By All Means, Let’s Call Dee Richard’s Special Session…

…but let’s not have any illusions as to what will come of it. In fact, maybe this is an opportunity to make some needed changes lots of the people who want the special session REALLY won’t like.

Richard, an independent state representative from Thibodaux, has aligned himself with the state’s fiscal hawks as often as not over the past few years. But he’s calling the session now, he says, because “lawmakers have been improperly left out of Jindal administration budget cut decisions that are shuttering health care facilities and a state prison. Legislators in the areas where facilities have been targeted for closure say they haven’t been included in the decision-making.”

The letter…

To My Colleagues in the Louisiana House of Representatives:

I respectfully ask that each of you read this email in its entirety and then ask yourself if you agree that we should immediately call ourselves in to special session. If you agree I ask that you respond to my legislative email address ([email protected]) in order to begin the process of petitioning the body in order to reach a majority. While I acknowledge that this is not easy for each of us to decide I feel that it is time for us to get back into the process and our Constitution provides for that to happen.

Like many of you, I am passionate about the well-being of this state and its people and will continue to stand for the things that I believe in whether it be during session or while we are not in session. I believe that we are witnessing a complete disregard of the Legislative branch’s powers by this administration and must address this immediately or we shall find ourselves completely left out of the budget process. When we as a body are not convened in regular session, but have important matters to address, we do not have to wait until next year’s annual session. Our state Constitution provides a mechanism for us to meet in other times in order to enable the Legislature to continue the “checks and balances” of state government.

Extraordinary Sessions and the Need to Convene

As per Article III, Section 2(B) of the Constitution, the state “legislature may be convened at other times” in “Extraordinary Sessions,” (informally known as special sessions). It is during special sessions that legislators may address important items or “objects” as they are referred to in Article III.

Since our adjournment in June, there has been almost a billion dollars in reductions to the state budget without any input from the Legislature. And thanks to some media outlets we are now learning of still more cuts to healthcare without any input from the Legislature.  And we know that mid-year cuts are approaching and these will be made with no input from the Legislature. We spent many hours during the past session debating the budget and trying to protect health care and higher ed and then after adjournment cuts were made with no input from legislators.

I believe it is time for us, as Legislators, to aggressively reinsert ourselves into the budget process by using the Constitutional rights given to us. We should not have to relinquish our legislative duties to the administration once we pass the budget at the end of regular session in times like this. I am tired of explaining to constitutents and at civic gatherings that there is nothing we can do once the budget is passed. There IS a PROCESS:

As stated earlier, Article III, Section (B) of the Constitution authorizes the Legislature to call itself into session for up to a maximum of 30 days. A majority of House members (53) and a majority of Senate members (20) must be in favor of convening and, if so, its members choose the time and the Call.

I would like to see the Call include the discussion of health care and higher ed and how we can determine just how reductions are made. The Constitution allows for us to set the agenda and each of you may have other interests to bring before the body.

Please understand that Louisiana Revised Statutes 24:11 sets forth the procedure for calling ourselves into special session.  First, we will need a petition signed by 35 members of the House and by 13 members of the Senate, which would be delivered to the presiding officer in each. Within 48 hours of receipt of petition, the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House are then required to send individual petitions to each member for their signature. We, as Legislators, then have 20 days to return our individual petitions and once a majority of each house is reached, the presiding officers must call the Legislature into special session.

It is OUR CHOICE

This is how I look at the situation: we can either continue to stand by and allow the administration amend the budget; or we can do what we were elected to do; to represent our constituents. The Constitution gives us that right. The choice is up to each one of us.

In closing, I fully understand that convening and conducting a special session will not be easy but think about the cuts that our hospitals and universities are having to make and will continue to be forced to make while we, as local elected representatives, sit back and try to defend those cuts that we know nothing about. Please know that I respect each and every one of you, regardless of your decision to support or not to support a special session. I simply ask that you take the time to respond to this email to: [email protected]

Respectfully,

Jerome “Dee” Richard
La. State House of Representatives
District 55, Lafourche Parish
Thibodaux, La. 70301

Richard needs a third of both the House and the Senate – meaning he needs 35 House members (34 now that he’s on board) and 13 Senators to sign on to his petition. Then he’ll need majorities – 18 more House members and seven more Senators – to initiate the session. The Legislature has never called itself into session since the current state constitution was written in 1974.

But sure, let’s do it. The fact that Gov. Bobby Jindal has been engaging in midyear budget cuts without the legislature’s say-so is a little on the fishy side, and there’s nothing wrong with a little legislative independence. Louisiana’s entire political class, it seems, is complaining that the legislature is a bunch of lapdogs for the governor, after all, and that’s been the case forever – although strangely it didn’t seem like this was such a big deal when Kathleen Blanco or Edwin Edwards were in office.

Hmmmm.

Richard’s letter indicates that some the leges are furious about government installations in their districts getting cut. And whether he can get enough support to bring the special session to life or not, there’s no question that cuts to, say Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville or Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy have lit up the constituencies those facilities serve – and when the governor kills or guts facilities, folks call their legislator.

So let’s talk about it, and let’s do it in a legislative session.

What will undoubtedly come out of that session is a demand from the Democrats that all those corporate tax breaks the state gives out be done away with so Louisiana has enough revenue to keep the hospital/jail gravy train going.

But what ought to happen, and Jindal would do himself a lot of good if he took the opportunity to propose or support this, is a bill introduced that would do away with the state’s corporate income tax altogether – if not the entire state income tax.

Because those tax breaks are an admission that Louisiana’s tax climate can’t compete with our neighbors in Texas and Florida, where there is no income tax, and in order to keep that uncompetitive tax climate from killing our economy we have to exempt certain businesses and industries – at the discretion of our politicians with input and influence from lobbyists, of course – from that climate.

Kill the tax breaks, and you raise taxes on the state’s fragile business community in a lousy economy when your state is hardly booming.

Or more to the point, you’re going to raise Texas – because that’s where the businesses being gouged to pay to keep Louisiana’s appallingly high prison population as an economic windfall for local sheriffs and America’s only state-run charity hospital system draining our coffers will go.

Should Jindal have gotten the OK from the legislature before he took a meat axe to the budget on a midyear basis? Yes. The leges, at least in the House, were to his right on budget cuts and we had a dramatic show about the situation. Then behind the scenes Jindal did what he failed to show the public. On one hand, some of the leges we talked to were grateful, in that Jindal is taking the heat for balancing the budget. But on the other, it’s not exactly normal budget protocol the way this worked out.

We’re for protocol.

But we’re also for a sustainable state government. And the majority of the leges who want a special session – which may or may not include Richard – are going to want to propose a raft of legislation that moves in the opposite direction.

The public needs to see those advocates for what they are. And it also needs to see an alternative. Namely, pro-growth tax policy and ideas on reorganizing government so that Jindal, the legislature or whoever else involved doesn’t have to make legislative policy behind closed doors in a scramble to make ends meet.

Maybe a college or two should be put on the merger table. Maybe a state hospital or two should be put on the market to see if the local government or a private-sector operator wouldn’t be interested in taking it off the state’s hands. Sure, the howls will be deafening – but so what? The public should see who’s howling and why, and if we’re not going to cut facilities we can’t afford and that other states manage without (Florida has 11 public universities in a state with a population of 16 million; Louisiana has 14 public universities with a population a little more than a quarter that size) then we should be given a good explanation why.

But all of these are good things, not bad things. Let’s have the session – and let’s make sure we have the option not just to raise taxes to pay for all the public-sector largesse we can’t afford, but to drop that largesse along with the taxes our productive folks could avoid paying by decamping for the Lone Star State next door.



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