Jim Beam column:Disappointing session is over

Published 6:23 am Wednesday, June 5, 2024

We are finally safe, but perhaps not for long. Members of the Louisiana Legislature that have been in sessions almost constantly since they took office on Jan. 8 have finally gone home.

Unfortunately, lawmakers gave Republican Gov. Jeff Landry new powers he didn’t need and there will be less government transparency. That explains why The Advocate reported that Landry called the session “a great success.”

Landry lost some power he wanted, but there is every indication he is going to continue his pursuit of additional power. His only major loss was the Legislature’s resistance to calling a state constitutional convention, but that issue isn’t dead.

Email newsletter signup

The Advocate reported that Senate President Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said he and House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, have the authority on their own to create a select committee to hold hearings in June and July in order to make recommendations as a prelude to a constitutional convention in August.

Even so, the newspaper said Henry wouldn’t commit to the plan. He said, “Members aren’t really jumping at the chance to come back to Baton Rouge.” He said they receive only part-time pay and want to return to their higher-paying jobs and families at home.

Some senators said Landry isn’t happy about losing the convention. However, they added that Henry has established firm support of the 39-member body by ensuring that senators, Republicans and Democrats,  don’t have to take votes on extreme issues that won’t pass.

The situation was completely different in the House, whose GOP members couldn’t wait to do whatever Landry wanted. The Advocate said DeVillier had the House working in lockstep with the new governor.

Landry got a congressional election map he wanted that jeopardizes the re-election of U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge. Graves endorsed someone else for governor and his 6th Congressional District is, at least for this year, a majority-Black election district.

Both the House and Senate voted to allow Landry to appoint the chairs of more than 150 boards and commissions, including the chairs of the five higher education boards. The Louisiana Illuminator noted that the bill would have also allowed him to appoint university presidents, but, luckily, that language was stripped out.

Landry was also given authority to name 11 of 15 members of the state Board of Ethics. Critics of that move pointed out that the ethics board is prosecuting a case against Landry for failing to disclose flights he took aboard a top donor’s private jet and failing to report it.

The odds are we won’t ever hear the outcome of that case.

Landry will also be able to hide his security details from public records requests. The Advocate said open-government supporters fear Landry will use this to hide who he meets with and where he travels. In a break with tradition of past governors, Landry’s office refused to say where he traveled out of the state several days ago.

The newspaper said in a last-minute amendment approved with little debate, Landry won legislative approval to allow his office not to respond to public records requests from national media organizations and others outside of Louisiana.

Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, had a bill that required persons seeking public records to be Louisiana citizens. The bill didn’t go anywhere, but that last-minute amendment did the same thing.

Morris also had a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the governor and legislators to remove civil service protections from rank-and-file state employees. Fortunately for those workers, the vote needed to pass didn’t materialize. The vote was 68-30, two votes short of the two-thirds (70) required.

Democratic members of the Senate enjoyed some respect from Henry, but they had little success in the House. The Advocate said Democratic lawmakers “heaped scorn on the (session’s) outcome.”

They said homeowners aren’t happy about the Legislature’s failure to make more positive property insurance changes. Early education advocates aren’t happy about budget cuts. And public education officials aren’t happy about school choice that is looking for private school tuition money.

The citizens of this state will also know less about what is going on behind the scenes in state government. And Landry’s control of the ethics board will  make it extremely difficult for them to monitor the ethical performance of their public officials.

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.


Add reaction