Louisiana residents are asking their legislators to take some pretty hard votes over the next year or two, and supporting tax hikes during the recent special session was just the beginning.
Given a large remaining shortfall in next year’s budget, more cuts to vital services are likely to cross their desks. During the regular session now underway, lawmakers will also grapple with bringing the cost of the TOPS scholarships and other popular programs under control. And next year, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature are expecting to tackle an out-of-whack tax system that features huge giveaways to some corporations, which means they’ll be forced to say “no” to some very powerful players.
That is, if they find the backbone to do their jobs.
That’s a big “if,” given the Legislature’s occasional reluctance to do even the easy stuff. Case in point: You’d think cleaning up the law books by eliminating measures that have been declared unconstitutional would be the simplest of tasks, but apparently not, according to a recent rundown by The Advocate’s Rebekah Allen.
Led by Baton Rouge Republican state Sen. Dan Claitor, the Legislature is expected to consider eliminating a slew of laws that are no longer enforceable. Many should pass without controversy, but as they have in the past, a couple of easy clean-ups opposed by the religious right face uncertain futures.
Claitor will once again try to convince his colleagues to remove a law that allows for the teaching of creationism in public schools, which the U.S. Supreme Court has specifically disallowed. Even so — and even though a separate back-door measure opening the door to such teaching remains on the books — lawmakers have refused to eliminate the measure in the past.
And so far, nobody’s filed a bill to get rid of a law that’s both offensive and unconstitutional — a measure that criminalizes sodomy. State Rep. Pat Smith, a Baton Rouge Democrat, tried to remove the law from the books two years ago, following horrifying reports that some sheriffs were using it to justify improper arrests. But the Louisiana Family Forum and other forces lobbied against it, and a majority of lawmakers decided they just didn’t want to go on record for such a cause.
This year, Smith said she’s focusing on other priorities, and nobody else has taken up the mantle. So while same-sex marriage is now legal nationwide, some forms of marital relations for same-sex couples remain, on paper, illegal in Louisiana.
So, by the way, do same-sex marriages themselves, despite the high court’s landmark ruling last year. Nobody has filed a bill to change that either.
Fixing these glaring inconsistencies should be the most painless decision in the world. That it may not happen says a lot about the people who make Louisiana’s laws, and their ability to tackle the actual challenges facing the state.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.