In Louisiana, the legislative and executive branches of government seem to blend largely because of the strong powers granted the governor.
Governors have - for the most part - pretty much gotten their way. It makes no difference whether their agenda is good, bad or somewhere in-between. After all, they are governors.
There always has been talk of legislative independence. Talk turned to action during the 2011 legislative session.
In the Louisiana House, a bipartisan group of lawmakers killed many of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s key proposals.
The House stymied Jindal plans to sell three state prisons and increase state employee retirement contributions to help balance the state budget.
The retirement increase died as Republican House Speaker Jim Tucker declared it a tax that would require a two-thirds vote. The professed anti-tax Jindal disagreed, but no one wanted to touch the issue after Tucker’s ruling.
When Jindal vetoed the renewal of 4 cents of a 36-cent per pack cigarette tax, the House didn’t come up with the two-thirds vote required to resurrect it.
Some of those who voted for the renewal said they just couldn’t vote to override Jindal’s veto - after all, the governor is the governor, they said. So much for legislative independence.
But House proponents of the measure didn’t let the issue die and found a way to bypass the governor. They attached the tax renewal to a proposed constitutional amendment that Jindal wants dealing with TOPS funding. With legislative passage, it would go straight to voters.
On the state Senate side, lawmakers also demanded answers from an administration that they said claimed a love of transparency while shielding important information they needed for decision-making.
Senate committees, tired of the stonewalling, subpoenaed a consultant’s report related to Jindal’s proposed privatization of a state employee insurance program. Jindal complied, although he still refused to publicly release it.
Senators also subpoenaed documents related to the selection of a firm with ties to Jindal health chief Bruce Greenstein to handle Louisiana’s Medicaid claims process - the most lucrative contract in state government.
Members of the Senate panel that decides whether governor’s appointees are suitable for the job said the information was important as they were judging the integrity of the person Jindal wanted to run the largest department in state government.
The Legislature as a whole demanded that it be able to cancel Jindal’s $3 billion experiment altering health-care delivery for the poor in three years. Lawmakers were upset that Jindal launched the program without the legislative authorization they believe it required.
“When you think about the huge amount of money and the folks it’s going to impact, how are you going to be able to help your constituents unless you are treated as an equal branch of government?” asked state Sen. Willie Mount, a Lake Charles Democrat.
With the legislative session ending, House Speaker Jim Tucker told his colleagues that people have said that legislative independence is at an all-time high in that chamber
“It’s got a long way to go,” commented the term-limited Republican lawmaker.
Tucker said he hoped that those elected this fall will continue down the path of legislative independence.
“Subservience is not the ally of good government,” Tucker said.
Marsha Shuler covers the Legislature for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Her email address is email@example.com.