Louisiana legislators waste a lot of time handling resolutions when they are in session, but some are understandable. It’s difficult, for example, to criticize a lawmaker who wants to offer condolences to someone’s family, commend a successful athletic team back home or honor someone who has achieved a rare honor. However, when resolutions calling for studies start costing big bucks, that’s something else.
Resolutions aren’t like bills that propose new laws or repeal existing laws. They are simply formal expressions of the will of the Legislature that don’t carry the force of law. And they require no action by the governor.
Vic Stelly of Moss Bluff, a 16-year member of the House and recently resigned member of the state Board of Regents, talked to The Advocate of Baton Rouge about costly study resolutions. He said they “are mostly collecting dust somewhere in some closet.” Don Kingery, a colleague of mine, used to say many studies are simply rewrites of a previous study. It’s big business and huge profits for companies that do studies.
Stelly said, “What happens is that some legislator gets an idea from a constituent. They introduce a bill, it runs into problems, it becomes obvious it’s not going to pass so they turn it into a study to save face…. I’ve done it before.”
I wasn’t surprised to hear Stelly confess he’s been guilty, too. His honesty is the reason the man has credibility.
The Legislature appropriated $400,000 in 2009 to pay for a Regents study of higher education issues, according to The Advocate. And that was the last time it paid for a study. The newspaper said 40 study resolutions since 2010 have cost the Board of Regents nearly $300,000, money that could be put to much better use.
Whenever I saw the resolutions story, I couldn’t help but think of Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Houma. Other lawmakers may have sponsored more bills and resolutions. However, it seemed every time I covered an education committee meeting, Harrison was there promoting one of his. And he spent an awful lot of time at the House microphone.
Harrison introduced 31 bills and 11 resolutions. Four of those are study resolutions, one of them directed at the Board of Regents. Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, is chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee and he introduced only 30 bills and 5 resolutions. Most of his legislation deals with issues he handled for the state Department of Insurance. Chairmen always sponsor bills dealing with their committee’s subject matter.
Morrish saw 17 of his 30 bills become law. Only six of Harrison’s made it into the statutes.
You would think House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, would be responsible for a number of bills, but he only had one — expenses for the Legislature. His 13 resolutions were mostly commendations. Reps. A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles, and Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek, introduced only two bills and one resolution each.
If other legislators followed the track record of the 13 senators and representatives from this corner of the state, the Legislature could probably adjourn earlier every year.
The Advocate talked about the work of the Governance Commission created last year to study higher education issues. Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, was one of its 18 members. He said the study produced 21 recommendations. The Regents said the study cost $63,000.
“We met for six months,” Erwin said. “We spent a lot of time and effort on those recommendations and none of them went anywhere.”
I often wondered while sitting in the House or Senate listening to legislators debate study resolutions how many were even attempted by the agency directed to do the study.
Jim Purcell, the state commissioner of higher education, said the Board of Regents has no choice but to follow the wishes of the Legislature. He admitted the studies take a lot of man-hours to complete and can be costly.
“It is our constitutional duty to advise the Legislature, and we take that seriously,” he said. “Some of the studies we do are based on legislation that did not pass and needs more thought. I think that’s an appropriate use of our time.”
Maybe so, but consider what one of Harrison’s resolutions does. It requests the Board of Regents to study and report on the reorganization of the governance of Louisiana public colleges and universities that offer academic degrees at the baccalaureate level and higher.
Governors and legislators have been trying for years to reorganize higher education, and most have struck out. When a Louisiana governor can’t get what he wants, you know it’s a daunting task.
The unnecessary studies requested by legislators are costing higher education dollars at a time when public colleges and universities in Louisiana will get some $63 million less from the state’s general fund for the new fiscal year starting Sunday. The net result will be bigger classes, higher tuition and some layoffs, according to The Times-Picayune.
Some legislator somewhere looking for a resolution to sponsor at next year’s session should introduce one that calls for a moratorium on all study resolutions.
OK, maybe it’s impossible, but it doesn’t hurt to dream.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].