monday afternoon there were already 41 instruments filed in the House and 17 in the Senate.
While most are being filed to meet the Legislature’s retirement policy deadlines, a few other policy issues are in the queue.
House Natural Resources Chairman Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, has HB 4 to extend the special fee on saltwater fishing licenses to fund LACREEL, which the federal government recently approved to handle Louisiana’s coming fish counts.
Democratic Rep. Helena Moreno, with what may be one of her final bills before moving on to the New Orleans City Council, has introduced HB 15. It adds battery of a dating partner, domestic abuse battery and protective order violations to the state’s list of crimes of violence.
In the upper chamber, Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, has SB 1 to “authorize farm vehicles and vehicles transporting cutting or logging equipment to use any public highway except an Interstate highway from sunrise until sunset.”
Slates complete in special legislative elections
The House of Representatives is set to pick up two new members this spring via special elections in southeast Louisiana.
On Feb. 17 voters in the Hammond-Amite area will vote on a replacement for former Rep. Chris Broadwater in House District 86.
The prevailing assumption is that Navy veteran Michael Showers, the only black candidate and the only Democrat, will make it to the runoff. Although it’s still unclear what kind of campaign he’ll be able to mount.
If Showers does have a strong enough showing, the question becomes which Republican makes it into the runoff with him — an important question considering the district leans to the right in nearly all contests.
The Republicans running are all well connected and include Tangipahoa Parish School Board Member Andy Anderson, attorney Nicky Muscarello and Tangipahoa Parish Councilman David Vial.
On March 24 New Orleans voters will be tasked with replacing Rep. Helena Moreno, who is also a councilwoman-elect. There has been one withdrawal from the race, leaving a four-man field of Democrats.
Most of the spotlight has been on attorney Royce Duplessis, the chairman of the New Orleans Planning Commission who has been plotting a run for quite some time. He has a few proverbial insiders in his corner and his fundraising is said to be solid.
Also running are Danil Faust and Eldon Anderson, who have run unsuccessfully for other elected positions recently, and attorney and radio show host Kenny Bordes.
Political History: Louisiana’s lost offices
With six out of our 20 state departments being run by elected officials — lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and insurance commissioner — some might want to argue that Louisiana’s government is a touch top-heavy.
But it used to be a lot worse.
Our state not long ago hosted large and unwieldy ballots that included the statewide elected positions of custodian of voting machines, register of the state land office, comptroller and education superintendent.
Later reforms, particularly from the 1973 constitutional convention, changed the size and scope of state government. Unfortunately for some elected officials at the time, that restructuring meant that they would be losing a job.
Prior to 1956, the secretary of state’s office oversaw elections as well as insurance regulation. When a public feud between Gov. Earl Long and Secretary Wade O. Martin boiled over, however, Long had the Legislature strip Martin of those influential powers. Two new offices were created as a result: insurance commissioner and custodian of voting machines.
In the wake of Long’s term, many lawmakers saw the custodian of voting machines as a superfluous office created by a vindictive governor to punish a political foe. The position was later renamed election commissioner, and delegates to the 1973 convention unsuccessfully tried to re-consolidate the office with the secretary of state. It was not until 2001 that the Legislature and Gov. Mike Foster finally returned responsibility for all elections to the secretary of state.
Located at the convergence of real estate and natural resources, the register of the state land office managed the purchase and sale of lucrative state-owned property and mineral leases. The office was the longtime fiefdom of Lucille May Grace, the first female elected to statewide office in Louisiana, and the winner of six subsequent elections. Earl Long had originally proposed abolishing the office in the late 1950’s as retaliation for Grace’s public criticisms of his administration. His efforts were unsuccessful. However, the restructuring of state agencies under the 1973 Constitution made the position obsolete. The office was dissolved and the duties were split between the department of natural resources and the division of administration.
The position of state auditor or comptroller was created after the massive corruption of the Louisiana Hayride scandals. Lawmakers at the time felt that there should be more oversight over state funds, via a position answerable to voters. Notably, the comptroller was a member of the Bond Commission, although it was separate from the legislative auditor’s office, treasury and revenue department, which often created confusion. Legislative efforts to streamline got bogged down in political turf wars, until the position was finally abolished by the current Constitution.
Prior to 1973, all educational institutions in the state, including colleges and universities (except LSU), were under the control of an elected superintendent of education. Assisted by a single board of elected members, the superintendent set the policies and standards for each student and teacher in the state. Incredibly powerful, the office attracted such political notables as Shelby M. Jackson, Bill Dodd, Louis Michot and J. Kelly Nix.
The 1973 Constitution stripped some of that power, separating colleges and universities into their own systems, while reorganizing schools under a new Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The superintendent’s position remained an elected one until 1987, when the Legislature and Gov. Edwin Edwards, fearing further politicization of education policy, placed the post under the control of BESE.
They Said It
“In a place not known for being witty, he’s witty. But in the Senate, to be witty the bar is low.”
—U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, on U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, in The Huffington Post
“This is an arms race, and it’s gotten out of control.”
—Gov. John Bel Edwards, addressing salaries of football coaches, in The Advocate