VIDEO: ISD Bills Center Stage In House, And Another Barbara Norton Moment

The proponents of the creation of independent and community school districts in Louisiana had some mixed results yesterday, as a bill by Sen. Bodi White to create an ISD in Southeast Baton Rouge cleared the House Education Committee on an 11-5 vote after a great deal of debate – some of which was quite heated – while another bill by Rep. Alan Seabaugh to remove the requirement of a statewide election every time a local school district is created (the election would be limited to the affected area and the parish it sat in) failed to pass despite getting 53 votes.

HB 609, Seabaugh’s bill, is a subject we’ve discussed on a pair of occasions at the Hayride – first when the teachers’ unions in Shreveport made a gigantic stink about it and next when it generated a great deal of heat when debated in the House Education Committee.

It’s a constitutional amendment, so it would require a two-thirds vote – 70 votes – on the House Floor to pass. Seabaugh grabbed it for reconsideration after the 53-44 vote yesterday, and he’ll now attempt to find a way to flip 17 of those votes to get his bill to the Senate.

It’s an uphill fight, because of the 44 no votes only a handful were Republicans – Tom Wilmott, Steve Pylant, Taylor Barras and John Guinn, and of the eight absentees five – Lance Harris, Joe Harrison, Joel Robideaux, Greg Cromer and Bryan Adams – are with the GOP. In the best of circumstances, and those can’t be assumed given the squishy nature of some of those GOP members not on board, Seabaugh would still need to find four Democrats willing to come aboard.

One Democrat Seabaugh isn’t going to get is Rep. Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport), with whom he had a lengthy – and assumedly quite frustrating – exchange on the floor about the bill. Norton didn’t quite understand what Seabaugh was attempting to accomplish with the bill despite his offering a fairly articulate and succinct description in introducing it on the floor…

Whether White will end up with a similar fate when his bill, SB 563, reaches the House floor is unknown. The bill, which passed the Senate on a 30-8 vote, sailed through House Education yesterday on a 12-6 vote along strict party lines. But that didn’t come without a good deal of acrimony – including some combative questioning by Rep. Alfred Williams (D-Baton Rouge), who accused a black advocate of the new school district in Southeast Baton Rouge of favoring “segregation” – the district is expected to be about half black and half white once created, and accusations of hidden racism by Domoine D. Rutledge, attorney for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system and a failed candidate in last year’s BESE elections. Rutledge pointed out that by population the Southeast Baton Rouge district would be 75 percent white, which he called “the elephant in the room,” but declined to mention that East Baton Rouge Parish is essentially 50-50 in population but the school district is 89 percent black – an indication both that a 75 percent white district might lead to a more diverse school population in Southeast Baton Rouge than what currently exists within the school system and that the disparity between public school populations and at-large populations means the latter isn’t really the number to consider.

There are 58 Republicans in the House, and Seabaugh managed four Democrat votes on the floor yesterday. That would indicate White would need an additional eight Democrats to come aboard from what Seabaugh managed. He did well enough in the Senate; the House might be a different story.

It will certainly be interesting to see White’s bill explained to Norton on the House floor.

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