Legislature Update: Schroder Blasts Tucker

After a slow start due to the Easter holidays, the 2010 Louisiana state legislative session is now in high gear.

And high dudgeon as well, at least in some quarters.

State Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington), who was tossed off the House Appropriations Committee in retaliation for his vote for Democrat Noble Ellington for the Speaker Pro Tem job last week, took to the floor for some choice shots at his tormentor – House Speaker Jim Tucker (R-Westwego).

“This display of political power helps give Louisiana politics a bad name,” Schroder said of Tucker’s action in stripping him and a few others of plum committee assignments. Tucker’s moves “cast doubt in the mind of the people we were sent here to represent.”

Schroder said he considered resigning his office over the flap, but chose not to. “I have decided that now is the time for me to roll up my sleeves, dig a little deeper and become a stronger member of this body,” he said.

But he also denied Tucker’s insinuation that the punishment was warranted because he reneged on a commitment to vote for Joe Robideaux (I-Lafayette), the winner of the Speaker Pro Tem election. “One thing I’m not is a liar,” was Schroder’s quote. He said the accusation that he lied “seeks to cover up the real reason” he was booted, which he said was that he “ran afoul of leadership.” Whether Schroder meant Tucker or Gov. Bobby Jindal with that last bit he left to the imagination, but it does appear that Schroder’s camp thinks his aggressive agenda on Civil Service is the real issue.

With that, the matter appears closed – but the legislature is off to a shaky start.

Jindal Rainy-Day Moves Meet With Brickbats

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposals to change the state’s constitution in order to allow the state legislature to appropriate money from the state’s rainy-day fund and the Educational Quality Trust Fund to plug budget holes this year have put him sideways with two groups one would normally expect to be supportive of his policies. The Tea Party of Louisiana and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry have both said spending dedicated funds to close budget holes is a bad idea, and doing so fails to address the most important problem – the size of state government.

Jindal’s point is that the money in those funds is being wasted. “It’s like sitting on an account with thousands of dollars to renovate your house when you can’t afford to pay your mortgage,” he told the Advocate.

That reasoning didn’t impress Bobby Hugghins, a spokesman for TPL. “All we’re doing is squandering the money the public has voted to set aside for specific use and we’re prolonging the day of reckoning,” Hugghins said. Meanwhile, LABI has questioned whether raiding the set-aside funds would impact the state’s bond rating.

The Governor said he expects he’ll get a two-thirds vote in favor of the proposals. That might be a questionable proposition.

Megafund Megasquabble

Meanwhile, a major controversy is brewing over the state’s economic development megafund and other corporate incentive cash. The governor announced he’s got $67 million set aside in the state capital expenditure budget to lure Nucor’s proposed pig iron plant to St. James Parish, though the Nucor bid is almost completely dependent on what Congress does on cap-and-trade legislation (if anything like Waxman-Markey passes the Senate, Nucor’s new site will be in Brazil, not Louisiana). Nucor was going to make a decision on a site in 2008, but chose not to make any moves due to the economy. Now Washington is holding up the works, but Jindal has the money set aside for site prep work.

Meanwhile, as the V-Vehicle mess continues to unfold, with news that the company’s new CEO is making another run at a Department of Energy loan which would re-start its project, the Shreveport Times opines that the V-Vehicle earmark should be held on to in case something good happens with the company. The paper does not suggest that our taxes ought to go up by $65 million to fill the budget hole, but one might infer that.

Our position on the Megafund thing has already been stated.

Traction For Hardy As Idiocy Crosses The Aisle

Among the dumb bills filed by state rep. Rickey Hardy (D-Lafayette) was HB139, a bill which creates a special driver’s license to mark people who are repeat drug offenders. HB139, which is quite possibly unconstitutional and quite definitely doomed to create unintended consequences should it pass, was cleared out of the House Transportation Committee unanimously yesterday.

“Mr. Chairman, I grew up in the ‘hood, I live in the ‘hood,” Hardy said during the hearing. “I see it everyday. This bill will make it uncomfortable for drug dealers to be on the streets.”

“It would give the officers who would stop that person a heads up on who he is dealing with. It would put him on high alert.”

Or maybe the drug dealers and addicts just wouldn’t get driver’s licenses, and maybe they’d go completely underground.

Hardy got support for Rep. Sam Jones (D-Franklin), a former police officer, who said “I understand what you’re trying to do” with the bill and that it’s “invaluable information” to know that someone stopped by the police might be a drug offender. And Rep. Henry Burns (R-Haughton) said “I want to commend you for your boldness. I think this makes a statement that we are concerned about it,” he said of drug problems.

It didn’t occur to anyone in the room, apparently, that an officer can run a check on a regular ordinary driver’s license and find out everything somebody might have been convicted of. If this passes, there’s a good chance the state Supreme Court might take that into consideration in weighing the constitutionality of an impingement on individual rights.

Other news for Hardy wasn’t so good. His bill to extend license suspensions for five years for those caught driving with a suspended license was shot down in the Transportation Committee. Hope springs eternal, though, as his bills to deny public office to 70-year olds and to term-limit local officials get committee hearings today.

GOP Hates Elections Bills (For Good Reason)

The Louisiana Republican Party put out a communique this morning asking legislators to toss four bills which would allow voters to register at polling places on Election Day and also to bring back jungle primaries in Congressional elections…

Today the House and Governmental Affairs Committee considers four bills on two topics that we’d like to see our elected leaders dismiss today.  The first pair are HCR 54 and HR 1115. Both measures are aimed at allowing for an unregistered voter to register at a polling place on Election Day rather than 30 days prior as currently required by law.  Enacting this law would be a mistake.  Same day registration opens up new opportunties for voter fraud by allowing a “voter” to register on Election Day at multiple precincts across the state and cast their vote more than one time.  The Republican Party of Louisiana encourages the committee to reject this idea.

Second, again this year, the State Legislature is contemplating a return to open or jungle primaries for Louisiana’s federal elections. If enacted, HB 292 and HB 1157 would remove the responsibility of members of a particular political party to select the nominee of that party.   Furthermore, a well-reasoned argument for making the change which first went into effect in 2008 was that open primaries in the past pushed back elections into December and consequently hurt our members’ seniority and committee assignments.  A return to that system negatively impacts the influence of our delegation in Washington at a time when our state and nation need their leadership.  The Republican Party of Louisiana encourages the commitee to reject these bills. 

We don’t have a lot to add to that. Same-day registration is an open sewer of an idea, a guarantee to insitutionalize Orleans Parish-style vote fraud and it’s no surprise that HB1115 was authored by Juan LaFonta (D-ACORN). As for jungle primaries for Congressional and Senate races, no thanks. Independents can run in the general election under the current system just like in a jungle primary, and despite what open primary defenders will tell you it’s actually easier for incumbents to get re-elected in a jungle primary than in party primaries – because a scandal-ridden slimeball congressman who nevertheless has access to a lot of cash and has generally voted the way his district wants him to is going to make the runoff, and in all likelihood he’ll make the runoff against a candidate whose ideological position is at odds with the district.

Moderate candidates also do horribly in jungle primaries. A perfect example is the Edwin Edwards-David Duke gubernatorial race in Louisiana in 1991; Buddy Roemer came in third as the incumbent that year, but it’s almost certain that in a Republican primary Roemer would likely have beaten Duke because Republican voters would have considered Duke unelectable.

Legislators vs. Law Students – This Oughta Be Good

SB 549, a bill authored by state Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton), would forbid law clinics at public and private colleges that receive state money from suing government agencies, suing individuals and businesses for financial damages or raising most constitutional challenges. It’s destined to be one of the most controversial bills in the legislature.

The main backer of the bill is the Louisiana Chemical Association, and its main target is Tulane’s Law Clinic. The Tulane shop has earned a reputation for being wildly left-wing, and a tool of the environmentalist wacko crowd. As Adley said, “Don’t take tax money and then sue the same people you’re taking money from. He also argued the Tulane clinic is “proud of stirring up lawsuits.”

Which, as it happens, is a precise description of Tulane’s law clinic. They’ve scuttled industrial projects for well over a decade, including the Shintech plant in St. James Parish and Entergy’s petroleum coke plant in St. Charles Parish. Here’s a description from Tulane:

The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic is the largest environmental law clinic in the country.  The clinic was established in 1989 for two main purposes.  The first is to train third year law students.  The students obtain first hand experience by representing real clients in real situations.  The second purpose of the clinic is to provide free legal assistance to indigent individuals or organizations that would otherwise not be able to afford representation on their own.  This service is aimed to “protect and restore the environment for the benefit of the public” (Tulane 8).  In addition to these two main goals, the law clinic also has a Community Outreach program which teaches the public to identify environmental issues and take the appropriate action.

As one of the main functions of the clinic, third year law students act as student attorneys who have the same responsibilities as a practicing attorney, but are under the direct supervision of one of the clinic’s environmental law fellows, or clinic instructors.  Each of these instructors may act as the supervising attorney for up to 10 students.  The clinic instructor must approve every legal action that the students take.  A student attorney of the clinic is responsible for “developing and maintaining contacts with clients; investigating and developing the facts; identifying, interviewing, and preparing the necessary witnesses; analyzing the legal issues; drafting documents, pleadings, and briefs; and presenting the case to the agency or court” (Tulane 8).

Since 1989, the student attorney’s and their instructors have handled over 200 cases, representing over 170 different community organizations.  Some of the issues the clinic deals with are wetland protection, urban zoning, clean water, clean air, landfill locations, and energy.  The types of cases that the clinic adopts span the environmental spectrum.  Many of the clinic’s cases deal with plant locations along the Mississippi River.  The section of the Mississippi River from Baton Rogue to New Orleans is often referred to as “Cancer Alley” because of the numerous chemical plants located there.  Over 20 percent of the nation’s chemicals are produced in this short section of the Mississippi River, which makes zoning new chemical plants in this area a major concern.

Besides taking on legal cases, the clinic also offers environmental education for the public. The Community Outreach program is designed to educate and organize the public and acts as one of the most important tools of the clinic.  Many communities are unaware of the serious environmental problems they face.  After learning to identify these problems, communities must learn how to document what is happening and report the problem to the proper authorities.  The clinic helps conduct workshops in environmental awareness.  They assist people who are asking for grants, help make flyers for meetings or events, show people where to look for permit notices, and answer questions regarding the restrictions on certain permits.  The clinic often acts as a resource for information since they have the ability to find out current and accurate information quickly.  The clinic often helps people who phone in simple questions, such as whether or not they will be harmed by the pesticides being spraying on nearby farms.  Through education and organization, the law clinic helps people and communities who would have been the victims of environmental injustice.

Dan Borne, the president of LCA, confirmed that Tulane’s law clinic is the target, putting this out in a statement:

“Tulane’s environmental law clinic has consistently brought suits against industries and Louisiana state agencies and takes credit on its Web site for preventing hundreds of millions of dollars from coming to Louisiana.”

Of course, the academic community is extremely upset – and so are the lefties.

“Law clinics work best when law schools are allowed to decide how their clinics can best train students and best serve clients. It is unfortunate that the Legislature is being asked to intervene in this process,” said Jack Weiss, LSU Law School’s chancellor. “At LSU Law, our clinics have not generated any of the issues that I gather have led to this dispute, but I am still most concerned about the proposed legislation.”

“It’s a bad bill that doesn’t do any good,” said Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, an outfit which basically gets free lawyers out of Tulane’s law clinic. “If we weren’t successful, maybe we wouldn’t be seeing the bill. Law clinics have had many victories on behalf of people’s health and protecting natural resources.”

“It’s a bill that kind of misses the point in how our legal system works,” Adam Babich, the director of Tulane’s Environmental Law Clinic, said. “What law clinics do is help expand access to justice.”

Actually, Babich’s statement is kind of funny. State legislators happen to be in a position to determine how the legal system works. They write the laws. And since Tulane’s law clinic takes state money, elected state officials are in a position to determine how they operate. You want to wreak havoc on industry, do it with somebody else’s dime. Jeff Sadow had it exactly right:

Note that the bill does not prohibit these activities by clinics, it just removes public money from funding them, leaving a wide range of cases that may be pursued using the people’s resources. If clinics drop these cases, this does not mean that causes that those of little means wish to pursue won’t be serviced adequately. As a professional duty lawyers are encouraged to take on work pro bono, and other legal aid societies exist that can be accessed for these kinds of cases. Or, clinics could refuse public funding, raise money for their operations from these kinds of donors, and continue unaffected.

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