Alford: Session offering up plenty of distractions

If there’s anything senators like discussing more than politics, it’s themselves, which was evident last week when the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee debated a resolution to create a special designation for former senators.

SR 45 by Sen. Yvonne Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, would bestow the generic title of “Senator Retired, District No.” to former members, but only those who completed a full run of 12 years.

“For those of us without a full term because their predecessor was indicted, can we get an amendment?” asked Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, who handled the bill during the committee hearing. (He was also preceded in office by Derrick Shepherd, who was indicted in 2008 on corruption charges.)

Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, questioned that language in the resolution as well. “To shortchange anyone who served four or eight years would be a tragedy,” he said.

“Amen,” added Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, the chairwoman.

Morrell explained that the designation would be nothing more than a title on paper. “It’s not like you get special food at Denny’s,” he said. “They just get to call themselves something.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t be handling this resolution,” Peterson replied to laughter.

The resolution has since been approved by the Senate and is one of many examples of the distractions lawmakers are encountering as the regular session reaches its midpoint. With many senators and representatives more concerned about their re-election bids this fall, the session has reached a point where most of the major bills are on a set trajectory.

That leaves a lot of room for external politics. House Natural Resources Chairman Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, for example, waded into an ongoing battle over coastal lawsuits in Terrebonne Parish. While the subject matter jives with his leadership position, Bishop is also the leading candidate for speaker of the House next term.

In a statement circulated to reporters, Bishop stated he was “deeply concerned about the highly unusual and unnecessary actions recently undertaken by state officials in Terrebonne Parish.”

What’s going on exactly? Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove, who previously held the gavel now controlled by Bishop, filed a lawsuit recently against District Attorney Joe Waitz and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. Dove and others are trying to close an avenue that would allow Terrebonne to join a growing list of coastal parishes suing oil and gas companies.

The drama has pulled Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry into its orbit—on opposing sides, of course. Now Bishop is part of the conversation as well.

This has been one long legislative term. No wonder lawmakers are eager for distractions and the end of this last regular session.  

Some bills and issues are being resolved so quickly that a handful of seasoned pros suspect lawmakers already have most of their instruments on a settled track. “I may not have any bills left to work come next week,” a longtime lobbyist told me recently. “They’re ready to go home, and no one is going to do anything controversial in an election year.”

With 30 days remaining in the session, that seems to be the prevailing sentiment—the push is on. “The chances of final passage get slimmer and slimmer as time goes by,” said Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield. “But we’ll go to five days a week if we have to, so we don’t get jammed.”

In separate interviews, Rep. Mark Wright, R-Metairie, said “the committees are amped up” and Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, added, “The speaker is urging people to get their bills heard.”

The wild card remains the budget bill. While the revenue picture has become clear, a few sticking points, like early childhood education, may come down to the wire.

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, atLaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.