An overview of the hottest issues to keep tabs on during this year’s regular session.
By Jeremy Alford
The 2012 regular session, which will be unleashed on the public March 12 like a political Kraken, is brimming with new personalities. Last year’s election season saw to that. There’s Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville, a rare coins dealer who has a black belt in karate. And Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Sorrento, probably the only certified mechanic in the Legislature and the only lawmaker to race an IMCA/UMP modified race car.
Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Mansfield, was once assigned to the Pentagon as an Army officer and was actually at work on Sept. 11, 2001. Fellow rookie Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, comes to the Capitol after spending a large part of her life as a missionary living in extremely harsh conditions.
And don’t forget about Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, who had to be brought to the emergency room the same day he was elected last year to have a chicken bone surgically removed from his throat (a few hours later, his wife also went into labor).
Yup. There are plenty of new stories out there this year. New faces, too. But they’re slightly less jarring than the issues on deck. Here are five worth keeping an eye on between now and June 4, the date the session is slated to adjourn.
THE BOBBY FACTOR: This is the beginning of the end. Year one of term two of the reign of Gov. Bobby Jindal. While his first term was complemented with tap dancing routines (see: ethics reform and a failed pay raise for lawmakers), Jindal is swinging for the fences with substantive reforms in the stadia of education and retirement. Most noticeably, he seems to be less interested in national politics. Will this be the year Jindal governs instead of politicks? Time will tell.
EDUCATION OVERHAUL: If you believe the conservative hype, the era of the teacher unions is nearing an end as well. If nothing else, Democrats and Republicans alike are sick and tired of Louisiana’s broken education system. Business and industry, for its part, is backing Jindal’s call for a revamp of tenure procedures and a new accountability system. Relatively new lawmakers, though, have no idea what’s coming. There are nearly 50,000 public school teachers in Louisiana and they, along with their friends and family, will be lobbying lawmakers with a passion. As one lawmaker recently pointed out, being lobbied by a elementary school teacher is one thing. Being lobbied by your own elementary school teacher is another.
PENSION REFORM: This new term in state government will likely witness Louisiana’s total unfunded accrued liability, or UAL, surpass the $20 billion mark. Depending how lawmakers and the administration react, that figure may mushroom into their collective legacy. Jindal has a plan, but the thousands of people in Louisiana’s public retirement systems will have something to say about it. For more on the influence of the masses, see education reform.
TORT-O-RAMA: Expect some serious policy maneuvers during the session in regard to oil and gas legacy sites. Such sites refer to oilfields that have been contaminated and require mitigation. Who should pay for what and how the sites should be cleaned are at the heart of the debate. It will also probably end up being the biggest payday around for Louisiana’s most skilled lobbyists, pitting landowners and trial lawyers against Big Oil.
THE BUDGET: The proposed budget stands at $25.5 billion. It has an estimated shortfall of $895 million. Compared to the current year budget, it’s being decreased by about $61 million. The UAL, known more commonly as debt, is $20 billion all by itself. You don’t need an abacus to figure out that this challenge is very real and threatening. Rather, what needs to be figured out by the elected class is how to address the situation without kicking it into next year, which is exactly what happened last year.
Jeremy Alford is a freelance journalist from Baton Rouge. You can contact him directly through his website at www.jeremyalford.com.
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