Monday, May 18, 2009

Advocate editors call bill bamboozlement "shameful"

The editors of The Advocate are apparently fed up with a governor who preaches transparency and ethics but practices politics about as Machiavellian as anything we've seen in our state's colorful past.

"Shameful episode" is the term the editors employ to describe the way Governor Jindal's office conspired to deny lawmakers a vote on a tax issue and simultaneously prohibit citizens from voicing their opinions on another, unconnected but still controversial issue.

It was unquestionably one of the more bizarre episodes of the current session. Action on one bill was delayed while the author hid out in the governor’s office to avoid taking a vote on yet another controversial issue. Here are the details:

HB 851 by Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge) is opposed by LFT. Under the guise of ending “micromanagement” by school board members, the bill would shift authority away from elected boards and give the local superintendent all power over hiring and firing of teachers and school employees.

Under current law, superintendents make recommendations - including hiring, retirements and terminations - which are voted on by the board. They are listed under "personnel matters" on most school board agendas. This makes government more transparent and holds elected officials accountable to the public.

Carter's bill takes one even worse turn, making it possible for the private personnel files of teachers and school employees to be made public.

Opponents and supporters of the bill packed the House Education Committee at 9:00 A.M. Tuesday, ready to voice their opinions. Eleven hours later, they were told the bill would not be heard that day. What happened?

First, action on the bill was postponed when the Education Committee hearing ran long, and members had to report to the House chamber for a full session. Committee Chair Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) said the committee would reconvene after the House adjourned.

But after adjournment, the House Ways and Means Committee was also slated to hear a cigarette tax bill, which is strongly opposed by Jindal. Two members of the Education Committee, including Carter, also serve on the money panel. They could have been compelled to leave the education hearing for a quorum call in the Ways and Means Committee.

In order to deny a quorum in that committee, Carter and his colleague were summoned to the fourth floor home of the governor’s office. There they sat, ensuring that the tax bill could not pass.

But that also meant that HB 851 could not be heard, either. So an apologetic Badon told weary, waiting citizens that the bill would be rescheduled for the next week.

On the plus side, that gives opponents more time to tell Education Committee members to vote against the bill. To register opposition, please click here and send a message to all 17 members, telling them that HB 851 is a very bad idea.

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