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Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Southwest Louisiana ,
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The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge. (Photo courtesy of The Times-Picayune)

The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge. (Photo courtesy of The Times-Picayune)

Legislating isn't always pretty

Last Modified: Thursday, June 12, 2014 10:35 AM

By Jim Beam/American Press

Making laws is sometimes a messy process, and we saw examples of that at the end of the recent session of the Louisiana Legislature. One bill was slipped through without debate during the last day, and a complex measure was approved three minutes before the session ended. There were also examples of votes being cast that have proved embarrassing to lawmakers.

House Bill 872 doubles and triples fines and penalties for individuals who violate the state’s compulsory auto insurance laws. The $50 million it is expected to raise will fund pay raises for State Police and provide funding for sheriffs and district attorneys, all worthwhile causes. However, it’s the method, not the motive that is questionable here.

Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, sponsored the legislation. It had been approved by the House on April 28, but not by the Senate until May 28. The House didn’t like changes made by the Senate, so the measure went to a conference committee to iron out the differences.

No votes were taken on the conference committee report until 1:31 p.m. and 1:47 p.m. on June 2, the last day of the session that had to end at 6 p.m.

Conference committees often operate out of public view, and they can rewrite the entire provisions of some bills. Ivey brought his rewritten bill to the House floor with little explanation, and there was no floor debate.

Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, raised his hand and said he had pushed the light at his desk indicating he wished to speak against the bill. Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said he didn’t see the light. The deed was done, and there was no going back. Morris was one of only three votes against the bill.

Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Houma, and a champion of the elderly, sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment designed to create a new state department for the state’s senior citizens. It, too, has a commendable purpose.

The existing Office of Elderly Affairs is inside the Governor’s Office, and there has been an effort to move it to the state Department of Health and Hospitals.

Senior citizens, who now number over 800,000 (one-fifth of the state’s population), believe they aren’t getting the consideration they deserve from state government. They have serious health, housing and transportation concerns and think they are entitled to their own department.

Harrison’s constitutional amendment, one of his half-dozen bills on the subject, wasn’t reported out of committee until May 28. An earlier measure made it through the House, but died in the Senate. The amendment passed the House 92-0 on May 29 and 34-3 in the Senate on the last day of the session. However, because of Senate amendments, the bill went to a conference committee. Its report wasn’t finally adopted until 5:57 p.m., three minutes before the end of the session.

Gov. Bobby Jindal doesn’t support creation of a new department. He fired the director of the Office of Elderly Affairs in 2012 when she publicly opposed the shift to DHH. Jindal can’t veto Harrison’s proposed amendment. It goes directly to the voters in November.

Unfortunately, there could be a problem, which isn’t unusual when lawmakers ram bills through the process at the last minute. Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, offered an amendment that could gut the purpose of the legislation. It says the new state department can’t duplicate services performed by other state agencies, and others do provide services to seniors.

Harrison told The Advocate he saw the goveror’s legal counsel hand amendments to legislators during Senate debate on his bill.

Voters will still have the last word, and Harrison said he hopes the Riser amendment is too weak or flawed to affect the purpose of the bill.

The Times-Picayune Wednesday talked about legislators casting the wrong votes and how it happens.

The vote of Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, on a measure aimed at killing a flood control authority lawsuit filed in his area showed him in favor. He had opposed the bill at every opportunity.

Morrell said he was out of the Senate chamber and another person — probably an aide — pushed his yes button. Morrell did get something into the Senate record showing he was against the bill, not for it.

Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, accidentally voted for expansion of the Medicaid program in Louisiana, the newspaper said. Martiny doesn’t support the idea. He said he got confused because he thought he was voting on a payday loan compromise sponsored by the same senator. Medicaid expansion was rejected 22-15.

Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, said someone voted yes on his machine while he was out of the chamber. It was on a bill allowing more theaters to sell alcohol. The House lets its members change votes on the same day, but Pylant couldn’t change his because it would have changed the outcome. The bill passed, and his vote made the difference.

Legislators can’t be in the chambers all the time, but no one’s machine should ever be voted when they aren’t in there to do it themselves. And legislators need to streamline the process and quit enacting laws when there isn’t sufficient time to thoroughly debate the issues.

As you can see, lawmaking definitely has its flaws.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com.

Posted By: CC Campbell-Rock On: 6/12/2014

Title: Great Sunshine!

As a fellow journalist in self-exile from my home state, I truly appreciate your investigative report on a state Legislature that mainly operates in the interest of themselves and big business. They voted against
Medicaid expansion? Really!
How about we take away or limit their medical plans, for which we the people pay? Louisiana's state and local governments are corrupt from top to bottom. That is why LA is at the bottom of a majority of indexes and is so ass-backwards. A bunch of flunkies and donkeys are running the people's governments.
I am returning home this fall and I will join
you in exposing these clowns..
P.S. When critical votes are taken these elected officials should always be there to vote for their constituents' interests. Morrell said his aide pushed the wrong button? He was elected to serve the people; not his aide.

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