A new session means new opportunities

There was a time when party affiliation meant very little in terms of how Louisiana lawmakers geared their legislation during both financial and general years. Republicans here, as in the rest of the South, were fairly much an endangered species, and Democrats were the overwhelmingly ruling party. There were some exceptions. But that was fairly much how things worked.

What former statesmen recall – from the time when statecraft was a prominent and welcomed attribute – is that once upon a time, lawmakers as a whole were more concerned with individual needs of the communities they represented than furthering a given political party agenda. Overall, what was just, what was for the better good of a parish or group of parishes, and their people trumped making political points. Politicians with differing philosophies, recognizing that their buddies were not the only kids on the legislative block, considered finding consensus a victory, not a philosophical or political defeat.

The legislature began its 2019 term Monday. Because this is a financial year, lawmakers are limited on how many bills could be pre-filed, and so this year’s offerings are limited. Some of the bills written by our local legislative delegation are sorely needed and make good sense, and the best of those are not weighted down by partisan political considerations.

We have concerns, however, that in the legislature as a whole, the work of dealing with the chief business of the session, which involves finance and economics, should be watched closely. The gubernatorial race is already making its presence known publicly, at this point through attack ads aimed at Gov. John Bel Edwards. Republicans have thus far not produced a strong single candidate to oppose him, nor does there appear to be a wealth of Republican talent waiting in the wings. We will be paying special attention to situations where the partisan nature of the season may result in action intended to undermine the Governor, at the risk of undermining legislative functions as well. Intentions are everything, and if the intent of some actions is to detail Edwards’ re-election, then the people lose, no matter which political side they are on. We have been fortunate locally in that our representatives, even if they have some disagreement, appear to be acting in the best interests of their constituents, if only in that their bills are representative of local sentiments, regardless of what political side embraces a particular issue or bill.

Rep. Jerome Zeringue has distinguished himself during this and other sessions by addressing issues of importance, and is playing a particularly important role with his dedication to difficult fiscal matters. We don’t see him as the type of lawmaker who will embrace fiscal processes as a means of furthering any political agenda, and are optimistic that this will remain the case.

Rep. Jerry Gisclair has filed a bill sure to draw lots of discussion, which would require restaurants to tell you where the crawfish and shrimp on their menus come from. Rep. Beryl Amedee has filed a piece of legislation that would extend self-defense as a legal protection to someone lawfully at a house of worship for charges such as murder. While we can certainly see such a bill as something the NRA would love to see passed, we are aware as well that Rep. Amedee, active in church affairs, is acting on constituent recommendations.

We have not yet discussed her bill that would deregulate wrestling, but are curious.

Sen. Norby Chabert’s legislative swan song shall be his bill making the song “Jambalaya” an official state song, and the Cajun Waltz the official state dance. We don’t see anyone making political hay out of this, and don’t predict opposition. Both are splendid ideas.

What disappoints us as the session begins is the failure of any legislator from the Terrebonne Parish delegation to offer a bill – any kind of a bill – that would correct the determination in a federal court that the state is violating federal voting rights law by continuing to hold at-large elections for 32nd Judicial District judges.

Certainly, opponents of any map drawn up by legislators and offered as a cure could seek relief in the courts. It is not acceptable at this point for legislators to say they are not properly briefed on this matter. A bill either presented by the delegation or supported by it would go a long way toward bringing this long-standing litigation to an end.

That having been said, we hope that the examples of our local delegation staying out of partisan frays will be followed by their fellows. •