At the state level, there is much talk about the need for a convention to address a Louisiana constitution last overhauled in the mid-1970s. It is needed, given we have amended it almost 200 times since then and much has changed in our state and world over the past 40-plus years. The same can be said for our city-parish government, and a committee appointed by the Metro Council is currently reviewing our plan of government.
The committee must submit its recommendations to the council before July in order to have suggested changes approved in time to make the fall ballot, where citizens get their say.
Our plan of government was created in 1947 when voters established a consolidated city-parish form of government. It has been amended 17 times.
There could be important changes presented to voters regarding our plan of government and we should have the final say—not the committee or the Metro Council, who may be more interested in protecting their own job or power. (A clear conflict of interest.)
Some of the proposals discussed include a two-term limit for the mayor-president—currently it’s three terms, like that of council members; changing the chief administrative officer position into a professional city manager who would be appointed by the mayor but confirmed by the council; creating parishwide at-large council seats (10 single-member districts, 2 at-large; currently 12 single-member districts); moving the planning department to the jurisdiction of the mayor, rather than the Metro Council; and revising the budget cycle to allow the council more time for review.
There are other ideas being discussed and you need to pay attention, as this is a good opportunity to improve our operations, services and results for the future. The committee’s final meeting could be in May. Neither our city-parish or state can just keep repeating, “Well that’s not the way we used to do it.” The “’usedta’ committee” needs to be abolished.
Unfortunately, the plan of government can only fix some things. Many of the boards and commissions—or laws—we may find problematic involve state statutes or even the constitution. That’s a whole other story to be addressed in the future. For now, let’s address what we can do in EBR.
I was glad to see a House committee kill the bill on a moratorium on new billboards by a 14-3 vote. This bogus bill, pushed by the state’s trucking industry and introduced by Rep. Jack McFarland, was supposedly about reducing driver distractions and accidents.
That is a farce. We all know they didn’t like the billboard ads from injury lawyers who target truckers. I get it. And there are many such boards. But who gets targeted next? They were trying to shoot the messenger.
Injury attorney ads also run on TV, print and radio. Will the next bill be aimed at those outlets? What if your business is the target? Lamar Advertising, the nation’s third-largest outdoor company, is not only one of the few public companies with headquarters in Louisiana but they are also a large employer. The company is very generous in supporting charities—not to mention the major philanthropy of the Lamar and Reilly families as well. Not much of a “thanks” when some elected officials come after you—and a Republican to boot, who one would expect to support free enterprise and free speech.
If we want to address the real problem, deal with its root: the need for legal reform.
Legal reform is the answer
Fewer billboards won’t cure lawsuits gone wild in Louisiana. Let’s look at some of those state rankings shared recently by LABI’s Stephen Waguespack:
• “The Institute for Legal reform rates our legal climate as 50th in the country and rates us as a ‘judicial hellhole.’ We file three times as many lawsuits as Alabama. We are top 5 in the amount of tort costs as a share of our state economy.”
• “According to a study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, the average cost to each Louisiana household as a result of our legal climate is an extra $4,000 per year.”
• “Our insurance rates are second highest in the nation.” Have you compared what you pay with friends and family in other states?
Waguespack contends the most important bill this session could be HB 372 by Rep. Kirk Talbot.
“This bill, if passed and signed into law by the governor, will implement long-needed and obvious reform to our legal system that will hopefully lead to better auto insurance rates for Louisiana individuals, families and businesses,” Waguespack wrote. “Representative Talbot’s bill is a well-drafted compromise that attempts to change system.”
If Talbot’s bill goes down—and opponents are working hard to kill it quietly—you may continue to see your insurance rates go up. If the Legislature passes the bill, we have to hope Gov. John Bel Edwards will sign it.
Discrimination in Texas
In a 6-4 vote, the San Antonio council voted last week to keep a Chick-fil-A franchise from opening at the San Antonio International Airport.
Councilman Robert Treviño introduced a plan to replace the restaurant, saying he could not support a company with “a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.” He also noted the chain had donated to organizations like the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, both of which don’t believe in same sex marriage.
Chick-fil-A, a national franchise with locations throughout Texas, states its corporate purpose is “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.” It is closed on Sundays. I respect that.
I discovered that the San Antonio United Way raised more than $48 million from thousands of people and businesses. Among the listed partners of United Way is the Salvation Army. I am certain there are other businesses in the airport that donate to the United Way each year. So, does the council begin to police donors and ban them too?
As for the FCA, both former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry and quarterback Roger Staubach—two names revered in Texas—are in the FCA Hall of Champions. Is the council going to target Cowboys fans?
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) wrote on Twitter that the ban “has the stench of religious discrimination against Chick-fil-A.”
Now the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is investigating the matter based on constitutional protection.
• Hats off to The Advocate on winning a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. The newspaper was recognized for its coverage of Louisiana’s criminal conviction system and non-unanimous juries. The law was changed by voters in 2018.
• LSU recently had the public launch of its “Fierce for the Future” campaign, the largest fundraising campaign for higher education in Louisiana history. For the first time, all eight LSU campuses will be working together. The goal is $1.5 billion, with $571.2 million already raised during the silent phase. LSU knows that the private sector—alumni, supporters and businesses—will be key to the future. Learn more at fierceforthefuturecampaign.org.