Gov. Bobby Jindal’s legislative agenda appears largely designed to avoid controversy and to sidestep any possibility of embarrassing public defeats as he stands in the glare of a national spotlight shining on possible presidential contenders.
But if Jindal’s trying to steer clear of areas that could lead to a legislative meltdown and political awkwardness, lawmakers might not make it so easy for him.
They’re offering bills that could require tricky maneuvering from the governor, that could have him choosing sides between groups of supporters and that could get his administration offering positions that trigger nasty editorials and public criticism.
In his light package of bills, the Republican governor’s returning to well-tread areas of bipartisan and overwhelming support, such as offering new veterans’ programs and cracking down on sex offenders. He’s offered a budget proposal that tries to appease most of the groups he’s cut in prior spending plans.
Jindal’s big priority is workforce development, trying to find new ways to train more high school and college students in the manufacturing and petrochemical jobs his administration has worked to attract to Louisiana. That’s an area where there may be disagreements with lawmakers over approach, but not mission.
And while the governor’s backing of proposals to add new abortion restrictions might be seen as contentious in other states, those types of bills regularly sail through Louisiana’s Legislature with support of Democratic lawmakers, not drawing much divisive debate here.
The smaller work list for Jindal isn’t surprising.
The governor has fewer than two years remaining in his term, and his relationship with lawmakers has grown more difficult in recent years. A sweeping tax plan Jindal proposed last year fizzled without a vote taken.
Meanwhile, his focus appears to be on a possible 2016 presidential campaign, perhaps more than on navigating the weeds of a three-month legislative session at home.
The opening day of the regular session last week started for Jindal with a national editorial on the U.S. dispute with Russia over its intervention in Ukraine and ended with him discussing American energy production on CNBC. In between, he spoke to the state House and Senate for 18 minutes, with less than a third of that about his current legislative agenda.
He spent Friday in the important presidential primary state of New Hampshire. A day earlier, he unveiled a new political action committee focused on helping conservative Republican congressional candidates around the country.
However, lawmakers aren’t limited by Jindal’s list of ideas – and they don’t appear to be worried about the governor’s national image.
They’re proposing bills that would require the governor’s office to open more of its records to public scrutiny, seek to protect state employees from reprisal for providing information to legislative committees and cut state agency spending on consulting contracts.
The Jindal administration has successfully opposed each of those measures in prior years, but that opposition has gotten negative headlines.
Bills that may be the most politically tricky for the governor involve Louisiana’s use of tougher educational standards, known as the Common Core.
The state education board agreed more than three years ago to phase into Louisiana’s public schools the grade-by-grade benchmarks of what students should learn in reading, writing and math.
Now that implementation is underway, lawmakers are questioning whether the efforts should be slowed, tweaked or scrapped entirely.
Similar debates in other states have become problems for Republican governors, and Jindal avoided the issue in his opening day speech to lawmakers even though it’s arguably the highest-profile topic of the legislative session.
Common Core supporters, including Jindal’s hand-picked education superintendent, say raising expectations for students will better prepare them for college and careers. But the issue divides Republicans, with tea party supporters criticizing use of the standards as shifting Louisiana to a nationalized education system.
Jindal has refused to say whether he supports a rollback or other modifications.
But lawmakers may make it difficult for the governor to keep toeing the line on that issue and others that could put him in the headlines in ways he’d prefer to avoid.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.