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LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine speaks during during the House Education Committee meeting about starting high school football games.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Cleo Fields on Thursday accused the executive director of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association of operating in an "ivory tower" after he declined to reveal his salary.

"You don't even have to tell us how much your salary is because we are just those folks down at the Legislature and you are in this big ivory tower," Fields told Eddie Bonine, who leads the LHSAA.

The issue surfaced during a meeting of Fields' committee on a measure that would require that four members of the Legislature be added to the executive committee of the LHSAA, which regulates high school football and other sports.

The measure, Senate Bill 11, cleared the committee and next faces action in the full Senate.

The Legislature is holding a special session of up to 30 days on efforts to curb Gov. John Bel Edwards' authority during the coronavirus pandemic, Hurricane Laura recovery and how to shore up Louisiana's depleted unemployment fund.

Bonine told the committee that, while he is not opposed to the concept of having state lawmakers on the executive committee, he does not believe a state law is needed to do so.

Other lawmakers said if LHSAA officials had invited legislators to join the panel the legislation would not be needed.

Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, noted that at some point both Bonine and lawmakers will leave their posts. "That is why we do it," Jackson said of the proposed addition.

Committee members said they were barraged with phone calls in recent weeks amid questions on whether high school football would be played during the pandemic.

Teams are set to kick off an abbreviated season Thursday night.

Sen. Stewart Cathey Jr., R-Monroe and sponsor of the bill, disputed comments that the LHSAA is a private organization.

Cathey said the website of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education deferred to the LHSAA on how extracurricular sports would be handled during the pandemic.

"In no other entity in state government would we do that," he told the panel. "I think it is good and necessary legislation."

The bill would allow members named by the Senate president and House speaker to join the LHSAA executive committee as well as the chairman or chairwoman of the Senate and House education committees.

Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, asked the president of BESE in July to have the panel suspend public school athletic activities during the fall because of the pandemic.

The state school board later approved emergency rules for schools ahead of the start of classes but opted not to take action on high school sports.

Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, said the LHSAA has improved since he entered the Legislature 13 years ago and that Bonine is routinely responsive to his calls.

"As far as your salary is concerned that is none of my business," Talbot said. "You are a private entity."

Fields said earlier this year Bonine appeared before a House committee and made comments about the football season that led to widespread confusion.

He said Bonine does things "when you want and you don't report to anybody. And yet you get the gate receipts."

Bonine said he reports to principals, superintendents statewide and the group's executive committee.

Bonine told lawmakers the LHSAA's annual budget is $3.3 million and is financed with corporate assistance and revenue from high school athletic events.

He said $1.1 million of the budget is for salaries.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.