Treacherous is just one of the words describing the actions of the House Retirement Committee on Wednesday. The committee’s utter contempt for the people of the state and the rule of law is surpassed only by its craven submission to the will of Governor Bobby Jindal.
Not that all members were compliant when a bill’s intent was completely transformed so the governor could get his way and merge the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana and the Louisiana School Employees’ Retirement System.
Democrats on the committee, led by Rep. Sam Jones (D-Franklin) boycotted the vote, leaving only Republican members to do the governor’s bidding.
Here are the sordid details.
The committee was slated to hear SB 6 by Sen. Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas), an innocuous bill calling for an annual report to the school employees’ retirement system on privatized jobs.
But as has happened too often this session, the bill was hijacked by a surprise, 47-page amendment crafted by the governor’s office. The new language resurrected the system merger, which was originally contained in HB 1198 by Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell).
HB 1198 was approved by the Retirement Committee, but has languished on the House calendar for lack of enough votes to guarantee its passage.
House rules say that substantive amendments must be submitted 48 hours in advance of the meeting. But Rep Pearson, who chairs the panel, ruled that the amendment was not new information to the committee, and allowed it to be considered.
Reaction to the maneuver was immediate and explosive. Calling the move a “farce,” Rep. Jones walked out of the meeting. Without a quorum present, Rep. Pearson recessed the meeting to round up enough allies to pass the bill. When the panel reconvened, Democratic members stayed away, leaving only Republican lawmakers present to approve the bill.
“Offensive” was one word LFT Legislative Director Mary-Patricia Wray used to describe the tactic. “I think that the good faith of this Legislature with the citizens of this state has been breached," she said.
The underhanded tactics endorsed by Rep. Pearson and Sen. Guillory meant that teachers and school employees whose retirement will be affected did not have a chance to comment before the committee voted. And because SB 6 had already been approved by the Senate in its original form, the amended version now faces scrutiny only on the House floor.
The merger would abolish LSERS and transfer all its property, rights, obligations and employees into the Teachers’ system. In the process, 30 employees would lose their jobs within a year. That greatly increases the work load on remaining staff, and could cause a reduction in services for the members of the merged systems.