The secret balloting process the Louisiana Senate intends to use next month would hide members’ votes for Senate president and is unconstitutional and should be repealed, the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana said in a new commentary.
The Baton Rouge government policy research group argues the secret process violates the state Constitution and Louisiana’s open meetings law. The state Senate in 2015 adopted the rule allowing senators to keep their vote for Senate president and president pro tem secret, with proponents of the move arguing it helps lawmakers be more independent of the governor by allowing them to vote against the governor’s pick without fear of retribution. State Sen. Eric LaFleur, a term-limited Ville Platte Democrat, authored the rule change at the time.
“The new Senate taking office in January has an opportunity to launch its fresh term with a positive statement about the importance of transparency and accountability in state government,” PAR President Robert Travis Scott said in a statement. “The senators’ constituents have a right to know how their elected representatives vote on such an important matter.”
Senate president is among the most powerful positions in the State Capitol, and the senator chosen by his or her peers to lead the chamber wields the ability to dole out committee assignments, among other things. The rule calls for the senate president election to begin with senators using a secret ballot to pick nominees, who are then approved by a vote of the full Senate.
The Senate told PAR the rule is allowed because only the nomination process, not the vote, is conducted by secret ballot. PAR argued the nomination process is a “real vote” and that the state Open Meetings Law specifically prohibits secret balloting.
Republican state Sen. Page Cortez, of Lafayette, is expected to be selected senate president for the upcoming term after lawmakers said he secured a majority of votes in the Republican-heavy Senate. Cortez’s leadership would represent a more conservative tilt in the upper chamber than under longtime Senate President John Alario, a Westwego Republican and an ally of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Historically, governors in Louisiana have hand-picked both the House and Senate leadership, practices that have ended under Edwards’ tenure as the Legislature moves further rightward.
In 2016, Alario was re-elected to the position unanimously, but he is term-limited and leaving office.