On some days, it seems as if the nationalization of Louisiana politics is in full swing. On others, lawmakers muster the will to step back from the brink of all-out partisan warfare.
Tuesday will go down as the latter.
In separate committee rooms at the same time, Senate panels put an end to two high-profile, House-passed bills, each of which sought to tap into conservative passions rather than solve actual problems.
State Rep. and Republican congressional candidate Mike Johnson’s “Pastor Protection” bill died an appropriate death in the Senate Judiciary B committee, after proponents failed to make the case that anyone was about to force clergy members to perform or host now-legal, same-sex marriages against their will. For all his alarmism, Johnson, of Bossier City, admitted under questioning that he couldn’t name an instant in which this has happened. Opponents noted that the U.S. Constitution already serves the same purpose; in fact, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards had indicated he’d be willing to sign the bill if it passed precisely because he believed it would accomplish nothing.
It would have sent a terrible message about Louisiana’s tolerance, though, so the committee performed a real service by making sure this one never made it on the books.
Over in Senate Judiciary A, a bill by Republican state Rep. Valarie Hodges of Denham Springs to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities” ended in a tie vote, which essentially killed it for the session. This bill, part of a national Republican movement championed by U.S. Sen. David Vitter and others, sought to block borrowing authority for municipalities that don’t actively pursue immigration enforcement. In its initial form, it would have given Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry the right to determine whether a city is in violation, although the bill was later amended to give that power to the courts.
The issues here are more complicated than they appear on the surface. In New Orleans, for example, the federal civil rights consent decree over policing dictates that cops should not quiz witnesses and victims on their immigration status, out of concern that doing so would deter them from seeking help or cooperating. Democratic Mayor Mitch Landrieu has insisted that criminals who are here illegally don’t get a pass, but he seemed to be fighting an uphill battle until some key help emerged.
In blistering testimony bolstered by his close ally, state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, Republican Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand showed up at the hearing to call the bill overarching B.S., argue that it amounted to nothing but political pandering, and insist it would undermine legitimate law enforcement efforts. Problems with immigration, he said, are on the federal government, not the state.
“It makes no sense to me,” said Normand, who had bucked his own party as recently as last fall when he backed Edwards over Vitter for governor. “I’m incredulous that we are sitting here in Baton Rouge talking about these issues.”
Thanks in no small part to Normand, we no longer are, at least for now.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.