"I feel a bit like the guy that's studying for a final when he hasn't been to class in about two months," Robideaux jokingly says.
A calm, unassuming CPA with slicked-back dark hair, Robideaux has been a behind the scenes proponent of Lafayette Utilities System's controversial fiber-to-the-home project since he was first elected to the Legislature in 2003. But now the first-term legislator is front and center in the ongoing saga to allow LUS to directly compete with Cox and BellSouth by selling its own phone, Internet and cable service.
Two weeks ago, Robideaux pre-filed three bills that throw down the gauntlet to LUS' opposition. The bills not only seek to clear the way for LUS' project, but also to broaden other municipalities' right to develop their own telecommunications infrastructure.
Cox Communications spokeswoman Sharon Kleinpeter says her company was a bit taken aback by Robideaux's bills.
"We don't mind competing," she says. "We just like a level playing field. We're fine with the law as it is now. We believe that everybody needs to play by the rules. I don't know what their issues are. Nobody's come to us directly."
Robideaux nonchalantly insists he's only acting in the interests of City-Parish President Joey Durel and Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Huval, and he expects the entire Lafayette delegation to line up behind the bills.
"As a legislator," he says, "when we're asked to do something to benefit the city, there's only a few of us that can handle the legislation. As it stands, right now I'm just the one that's handling the bills for the administration."
But Robideaux's also not shy about taking a spokesman's role on the issue.
"You know it's going to be a battle," he says, recognizing that his bills will attract fierce opposition from Cox, BellSouth and a stable of telecom industry lobbyists. "But I feel like we're Lafayette, La. Whatever we do here and whatever we're able to accomplish is not going to shut BellSouth down. BellSouth's going to fight it because they need to fight it, and I understand they have to answer to their shareholders. But this is good for Lafayette, so we're going to try to accomplish what we set out to do and let the chips fall where they may."
Robideaux's bills, jointly filed by LUS ally in the state Senate, Mike Michot, take aim at a state law known as the Local Government Fair Competition Act ' a law Robideaux calls "a nice name for an unfair bill."
Passed in 2004, the 21-page law was touted as a compromise agreement between LUS and private telecom providers, enacting detailed guidelines and scrutiny over any public entity's bid to offer telecommunications services to the general public. Last year, BellSouth used the law to file a lawsuit that tied up LUS' bond ordinance in court. LUS and city leaders felt burned, claiming BellSouth was underhanded about its intentions during the bill's negotiations. BellSouth Rep. John Williams did not return calls for comment for this story.
One of Robideaux's proposed bills, HB 245, would repeal the Local Government Fair Competition Act.
"It's a very restrictive bill," Robideaux says. "I'm not a lawyer, but the way I read it, it basically gives BellSouth or any telecommunications company the ability to sue at every turn. I'm just not so sure that it's meant to be anything other than a device to go to court."
Kleinpeter says Cox is firmly opposed to repealing any or all of the Fair Competition Act and suggests such a move could stifle economic development in the state. "If that law is repealed, local government is going to get a sweetheart deal that will discourage future investment from the private sector, the engine of economic development."
Another bill, HB 244, would require any private telecommunications company that receives public funds to adhere to all of the regulations in the Local Government Fair Competition Act. Telecom companies have received government assistance in the past, in the form of tax incentives and grants for opening new offices and expanding services into rural areas. Robideaux won't be surprised if BellSouth or Cox look to capitalize on federal funds or tax incentives now being offered to spark rebuilding in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"If they see this as an opportunity to put down some infrastructure in the state, which is not necessarily a bad thing, [under this bill] they would then be subjected to the same rules and regulations that any other governmental entity would be, since they're receiving government money to do it," says Robideaux.
While Robideaux lays it out as a common sense measure, the bill appears to be a long shot. If enacted, it would open the door to placing unprecedented government auditing and financing restraints on private telecom companies. Cox's Kleinpeter says public and private businesses are different animals that can't be covered by blanket guidelines.
"I think you're comparing apples and oranges, and those two things could not ever be put in the same basket," she says. "All of us in business have to follow rules and guidelines from the FCC, the SEC and anti-trust laws."
Robideaux's third bill, HB 257, would make Lafayette completely exempt from the Fair Competition Act. It would also exempt municipal wireless Internet networks, such as the one New Orleans started as a free service following Hurricane Katrina. And it would exempt disaster-affected areas from the law for a period of five years.
Robideaux insists all of these bills are a means of encouraging infrastructure development during a critical rebuilding period in south Louisiana.
The triple-threat political gambit could not come at a more auspicious time for LUS. Last Wednesday, the city-parish council approved the public utility's latest bond ordinance for the project, starting a 30-day window for anyone to issue another legal challenge to the bond ordinance. The benefit of having a fresh debate on the Fair Competition Act opening at the same time as the window for a new legal challenge to LUS isn't lost on Robideaux, who smiles and says, "It just happened to work out that way."
Registered independent Robideaux says a lot of lawmakers have been emboldened by the recent hurricanes to rethink progress in the state. He hopes this may give his bills a fighting chance.
"The hurricane changed a whole lot of things about the need for rebuilding and infrastructure in certain areas. The landscape is completely different for the south part of Louisiana than it was back then. What if Erath wants to do wireless, and they want to be able do some things, maybe get some of this Go Zone money? The whole need to rebuild is completely different."
The bills prompted the scheduling of a pre-session meeting with all interested parties to talk about possible compromises ' a meeting that was abruptly canceled late last week. Even before that development, Robideaux wasn't holding out too much hope that everyone would come to a friendly agreement.
"They had these meetings before the [Local Government Fair Competition Act], and Lafayette thought it would be allowed to progress, and that wasn't the case. So I'm not sure what could come out of this meeting that everybody would feel like, 'OK, good, we know exactly what's going to happen after this point.' But, I'm an optimist, so we'll see."
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
A New Orleans levee board wants to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for decades of damage to our state’s coastline, but the Legislature may be poised to put the kibosh on the suit.
New standards curb elective induction
CVS stops tobacco sales
If an Acadia Parish fiddler misses a note while swatting a fly, will a St. Martinville accordionist learn “Ma ‘Tite Fille”?
(It's good, it's bad and it's just crazy)