Jim Beam column:Landry setbacks positive gains

Published 6:56 am Saturday, May 4, 2024

Reasonable Louisiana legislators have managed to slow down the runaway Gov. Jeff Landry political power train. The first time they slowed it down was during the first special session when Landry tried to change all state elections to closed primaries.

Landry’s plan to change elections came out of the blue because he never mentioned it during his campaign. Closed political party primaries will only occur for congressional elections and for seats on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the state Public Service Commission (PSC). All other elections will be open primaries.

Lane Grigsby, a mega-donor to political candidates and chairman of Landry’s constitution transition committee, wants to remove the constitutional protection enjoyed by K-12 education funding.

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The Advocate reported Thursday that Landry and House legislative leaders have reached an agreement that a constitutional convention wouldn’t touch funding for K-12 education. Landry is making deals while trying to get the 70 (two-thirds) House votes he needs to get the convention bill approved.

Rep. Robby Carter of Greensburg is reportedly one of two Democrats willing to vote with the Republican governor.

Senate President Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, is still questioning whether a constitutional convention should be held while the Legislature is in its regular session. Henry thinks the convention should be in August.

Landry and David Matlock, his secretary of the state Department and Children and Family Services, decided Louisiana didn’t need to participate in a federal summer feeding program for low-income families.

Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, had a one-word response to Landry administration officials who said they couldn’t fund the program.

“Hogwash!” McFarland told his colleagues on the House floor, according to The Advocate. He added that 450,000 impoverished children will each receive $120 this summer for food beginning on June 4.

“I think they got the message,” McFarland said of the Landry administration in an interview. He added that House and Senate members were united in wanting to fund the program for children who can’t receive school lunches..

Henry during a meeting in his office said he told Landry officials there was no reason not to fund the program. House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, said grocery store owners in his district wanted the children to have the meals and the stores would benefit from the $70 million infusion of federal money.

Perhaps Landry’s biggest setback came on his plan to create education savings accounts (ESAs) that would give parents state funds to use in deciding where their children should go to school. It’s called school choice.

The ESA program would offer tuition money to any family, even affluent parents whose children already attend private school. It could eventually cost as much as $520 million per year.

House Bill 745 that sets up Landry’s proposed ESAs passed the House on April 8 with a 72-32 vote and is awaiting a hearing by the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, who had an identical ESA bill, has proposed a complete overhaul of the plan he sponsored. The Advocate said the change came “amid criticism that the program would be disastrous for public education and create exorbitant costs for the state.”

The newspaper said the rewritten Edmonds bill “pumps the brakes” on Landry’s ESA plans. Good government groups like the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) and the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) said high costs in other states with similar programs prove the state can’t afford the governor’s ESAs.

“We’re slowing it down,” Henry said. “We need a lot more information.”

Earlier, Henry said, “Once you start these programs, it’s very hard to pull them back. So we want to make sure that we don’t give someone false hope and then have to take that back.”

The Advocate said Henry’s solution, with which Edmonds agreed, is to remove the program details from the legislation and let the state Department of Education set the rules, including which families could participate and how much tuition money they would receive. Then the Legislature could decide whether to fund the department’s program that would be developed by BESE.

Each of these Landry setbacks has resulted in increased credibility of the Legislature and essential financial protection for the citizens of Louisiana that they represent.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than six decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jim.beam.press@gmail.com.


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