It’s a time-honored tradition in Baton Rouge. The Louisiana Legislature convenes, takes stock of the pressing problems facing the state, and then goes about the business of deciding what the city of New Orleans can and cannot do.
It happened in 1997, when the lawmakers passed a law that blocked a move to raise the city’s minimum wage. In 1999, the Legislature voted to stop cities from suing the gun industry, a decision that retroactively killed a lawsuit that had been filed by then-mayor Marc Morial.
More recently, a pair of 2015 bills that would have allowed Orleans or any other parish to raise money by imposing a higher tobacco tax, which had the support of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, went nowhere.
In general, these bills don’t specify a parish, but closely track policy discussions happening in the city. And while the city’s population and leadership are overwhelmingly Democratic, the bills to crack down on the city’s self-determination generally originate from Republicans. This year’s bumper crop is no exception.
State Rep. Paul Hollis of Covington filed a bill to prevent local governments from either restricting or charging for use of disposable bags. The New Orleans City Council is preparing to take up a measure to charge a fee for plastic and paper grocery bags.
The council already voted to take down four Confederate and Jim Crow-era monuments, but state Sen. Beth Mizell of Franklinton has filed a bill to require such actions to be subject to a state commission.
There are also bills to prohibit localities from adopting so-called “sanctuary” policies on immigration, and to prevent them from imposing more stringent requirements on public contractors than state law specifies. Both were inspired by actions that the city is pursuing.
New Orleans will be playing defense on all of these during the regular session, as well as offense on an attempt to override the old prohibition on local minimum wages. This bill, by state Rep. Joe Bouie, would apply only to the city.
None of these bills should steal too much attention away from major issues, including the ongoing budget crisis. But expect them to earn their share of headlines. New Orleans always makes for an easy target, particularly for politicians who don’t answer to the city’s voters.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.