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Legislators 'taken for ride'

Last Modified: Monday, August 18, 2014 1:29 PM

By Jim Beam/American Press

Members of the Louisiana Legislature have learned since their session ended June 2 that they were taken advantage of by some of their colleagues. And in one instance they obviously weren’t paying attention.

Mark Twain could have been talking about our lawmakers when he said, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

Two controversial bills that became law were no accident. They were planned in secret and approved with little or no debate. The third one has become a mystery of the ages. No one seems to know how it got by 143 of 144 legislators and the governor.

The first furor erupted when it was revealed that Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of State Police, got a pension boost when Senate Bill 294 passed on June 2, the last day of the session. The legislation would allow him to retire as a colonel rather than as a captain and his pension would be based on his higher $134,000 annual salary.

The retirement increase — reported to be something between $30,000 and $55,000 a year — was included in a conference committee report that was approved 37-1 in the Senate and 90-0 in the House. The lone “no” vote was cast by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans.

Conference committees are made up of six legislators (three from each chamber) who are responsible for coming up with a compromise measure when House and Senate versions of a bill are different. The speaker of the House and the president of the Senate appoint committee members.

The committees often meet in secret and their reports usually surface on the last few days of a session. Members of the Senate and House have little time to digest conference committee reports, so they accept the explanation offered by a committee member. Unfortunately, that trust is occasionally violated, as it was in this instance.

Edmonson has repeatedly said he won’t take the pension increase, but there is some question about whether he can actually do that. Attorneys for the State Police Retirement System have said the act is unconstitutional and shouldn’t be enforced. So the Edmonson saga is destined to continue.

House Bill 872 was another measure benefiting State Police. It increases to $75 the fee a motorist must pay to reinstate his lapsed auto insurance. State Police will receive $42 million a year from the revenues produced by the fee increase.

Like the Edmonson measure, this one was approved on the last day of the session in another conference committee report. The vote was 87-3 in the House and 34-0 in the Senate.

Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, was one of the three House members voting against the higher fee. He knew what the conference committee report contained and believed it should have been debated before the vote. The other no votes came from Republican Reps. Valarie Hodges and Rogers Pope, both of Denham Springs.

Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, sponsored the third and most far-reaching bill. Senate Bill 583 removes a grandfather clause that has made it possible for justices of the peace and constables who were elected before Aug. 15, 2006, to work past age 70.

The legislation affects 189 sitting JPs and constables, and they are fit to be tied. They can’t run for re-election in November under provisions of the act, but many of them are going to do it anyway.

This one was no last-minute surprise. The Senate approved it 30-0 on May 8. It passed the House 87-1 on May 30. Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, was the one vote against the bill.

No one, including Guillory, seems to know who requested the legislation. Some suspect the Louisiana Justices of the Peace and Constables Association, but its officials deny they were involved.

Guillory said he plans to seek repeal of the bill at next year’s legislative session, but that won’t help those who had planned to run this fall.

Some justices of the peace and constables insist the law is clearly age discrimination. However, a lawsuit would be necessary to resolve that issue.

A number of JPs and constables sought help from the state attorney general’s office, but it said the AG doesn’t serve as their attorney. An AG spokesman said the Justices of the Peace and Constables Association is the appropriate party to address the issue.

George Gotreaux, 75, a Jeff Davis Parish justice of the peace, said he is going to qualify for office. His comments echoed those of others in his situation.

“Let the people from your district vote you in or out,” he said. “I was going to retire, but I don’t want anyone telling me I have to retire. I can do more than most people because I know everyone in my district.”

The JPs and constables who say they are going to run anyway won’t hear any objections from the clerks of court with whom they have to qualify. Like the secretary of state’s office, clerks don’t enforce the law.

Citizens can challenge anyone’s candidacy for public office, and that is an issue the courts would have to decide.

Now, you know why Mark Twain is considered a great humorist. In Louisiana, at least, it’s really true that “no man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

Posted By: R. Tom Guidry On: 8/18/2014

Title: Mr. Confused!!

What planet do you live on??? He know dog gone right that Jindal hand pick Kleckley because he would act as a puppet for his agenda!!!! Do be so blinded! You are one of the hundred of thousand that do not know what gone on behind closed doors in Baton Rouge. Kleckley is a yes man for Jindal.

Posted By: Frank J. Cali On: 8/18/2014

Title: Judge Frank J. Cali

Good Morning. real good article and true. I am seventy six years old and have been serving as Justice Of The Peace for FORTY THREE YEARS. In Ward Five Of St. Mary Parish That includes App. one half of Bayou Vista to The Calumet Cut. A large and very active Ward.I know although I am just real seasoned and continue to learn each day I could continue for years.Due to family sickness I thought of retiring or maby just some time off. I don't think we need a Stupid persons receiving Cell Calls on a THROW AWAY PHONE controlling our positions we were elected to perform.Makes you just want to continue----May do so.

Posted By: Confused On: 8/17/2014

Title: Leave Chuck Out of This!

Jim, I am confused. You state Legislators were taken advantage of by their colleagues on the conference committees and then you go on to state the Speaker of the House and the president of the Senate make the appointments to those committees. It sounds as though you are accusing Chuck Kleckley of being behind all of this deceitfulness. THAT IS IRRESPONSIBLE OF YOU TO IMPLY THAT CHUCK IS NOT A MAN OF INTEGRITY!! All of the Legislators know it is not Chuck who really decides who is on these committees. Chuck is only following orders from Bobby Jindal when he makes committee assignments. That doesn't make him a bad person. It makes him a LOYAL PERSON. After all, we elected Bobby Jindal governor, not Bret Geyman, Mike Danahay, A B Franklin, Ronnie Johns, or Blade Morrish. Speaking of loyalty, did you see any of the these guys stand up for Chuck when he put his career on the line by "finding" the money to replace Barbe High School's dismal and outdated football field? NO! They chose to side with the teachers and the Jindal-Haters. If these legislators didn't trust Chuck, why in the world would they elect him Speaker of the House in the first place?

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