In the last two annual sessions of the Louisiana Legislature, bills that were considered long shots somehow managed to become law. In 2017 a package of criminal justice reforms surprised the oddsmakers, and last year the push to end nonunanimous jury verdicts in criminal trials pulled off the upset of the season.
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Will this session be the hat trick for underdog bills?
If so, two bills are prime candidates for long shot of the season:
• Senate Bill 155 by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, is a proposed constitutional amendment setting Louisiana’s minimum wage at $9 an hour, starting in July 2020.
• Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 by Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, would put Louisiana on record as ratifying the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Carter’s proposed constitutional amendment on the minimum wage requires a two-thirds vote of both legislative chambers — a very tall order — and a majority vote of the people. Carter’s bill would set the statewide referendum on Oct. 12, which is the same date as the elections for governor, statewide officials and legislators. That would make for some very interesting campaign dynamics.
The traditional rule among state lawmakers during election-year legislative sessions can be summed up simply: Avoid controversy at all costs —…
A recent statewide poll by the Public Policy Research Lab of the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication found that 81 percent of Louisianans (including a majority of registered Republicans) support raising the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. That could give Carter’s bill some traction.
The Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations approved the measure by a 5-1 vote, but it faces an uphill fight on the Senate floor and in the House of Representatives. Business interests have always managed to defeat efforts to raise the minimum wage in Louisiana, which defaults to the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Given the fact that so many voters support a higher minimum wage, lawmakers may be tempted to punt the issue to them. Or not. Either way, the issue won’t go away — and it may become a campaign issue even if it’s not on the October ballot.
Morrell says his resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment is a tribute to the late Felicia Kahn, a longtime women’s advocate who was a big influence on the New Orleans lawmaker. (See, News p. 7.) Morrell is no stranger to long shot bills — he authored and led the charge for the constitutional amendment eliminating nonunanimous jury verdicts in Louisiana last year and helped pass the package of criminal justice reform bills two years ago.
If Morrell can convince his colleagues to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, Louisiana would become the critical 38th state to approve it. However, that doesn’t mean it would become the law of the land. Five states that previously ratified it have revoked their approval, and the deadline for approving the proposed amendment lapsed in 1982 — though an effort is under way to extend it.
Perhaps Morrell could argue that Louisiana’s approval would merely set the stage for others to do the real heavy lifting.
Louisiana lawmakers generally are disinclined to take up controversial measures during election-year sessions. Then again, they were equally disinclined to pass criminal justice reforms or end nonunanimous jury verdicts. Hope springs eternal.
The free public event is hosted by The Sunrise Movement, a group of young climate change activists that worked on the resolution with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-MA.