BREAKING: House Votes To Pass School Choice Bill, 62-43

UPDATE (11:55 p.m.) – During a break, Lopinto and Alfred Williams, who were marked as absent for the vote, have changed their votes to Yes and No, respectively. That makes the final vote 62-43.

UPDATE (11:10 p.m.)We’d mentioned before that something to watch in this debate was the Democrats in leadership positions who voted against it.

There were four…

  • Rep. Karen St. Germain (D-Plaquemine), chair of the Transportation, Highways, and Public Works Committee;
  • Rep. Andy Anders (D-Vidalia), chair of the Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture, and Rural Development Committee;
  • Rep. Mike Danahay (D-Sulphur), vice-chair of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee; and
  • Rep. Herbert Dixon (D-Alexandria), chair of the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee.
Being as though Ritchie got his vice-chairmanship of the House Insurance Committee pulled for a vote in another committee against a different bill in the education package, it will be interesting to see if any of the four have their cards pulled.

UPDATE (10:55 p.m.) – Two members missed the vote – Republican Joe Lopinto (Metairie) and Democrat Alfred Williams (Baton Rouge).

The 61 “yes” votes include 49 Republicans…

Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles), Bryan Adams (R-Gretna), Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia), John Berthelot (R-Gonzales), Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette), Chris Broadwater (R-Hammond), Richie Burford (R-Stonewall), Henry Burns (R-Haughton), Tim Burns (R-Mandeville), Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport), Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge), Seimone Champagne (R-Erath), Patrick Connick (R-Marrero), Greg Cromer (R-Slidell), Gordon Dove (R-Houma), Franklin Foil (R-Baton Rouge), Ray Garofalo (R-Chalmette), Hunter Greene (R-Baton Rouge), John Guinn (R-Jennings), Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), Kenny Havard (R-Jackson), Lowell Hazel (R-Pineville), Cameron Henry (R-Metairie), Bob Hensgens (R-Abbeville), Valerie Hodges (R-Denham Springs), Frank Hoffmann (R-West Monroe), Paul Hollis (R-Covington), Frank Howard (R-Many), Mike Huval (R-Breaux Bridge), Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette), Chris Leopold (R-Belle Chasse), Tony Ligi (R-Kenner), Nick Lorusso (R-New Orleans), John Morris (R-Monroe), Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell), Erich Ponti (R-Baton Rouge), Stephen Pugh (R-Pontchatoula), Steve Pylant (R-Winnsboro), Clifton Richardson (R-Baton Rouge), Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), Clay Schexnayder (R-Denham Springs), John Schroder (R-Covington), Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport), Rob Shadoin (R-Ruston), Scott Simon (R-Abita Springs), Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge), Jeff Thompson (R-Bossier City), Lenar Whitney (R-Houma), Thomas Willmott (R-Kenner)

There were 12 Democrats voting for the bill…

Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans), Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans), Austin Badon (D-New Orleans), Robert Billiot (D-Westwego), Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro), Dalton Honore (D-Baton Rouge), Girod Jackson (D-New Orleans), Patrick Jefferson (D-Homer), Walt Leger (D-New Orleans), Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans), Ledricka Thierry (D-Opelousas), Patrick Williams (D-Shreveport)

Among the 42 “no” votes, 32 Democrats…

Andy Anders (D-Vidalia), James Armes (D-Leesville), Regina Barrow (D-Shreveport), Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans), Jared Brossett (D-New Orleans), Roy Burrell (D-Shreveport), Kenny Cox (D-Natchitoches), Mike Danahay (D-Sulphur), Herbert Dixon (D-Alexandria), John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), A.B. Franklin (D-Lake Charles), Randall Gaines (D-LaPlace), Jerry Gisclair (D-Larose), Mickey Guillory (D-Eunice), Dorothy Sue Hill (D-Dry Creek), Marcus Hunter (D-Monroe), Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), Ted James (D-Baton Rouge), Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), Sam Jones (D-Franklin), Terry Landry (D-New Iberia), Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte), Jack Montoucet (D-Crowley), Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport), Stephen Ortego (D-Carencro), Vincent Pierre (D-Lafayette), Ed Price (D-Gonzales), Gene Reynolds (D-Minden), Harold Ritchie (D-Bogalusa), Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge), Karen St. Germain (D-Plaquemine), Major Thibaut (D-New Roads)

Eight Republicans crossed the bridge and voted against it…

Bubba Chaney (R-Rayville), Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles), Joe Harrison (R-Napoleonville), Eddie Lambert (R-Gonzales), Sherman Mack (R-Livingston), Greg Miller (R-LaPlace), Jim Morris (R-Oil City), Rogers Pope (R-Denham Springs)

A couple of independents (Terry Brown of Colfax and Dee Richard of Thibodaux) both voted against it as well.

UPDATE (9:46 p.m.) – Carter’s speech is short and sweet, and it goes to a vote.

The final: 61 votes for, 42 against.

Now they move to HB 974, the teacher tenure reform bill.

UPDATE (9:45 p.m.) – Tony Ligi (R-Kenner) finally defends the bill, by making the point in a pretty good two-minute speech that this thing has been in the public eye for months.

And freshman Rob Shadoin (R-Ruston) says he wasn’t going to vote for it initially but he was convinced during this debate and now

John Schroeder (R-Mandeville) takes offense to being called a puppet and chides the unions for not presenting much of an alternative.

And now Fannin (D-Natchitoches) addresses the Picayune’s story referenced below and said his concerns were solved and that he supports the bill.

That’s the end of the two-minute speeches, and now it’s Carter’s turn to close on the bill.

UPDATE (9:30 p.m.) – So far the only ones coming up for two-minute speeches are opponents. The rest of the House are content to speak with their voting machines once this plays out.

Pat Smith says if you vote for school choice you’re a puppet. Sam Jones says Louisiana hasn’t been looted since the Union soldiers came through in the 1860’s. Ortego whines that he got pooped on for asking questions and says we “need more time” to make a decision on it, as though more than 12 hours of debate, the longest in the history of the Louisiana House of Representatives, isn’t enough.

It’ll be over soon.

UPDATE (9:20 p.m.) – The first speaker in the two-minute speeches was Joe Harrison, the aforementioned unpopular Republican from Napoleonville, who after talking about his connections with public schools in Assumption Parish, came out and said he can’t support the bill.

Harrison has largely sealed his fate in the Republican Party with that statement. He wasn’t well-respected in the first place. Now he’ll be on the chopping block.

UPDATE (9:15 p.m.) – At long last, there’s been a motion, this by Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), to end amendments to the bill. It passes, 59-42. While the motion was being made Burrell had an amendment out to tweak the preference of the availability for vouchers, and it failed.

And now every House member gets two minutes to speak on the bill. Technically, that could mean 210 minutes, or three and a half hours, before voting. It’s inconceivable that it’ll take that long – but the way this has gone, who knows?

And they’ve still got the teacher tenure bill to get started after this is over.

UPDATE (9:10 p.m.) – The Times-Picayune is reporting that Fannin’s earlier amendment which would ban local tax money from being used for vouchers, and which was objected to by Rep. John Bel Edwards on the grounds that it wouldn’t do what he wanted it to do, is now a contentious issue. Because Fannin now thinks Edwards was right and he’s upset with the Jindal administration, says the Picayune – and they’re having a confab in the hallways between Fannin and several administration members about how to handle the issue.

Greene’s amendment was killed by something like a 75-25 vote, by the way.

UPDATE (9 p.m.) – Rep. Hunter Greene (R-Baton Rouge) just put forth an interesting amendment. The voucher bill is limited to recipients whose households are below 250 percent of the federally-designated poverty line – which for a family of four would come to about $55,000 per year, for example. And with this amendment that limitation would be removed and replaced with a preference for folks under 250 percent of the poverty level, which means that if there are seats in private schools available after all the people under 250 percent have applied for vouchers, families above that line would then have a chance at a voucher.

Greene, naturally, has been set upon by the usual suspects. Ortego started off griping about how some of the left-wing critics of the bill said the vouchers were too broad and why are we making it wider, to which Greene gave him a dismissive look and said “some of us like it wide,” and then Jones accused him of making this a “who you know” deal. And then he gets asked really dumb questions.

For example, Rep. Alfred Williams (D-Baton Rouge) has cooked up a scenario where somehow the private schools will declare a small number of slots open for people under the 250 percent of poverty level line, and then blow open their doors once those slots are exhausted so as to be able to take rich kids on scholarship. Greene dismisses that – “capacity is capacity,” he says.

And then Rep. Roy Burrell (D-Shreveport) accuses him of opening up slots for kids in A and B schools, which is specifically not the case.

This is now the longest debate of a single bill in the history of the Louisiana House of Representatives.

UPDATE (8:30 p.m.) – Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge), who authored the bill, has put up an amendment in three parts which allows multiple charters for schools by operations who have demonstrated success in other states and otherwise streamlines the approval process for charter operators. He’s getting tied in knots by some of the less-articulate Democrat House members, who are essentially asking him to explain the entire charter process and he’s trying to explain that this is a pretty simple amendment.

That’s his mistake. They don’t really care about his amendment. They’re just trying to drag this out.

Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans) then stands to rip Carter for presenting his amendment as a floor amendment instead of presenting it at the beginning of the process. He explains it came (ostensibly from the Jindal administration) late, and as such there wasn’t time to present it that way. But then along comes Rep. Pat Smith, who questions Carter about some terminology in the amendment that doesn’t match up with the rest of the bill, and he withdraws the amendment so as to fix it.

UPDATE (8 p.m) – Thankfully, the “questions for opponents” segment of this affair has ended, as the Democrats ran out of people willing to engage in pointless dialogue with John Bel Edwards. Now we’re into 10 “floor amendments” mostly presented by the same crowd who opposed it in the first place. None of these are likely to pass, though it’ll be a great opportunity for the opponents to prolong/filibuster this as much as possible.

After this is over, there will be floor comments, and that’s going to be another opportunity to stave off a vote.

This is a very similar process to the marathon hearing we endured last Wednesday in the House Education Committee. It means HB 974, the teacher tenure reform bill, will go very, very late into the night.

UPDATE (7:30 p.m.) – Things got a little dicey just now, when Rep. John Bel Edwards presented a poison-pill amendment which would have essentially destroyed the use of state Minimum Foundation Program dollars to fund the voucher program (it would have denied the “local portion” of the MFP to be spent). After what seemed like an overly lengthy and boring period of questions, which looked like they might have been designed to lull the chamber to sleep, Rep. Regina Barrow (D-Shreveport) asked for a lockout of the chamber – meaning whomever had strayed into the hallway or the bathroom wouldn’t be able to get back in for a vote – and then after a quorum call Edwards’ amendment failed by a narrow 47-50 margin.

Now the opponents are supposed to have an hour to answer questions, but none of the proponents are interested in asking them. They’re ready for a vote. Which means we’ll have several minutes of Democrats Sam Jones and John Bel Edwards having a dialogue nobody cares about.

UPDATE (7 p.m.) – Well, OK, not so fast.

Opponents of the bill have been shooting amendments at it like BB’s since about 5:00. None have passed, and none will. But the word is that a deal was cut not to cut off amendments until everything that was filed prior to 4:00 today has been heard, and each one gets 10 minutes for presentation and then five minutes for each question.

And these things have all (with a couple of exceptions) followed the pattern of a Democrat opponent presenting an amendment that will either badly damage the bill or at least weaken it, followed by a parade of usual-suspect Democrats coming up to ask questions out of the Mutual Admiration Society handbook; none of them are particularly for clarifying the amendments or objecting to them but for attacking the bill itself and in some cases impugning its supporters.

The exceptions were when Joe Harrison, a Republican from Napoleonville who is not well-liked by his GOP colleagues but says he’s for the bill (we’ll see about that at some point tonight), attempted to keep C-rated schools out of the voucher program. That got crushed. And a similar amendment by freshman Steven Ortego (D-Carencro) – who had been particularly strident in attacking the bill’s proponents earlier – produced some hostile questions.

Ortego’s amendment, which he said wasn’t a poison bill, was that only students below grade level would be eligible for vouchers. He talked about how he was an A student in what’s now rated a D school, and how he went to Tulane on a scholarship and ended up with a master’s degree. That prompted Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) to pop up and note that Ortego went to Tulane on a legislative scholarship, and didn’t he have a choice to go where he wanted. And after Ortego got hit with that, Rep. Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge) jumped up and asked, essentially, what his problem with parents choosing a school is?

That prompted Ortego to whine a little later that he was getting personal attacks from his questioners. But the word from insiders is that he’d irritated his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and he might very well be persona non grata as an effective legislator. He’s just 27 and a freshman, and we’re told the teachers’ unions have been telling him he’s the future of the Louisiana Democrat Party and that he needs to be aggressive in fighting this bill. And Ortego clearly was eating that up today. Except that he probably did damage to his career.

ORIGINAL POST – Today they’re going to vote on HB 976, the school choice bill.

They’ve been at it since 9:00 this morning with debate on amendments, and they’re in recess after the bill’s proponents have had a chance to make their case for it and answer questions. At 4:30 they’ll reconvene with 30 minutes for the opponents to make their case, and that’s going to be a show for the ages. At some time after 5:00 they’ll finally vote.

Lots of amendments, and lots of issues discussed today. The anti- crowd has not particularly distinguished itself.

Among the amendments passed today…

  • A major amendment giving precedence to kids in D and F-rated schools where voucher availability is concerned. C-school students are still eligible, but only after kids from D and F schools have been accepted. This isn’t exactly fair, but it’s what’s politically necessary since there’s been a great deal of screaming that a C-rated school isn’t a failing school. Yay, mediocrity. Guess you’ve got to start somewhere, though.
  • A restatement of the fact that local tax dollars are not to be used to fund vouchers. It’s all MFP money, which is state money, but the Democrats refuse to accept that. That amendment passed.
  • A rule that you can’t be a violent criminal or malevolent crook of some other stripe and have anything to do with one of the organizations authorizing or running charter schools.
  • An amendment giving the state superintendent of education power to promote some sort of accountability program for private schools getting vouchers, which weakens the bill in that it restricts the ability of parents to pick schools for their kids.
  • An amendment requiring the state superintendent of education to give an annual report to the legislature on the progress of the state’s implementation of a “total system of choice,” which basically encompasses everything in the bill – charters, traditional public schools, private schools using vouchers and things like virtual schools.
  • An amendment whereby non-public schools can be state-certified to provide special needs programs. Parents would receive information on the programs offered by a specific school and non-public schools would be able to contract with public schools for specific programs for special needs students.
  • A “severability” amendment, which means that if one part of the bill should fall to a court challenge the entire bill won’t be thrown out. This is pretty standard stuff for a big piece of legislation and it’s considered bad legislating not to put one in. This one led to some high comedy, because after Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) offered it, Democrat honcho John Bel Edwards got up and asked him who’s saying the bill is unconstitutional. Seabaugh’s response? “Why, you are. I read it in the paper this morning.”
  • An amendment requesting that the courts process any constitutional challenges on an expedited basis.

This thing has the votes to pass, but it won’t likely go quite along party lines. There will be some Republicans who vote against it and some Democrats who vote for it.



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