Jim Beam column:Each day brings scary changes

Published 6:48 am Saturday, April 6, 2024

Republican Gov. Jeff Landry has only been in office four months, but it’s been long enough to find out that he and his legislative supporters aren’t going to stop making hasty and disturbing decisions.

Lane Grigsby, a GOP mega-donor who headed a Landry transition team, said a rewrite of the state constitution is a major goal. Grigsby said he would like to remove the constitutional financial protection enjoyed by K-12 education.

Republican legislators are creating education savings accounts that would give families tax funds to attend private schools. The program is expected to cost over $500 million annually and it’s going to need some public funding.

Email newsletter signup

Changing the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) that funds elementary and secondary education would make that possible.

We learned this week that a bill has been filed that would make it possible for Landry to name all of the chairpersons of the state’s higher education boards. He is doing businessman Lee Mallett of Iowa, a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors and another mega-donor, a favor. Mallett is upset that he wasn’t elected chairman of the LSU board.

Landry also suggested this week that members of the LSU women’s basketball team should lose their scholarships for failing to be on the playing court when the national anthem is played.

Neither the women’s nor men’s basketball teams have been on the court for the national anthem for the last several years. They have been in the locker rooms preparing for the games, but Landry wants them back on the court for the anthem.

Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University law professor, says Landry’s proposal is unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the governor doesn’t worry about such things.

Next came an attack on the state’s open records laws that are considered some of the best in the country. Three bills were filed this week that The Advocate reported would block public emails, text messages, and other documents produced at all levels of government from public view.

The newspaper said one of the bills that is sponsored by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, would create new hurdles to public records. It added that some of the bill’s provisions appear tailored to the office of Landry, “a Republican who has bristled at scrutiny leveled through the public records process.”

Asked if Landry supports her bill, Cloud said in a text message, “I sure hope so.”

Melia Cerrato, a Sunshine Legal Fellow at Tulane University’s First Amendment Law Clinic, called the bill “extremely alarming” and said it risked violating the state’s constitution.

“This will create government secrecy on a level that should alarm people regardless of where they are on the public spectrum,” Cerrato said. “This is bad government.”

That is a perfect explanation of the kind of government that Landry wants to create.

Two other public records bills would allow only Louisiana residents to make public records requests and require ID checks on people who file those requests.

Steven Procopio, head of the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council,  said the bill by Sen. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, that restricts requests to Louisiana citizens risks angering out-of-state businesses who sometimes require public records as they craft deals for new ventures in Louisiana.

Procopio said, “You’re making companies jump through hoops to try and come here. It probably wouldn’t kill a deal, but it wouldn’t look good.”

Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, filed the ID bill and said it aims to cut down on what he described as a proliferation of requests sent by nameless people to government agencies, which could just be a Miguez conspiracy theory.

Bills have also been filed that would expand penalties for pedestrians who block public streets and make it a crime to come within 25 feet of a police officer in certain circumstances.

Critics of those bills said they could impact the people’s right to assemble and hinder good Samaritans who want to ensure officers are carrying out their appropriate duties.

The bill filing deadline has come and gone, but Landry and lawmakers who are anxious to do whatever he asks aren’t going to stop trying to completely change the face of state government.