Seems ‘Shall’ In Legislation Doesn’t Mean ‘Got To’ – And We Need To Clarify The Law

This morning in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee an unremarkable, if stupid, bill about forcing employers to give leave to employees who get elected to local office for duties associated with that office provided an example of why some people probably ought not be in public office.

The bill, HB 811 by Rep. Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport), collected support from virtually every public-sector union operating in Louisiana. It would require a

“public or private employer who employs a person elected to local public office to grant such employee leave from regular employment to attend meetings for which his attendance is required by reason of the official duties of his elected public office. Such leave may be without pay, with pay, or made up with other hours worked, as agreed between the employer and employee. Requires the employer to make an effort to allow the employee to make up the time, when such leave is without pay.”

And it goes further into jackpot territory by additionally requiring that

“the period of employment during which such leave occurs shall be treated by the employer and any third party as a period of continuous employment and that the employee receive full credit as service for the purpose of any pension, retirement or retired pay, annuity, or othersimilar periodic payment plan based upon the employee’s service in employment. Prohibits the leave from being considered a break in service for any purpose resulting in loss of seniority, accrued leave, efficiency rating, or any other accrued benefit. Further prohibits the leave from resulting in any loss of eligibility for or reduction in any healthcare benefits other than what is applicable to other employees on paid or unpaid leave.”

Norton brought a Caddo Parish Commissioner named Kenneth Epperson with her to push the bill, and Epperson gave a long speech about his service in the army, the Gettysburg Address, the Arab Spring and how public service oughtn’t be restricted to people of means. After that was over and questions began on the bill, Rep. Tony Ligi (R-Kenner) began questioning the effect of the bill on small businesses.

And that’s when the fun started, as Norton demonstrated a sparkling confusion about what the word “shall” means as it’s defined in legislation. For the unwashed, “shall” means “you gotta.”

She didn’t get that memo…

The bill was involuntarily deferred by the House & Governmental Affairs Committee on an 8-2 vote. But the joke among the wags populating the Capitol was that with one more day remaining to file bills for the 2012 Regular Session, someone needed to file one reclassifying all references to “shall” in Louisiana law as stating “got to” – and all references to “may” as stating “shall” – so as to make things more understandable to Rep. Norton.

It’s all about making sure that regular folks can serve and be effective in the legislature, you see.

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