Louisiana’s need to reform the “good ol' boy” system came to light again in news reports over political appointments between members of two politically connected families vying for a position on a powerful yet little-known board. The infighting arose over the governor’s appointment to the Board of Examiners of the New Orleans Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots, the board that determines who gets a state commission, or license to pilot ships between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
The board also determines how and if new candidates get to join the limited ranks of this powerful monopoly that garners its members more than $500,000 a year and has been criticized by major job creators for excess charges to ratepayers — and eventually consumers — of tens of millions of dollars a year.
Leaders who have been working to reform our state government for the past two decades have long been critical of over-politicized boards and commissions. Members of those boards have often served the vested interest they are supposed to regulate more than the public they are supposed to protect. This method of doing business, in the eyes of many, has caused Louisiana to continue to fall behind our sister states in attracting new jobs, more opportunities, and higher wages to the state.
Such is the case with the pilotage boards on the Mississippi River, which consist solely of members of the river pilot monopolies they are supposed to regulate. I have authored legislation, House Bill 650, that would update the Mississippi River pilotage boards to include the voices of ports and industry leaders whose commerce is often on the ships being piloted up and down the river — as is already done in Lake Charles and in ports across the United States.
The bill will work to further enhance safety procedures for pilots by requiring minimum education standards and experience requirements for new pilots, minimum continuing education standards for existing pilots and minimum drug and alcohol policies. To enable all qualified candidates to have a fair opportunity to compete for the coveted jobs, the legislation also disallows nepotism as a standard for consideration in hiring new pilots. Finally, the bill includes reforms to address some of the concerns over disputed pilot expenses, which have been tied up in bureaucratic machinery and litigation.
The public fight between members of a monopoly trying to hold onto power highlights the business-as-usual nature in which pilotage has been regulated for too long. For those of us trying to best position the state to embrace its full potential, business-as-usual no longer works. By making real reforms to this important sector of our economy, we start the process of showing that the “good ole boy” days in Louisiana politics are over.
We can do better. It’s time for reform.