29 March 2006

Committee action, Mar. 29: SB 291

SB 291 would not require a registered voter to request an absentee ballot. Instead, when there is a declared state of emergency the secretary of state automatically would have forwarded ballots to last known addresses of registrants in that area. Author Sen. Cleo Fields brought in a special guest testifier to the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who argued that the current process was not designed for the norm, absentee being the exception, but now for hundreds of thousands it was the norm. “Exiled” voters, as he called displaced citizens, did not have the same access, so, in essence, they had to be spoon-fed under these extreme conditions.

Sen. Reggie Dupre said he had been supportive of efforts in the last special session to loosen voting requirements, but said doing this meant the 4/22 elections could not go off in time. Fields said this wouldn’t have to apply for that, but it should be there for the future anytime a state of emergency was declared. Jackson said fairness, not date, was important, and receiving the ballot made it fair. Also there to testify, President Pro Tem Diana Bajoie said fariness could be compromised without this -- leaving open the question whether passage could create legal liability for the state. This was a concern raised by Sen. Chris Ullo, bothered by “equal access,” saying mail under these conditions was unreliable. He would be more comfortable with having the enacting date to June. Fields said there wasn’t equal access now, but Ullo did not see this bill accomplishing that. Committee chairman Charles Jones said it was about shortening the process.

Sen. Jay Dardenne’s questions were more on specific legal matters. He pointed out that all the legal wrangling (some initiated by Fields himself) had the courts all approving the elections as now organized without this bill. Fields maintained this bill had nothing to do with the suits. Dardenne thought swift passage with the bill amended to make it take affect immediately would impact the 4/22 New Orleans election, which Fields disagreed. Dardenne pointed out that this privileged a separate class, since the normal process required a request. Fields said it was justified because it was not a “choice” to be displaced. Dardenne wondered why it was any more effort to request a ballot for this class than the established ones (students, military, travelers) – choice had nothing to do with ability to request a ballot. “We have a reasonable mechanism in place,” he stated.

Dardenne also pointed out that the bill would force the secretary to commit an illegal act, that FEMA information could not be released to local registrars. Fields said FEMA said it would allow releasal of information if state law would allow it. Dardenne pointed out there was no guarantee that the ballot would go to willing recipients actually who is that registered voter. To which Jackson tried to imply this all created a new kind of poll tax.

After a lunch recess, a posse of black Democrat legislators, liberal interest group advocates, and an actual citizen, expressed their support for the legislation. State Rep. Cedric Richmond said people were moving around too much to be able to get communications from the state, said he thought the courts would order another election unless they “erred on the side of caution.” State Rep. Charmaine Marchand asked “why are they making it so hard for us to vote,” saying the unsolicited mailing would “give people the right to vote” and would abrogate that otherwise. Several testifiers echoed the refrain that the mail was too slow, that the process was too complex (seeming oblivious to the argument that no one has ever complained before about the process before which has been in place for decades, implying that displaced people were somehow more stupid than others).

Dardenne asked why the law said registrars were to send ballots to people from their parish outside of it, but also to those from elsewhere in his parish, raising the specter of people getting more than one ballot but perhaps others not at all, creating plenty of confusion for registrars. Fields said he thought the language was clear.

Ullo offered an amendment to make the bill effective no earlier than Jun. 1, 2006 – after the New Orleans elections but before other elections in which this bill could bring partisan advantage. Ullo said he would vote for the bill only if it took affect after the New Orleans elections. Fields removed his objection to it and it passed without objection. They also passed without objection an amendment that appeared to address Dardenne’s complaint. But, later, Ullo wanted to know what Fields would do if his amendment was stripped. Fields said he would not work to take it off, but would still vote for the bill.

With that, the vote was called. Dardenne (the only Republican) and Sen. Noble Ellington voted against it, while Fields, Dupre, Jones, and with Ullo casting the decisive vote, voted for it, passing it.

“I have a bill to let you do that again”
Jones, referring to his SB 293 which extends for a year legislators’ terms , when Dupre recounted a story about how he served an extra year on the Terrebone Parish Council.

“The ‘whereas’ and ‘therefore’ do not correspond”
Said repeatedly by Jackson, perhaps the most logically understandable thing he uttered the entire day.

1 comment:

wst... said...

the voting laws should have never been tampered with in the first place the ones that were in place were already sufficient.

how bizarre is it that katrina was to have alledgedly shown us all louisiana's poverty, ignorance and racism and now poverty, ignorance and racism are being used against us to perpetuate poverty, ignorance and racism. we havent learned anything.

why oh why didnt the governor or someone go ahead and pay off fields, jones and the reverend jackson? thats all they want. we will either pay them now or pay them later in the form of legal fees when all the lawsuits begin over these confusing myriad of laws.

of course the feds have zero credibility to come in and put a stop to it as we all know that everything shrub and his crew touch turns to crap.