Tensions are building among members of the Capital Region delegation over Republican state Sen. Bodie White’s controversial bill to break up BREC, after White deferred a hearing on his SB205 in a House committee this morning.
Dozens of opponents of the measure, which would create separate parks systems for the cities of Central and Zachary, had braved heavy rain to turn out for the hearing of the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs.
But White, who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, voluntarily deferred the bill 45 minutes into the meeting, saying he had other more pressing meetings to attend today.
“They’re waiting on me upstairs and I just left the Bond Commission,” White told the committee, explaining why he wanted to put off the hearing on his bill today. “I’m waiting to go meet with the speaker and the president and some of the money committee people.”
Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, who opposes SB205, asked if the opponents could at least testify so committee members could hear from them, but committee members had already approved White’s motion to voluntarily defer.
After the meeting, Marcelle was livid.
“The most unfortunate thing for me is that people from all over came to speak against this in the weather, in the storm and then he didn’t allow them to speak,” Marcelle says.
Lawmakers often defer bills in committee when they know they don’t have the votes. Though SB205 sailed through the Senate, it’s not clear it would have passed the House committee, even though the committee is overwhelmingly Republican.
GOP lawmaker Barbara Freiberg also was disappointed that the bill didn’t get a hearing today.
“I was disappointed that all those people had showed up and we were not able to hear the bill,” she says. “I don’t know how it’s going to go but I think people have heard the concerns.”
White did not respond to a request seeking comment before publication. But Marcelle says the senator is abusing his power as finance committee chair, threatening to withhold funding for specific projects from lawmakers who challenge him on the bill.
“I know for a fact from some of the members, that he has been working the members to try to get his bill through by threatening their projects,” Marcelle says. “That is not right. It’s just wrong.”
In response, she has asked Sen. Regina Barrow, R-Baton Rouge, to ask Senate President Page Cortez to meet with a cross-section of lawmakers, who are concerned White is overstepping his authority as a committee chair.
Barrow says she is aware of Marcelle’s request but has not reached out yet to Cortez.
Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin, a longtime Capitol watcher, says it’s not unusual for committee chairs to wield their power to their benefit.
“There is always a lot of deference to chairs of money committees, especially this time of year, when people are trying to get their projects funded,” he says.
But Marcelle, who’s been in the Legislature since 2015 and served on the Metro Council before that, says this situation is different from the typical power dynamic in the Legislature.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. This is more pointed,” she says. “Like when he said this morning he had to go meet with the money committee people. That was sending us a message. It’s hateful.”