Legislator claims threat over budget proposal, slows push _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, right, talks with state Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, as he prepares to address the Louisiana Legislature. Schroder said he was threatened for filing legislation to remove budget protections for certain state services.

The fight over Louisiana’s budget crisis has hit a new low, according to one state legislator.

State Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, says he is suspending his push for legislation to remove budget protections for certain state services, following what he claims was an emailed threat from a law enforcement officer.

“This individual told me to put a gun in my mouth and blow my brains out. What kind of bill would cause someone to say that? I know I have a tendency to rock the boat from time to time, but blow my brains out?” Schroder said during a speech on the House floor Tuesday.

Gasps rang out in the chamber, and House members sat mostly quiet for the rest of his speech.

Schroder had declined to comment on the reported threat last week when asked by The Advocate, though he acknowledged he had reported some communication to authorities. The email has been reported to State Police, local police and the House security, per Schroder.

The state Legislature is struggling to craft a spending plan for the budget that begins July 1, while facing a $1.6 billion funding shortfall. Lawmakers repeatedly have complained that constitutional protections for some areas of the budget have left higher education and health care vulnerable to deep cuts in the coming year.

“Many years of dedicating money and avoiding sound budget practices have brought us practically to our knees and threatens the very foundation needed to sustain the state budget,” Schroder said.

Schroder, who serves on the influential House Appropriations Committee, said recent testimony during hearings has had an impact on him.

“Various groups came to plead their case for funding, knowing that our decisions alone could have drastic impact on their lives: Organ donor groups, the visually impaired, the disabled, children in need,” he said. “Without financial assistance from the state many of our most vulnerable, through no fault of their own, will suffer.”

House Bill 523, which Schroder claims the threat was in response to, would remove those protections, including the required funding for salary supplements for full-time law enforcement and fire protection officers. The proposed constitutional amendment would have required a vote of the people, if it were to pass both the House and Senate this session. Schroder said he will not move on the bill “until we get together to resolve the issues.”

Schroder, a former law enforcement officer, said his goal is not to take away supplemental pay for law enforcement.

“This bill is designed to provide the flexibility to make cuts to balance our budget — a structural fix to our budget process,” he said. “The reason we are here is because we keep doing the same damn thing over and over again. Our goal should not be to reach a mere consensus but to find a cure.”

He closed his speech with the John Wayne quote, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

“Let me tell you something gang,” Schroder added. “It’s time to saddle up.”

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .