23 April 2008

Committee action, Apr. 23: SB 167, SB 134, SB 135, HB 924

SB 167 by Sen. Edwin Murray would allow for committees between sessions to meet by video conferencing. House and Governmental Affairs chairman Rep. Rick Gallot said he believed the time was right in terms of technology for this to become possible. He said these would be for informational purposes. However, each chamber would have to adopt rules to permit a per diem to be paid. He said this would not be required, but could be used in uncomplicated cases.

A spokesman for a firm dealing with software that could arrange for this answered some questions about the technical aspects of the process. But Rep. George Cromer, on the question of quorums, said this could be used to shut the public out because all substantive discussion could occur away from the public.

Despite this, the bill was adopted without objection.

SB 134 would allow classified civil servants to advocate politically on behalf of organizations of which they are officers. Author Sen. Joe McPherson said this would allow groups to say what a group’s position or endorsement, and that adequate protections still would be there to prevent political retaliation.

Sen. Jack Donahue asked whether this would defeat the purpose of civil service protections. McPherson said this would allow freer expression. Donahue asserted there was an implicit trade, stability for activism, which McPherson denied because he said those were individual rights whereas his bill was speech only in the context of a group. Donahue disagreed, saying this was an “end run.”

Donahue questioned supporting witnesses, from unions, who agreed a group was a collection of individuals and therefore voicing their opinions. Another said this essentially could be done by people with the organizations, just not by Louisiana civil servants. Opposing witnesses agreed with Donahue, saying the tradeoff is well understood at time of employment and it is for their own protection.

McPherson closed by saying this was a very slight change and these organizations were involved in the process, and the organizations deserved political speech which was more open than sending checks or holding up signs. Since this would entail constitutional change, he said at least let the people decide. He repeated there would be no threats to protection, nor did many witnesses feel intimidation.

The vote on SB 134, the constitutional amendment, deadlocked at 2-2 with Donahue opposing and McPherson and Murray favoring, others being absent. Then the enabling legislation, SB 135 passed 3-1 as Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Kostelka voted to pass. But then he said he had been mistaken and meant to do the opposite – vote for SB 134 the amendment, and not for the legislation SB 135. McPherson then graciously unwound both votes through reconsiderations and the intended result manifested.

HB 924 would instruct legislators and statewide elected officials to teach two half days in the public schools, of which one would be in a poorer (“Title 1”) school. Rep. Don Trahan said it would better inform legislators. Treas. John Kennedy testified his experiences as a substitute teacher were valuable.

Rep. Karen Peterson offered amendments to reduce the time to an hour and make it less compulsory to allow legislators to talk about their experiences rather than actually instruct. But Trahan said he favored the more compulsory instructional language. Kennedy also said the real impact came from the longer time and the instruction of the lesson plan. Peterson said she thought this would be too much, and said she only earned $16,800 as a legislator and needed to earn a living otherwise, calling this “unreasonable.” Trahan said it just was not the same beneficial experience. Peterson then pledged for the next three years she would volunteer to do it and report back to Trahan, but that this should not be a matter of policy. Trahan said the bill did not actually require one to teach, and did not object to adoption of the amendment.

Rep. Patrick Connick said why not extend the bill to visit lots of different things, why only make education visits compulsory? Because, Trahan said, education was his interest and 55 percent of the budget was on education.

Amended, the bill was adopted without objection.

This is an interesting bill … actually, it’s not.
Trahan, referring to his bill recreating the Department of Education.

I was satisfied with the vote on it.
McPherson, after reconsidering the vote on SB 134 before it on SB 135.

They’re so desperate for substitutes, they’re even taking politicians.
Kennedy, about his experiences substitute teaching.

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