"The final few days of session always scare me," Schedler, a Mandeville Republican, ranted to his colleagues from the Senate floor. "We all know it's like a basketball game. It happens very rapidly. We leave here at four or five o'clock [a.m.] every day. We should never be put in this position."
The last week of a lawmaking session in Louisiana is legendary. The pace is so frantic, the compromise process so secretive and legislators so self-involved that bad bills with questionable intent easily slip by unnoticed. Targets of certain legislation don't even find out they're in the crosshairs until months later. During the first few weeks of session, lawmakers work four days a week, getting home most nights in time for dinner. But during the last week, it's a 24-7 gig.
As such, paranoia had clearly taken hold earlier in the day when one of the Capitol's old political ghosts worked his voodoo on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. Republican Sen. Max Malone of Shreveport was pushing legislation to make absolutely certain Louisiana's governor is prohibited from issuing pardons on federal convictions. It was largely a local beef, at least on the surface.
Malone was still miffed that a pardon by former Gov. Mike Foster allowed Joe Shyne, who was pinched in 1994 on federal racketeering charges, to run for the Shreveport City Council. But as committee members took their vote, Malone issued a strange warning: "You are voting to pardon Edwin Edwards, that's what you are doing!"
Rep. Charmaine Marchand, a Crescent City Democrat, helped kill the measure and rejuvenated rumors of Gov. Kathleen Blanco's options on the matter. "I want Edwards back," Marchand said, casting a vote that surely brought smiles to the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale.
As the smoke cleared the following day, and legislation was released from opposing chambers or conference committees after weeks of rancor, several lawmakers found their bills sporting hitchhikers, as they're commonly called. One of the largest came at the hands of Rep. Roy Quezaire, a Donaldsonville Democrat, who single-handedly attached $734.9 million in road repairs and related upgrades to an unsuspecting Senate bill. The gigantic rider was eventually stripped off when Blanco caught wind of the amendment and threatened a veto.
Other bills came out of the process much worse off and even unrecognizable in some instances. "The only thing left of mine is my name," said Lake Charles Democratic Rep. Elcie Guillory in disgust over the loss of his own bill to last-minute hijinks.
As Democratic Gov. Blanco faced the final two days of her last session, she remained at odds with Republicans over how much tax relief should be included in the state's record $30 billion budget. The governor was willing to accept $180 million in tax relief, but the GOP wanted considerably more.
On the House floor, Republicans hung signs on their desk computers declaring, "My Mama Wants Tax Credits." It was in reference to a quip by Rep. Jim Tucker, a Terrytown resident who chairs the House GOP Caucus, responding to Blanco's threat to cut pet projects in exchange for tax relief. "She's not my mama, and she's not my constituent," he said.
Not to be outdone, Democrats, who mostly argued that too many tax cuts would jeopardize important programs and construction, posted their own signs reading, "My Mama Wants Roads."
Hitchhiking attempts continued throughout the day, but the efforts were overshadowed by a true hijacking. Dredging up a hot topic from last year's session, senators from southeast Louisiana tried unsuccessfully to take over an unrelated House bill to create a new autonomous West Bank levee district.
While not the most ethical route to take in passing legislation, term-limited Democratic Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi defended the practice in his farewell address. "You should never let the constitution stand in the way of a good bill," he said.
The final day of session started 30 minutes late, with the House getting underway long before the Senate, but nowhere close to the 9 a.m. convening time. After one lawmaker switched his vote on a bill from the previous day ' an all too common practice that allows minds and once-official stances to be changed ' the House endorsed a resolution to create an Italian-American Caucus, effective immediately. (Where there's a cause, there's a caucus, conventional wisdom goes, and the House already has conclaves for women, rural lawmakers, and more.)
As the business of the day proceeded, stuffed monkeys were discovered in various locations around the House floor, the aftermath of a debate from the previous day that ended in the Tulane Primate Research Center's budget being halved. Rep. John Alario, the Westwego Democrat who chairs the budget-drafting Appropriations Committee, had jokingly said half of the monkeys would need to escape, and they apparently did.
The real animalistic behavior, however, didn't surface until Rep. Rick Farrar, a Pineville Democrat, argued on behalf of a last-minute amendment that would have loosened regulations for certain nursing homes. Freshman Rep. Elbert L. Guillory of Opelousas, also a Democrat, questioned Farrar about how he cares for the older members of his own family and then accused him of not being sympathetic to seniors. "Do you have no shame?" Guillory asked.
Farrar gripped the podium and pointed a finger angrily at Guillory, saying, "You better watch out, because I do have shame. And I'll tell you what else I have ' pride. So you better watch what you say."
Rep. Warren Triche, a Raceland Democrat facing term limits, stoked the fire by asking the House speaker: "Do we have boxing gloves in the House we can administer to these two to let them go at it here?" The speaker denied the request, but Triche had tried one more time, on behalf of the Class of 1988, to keep the House as rowdy as it's always been.
Alongside the drama of the forced exits, the pace of those final hours and the sex appeal of a record surplus, it was the last gathering for 45 representatives signing off alongside 15 senators. Maybe that's why Triche apologized to the House on behalf of his freshman class during his farewell speech for shortening terms.
It proved, finally, that lawmakers are accountable for their actions ' kind of. "We as a class voted overwhelming for term limits, and it would be especially difficult for us to come here now and tell you we have a change of heart and really want to change our vote," Triche said. "But we're the reason you're facing this."
An abortion rights organization has filed the first court challenge to a Louisiana law that would require doctors who perform abortions to be able to admit patients to a nearby hospital.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister started his sign-up for re-election Friday the same as any other candidate, filling out paperwork and handing over cash to pay his qualifying fee. But he finished it quite differently, doused with ice.
The recent release of Victor White III’s autopsy report could spell trouble, as it tells a much different story of his death than the one told five months ago by the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“Candidates for Congress and members of Congress spend between 30 and 70 percent of their time raising money to get back to Congress or to get their party back into power.”
Over the last four days of the trial against attorney Daniel Stanford, there’s been one notable absence from Judge Elizabeth Foote’s courtroom: attorney Bill Goode.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Nick Toon are not on the same page yet, and time is running short for Toon to get it right.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister started his sign-up for re-election the same as other candidates, filling out paperwork and handing over qualifying money. But he finished it like no other, doused with ice.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Jell-o sales plummet; Hamas kills suspected informers; bodies arrive in Malaysia and more national and international news for Friday, August 22, 2014.
That’s what Lafayette Parish has obtained in Pentagon surplus since 2006.
Qualifying continues through Friday.
The political tilt of the Senate during President Barack Obama's final two years in office is likely to hinge on a handful of female contenders in tight and costly races.
A former BP executive will be allowed to travel to the United Kingdom later this month while he awaits trial on charges relating to an investigation of the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
Friends and family will celebrate Spider's life in September.
Saints safety Jairus Byrd has rarely been so eager to hit and be hit, if only to reassure himself that his surgically repaired back is as healed as doctors believe.
Jindal privatized nearly all the LSU hospitals without waiting for federal officials to sign off on financing arrangements that rely on millions of federal Medicaid dollars.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and her main Republican challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy, verbally sparred as they officially signed up on the opening day of qualifying for Louisiana's November election.
Superintendent tells crowd he'd just emerged from a four-hour meeting with the attorney hired to investigate him.
The start of the three-day qualifying period for November’s elections has so far yielded 10 official bids and one new announcement from candidates seeking a seat on the school board.
It’s been just over four months since attorney Barry Domingue committed suicide the morning before he was to stand trial for a second day in the federal Curious Goods case, leaving his fellow attorney/co-defendant Daniel Stanford with a temporary mistrial and awaiting his day in court.
Candidates for Louisiana's Nov. 4 election must officially sign up for the ballot this week.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's effort to derail Louisiana's use of the Common Core education standards was halted Tuesday by a state judge who said the governor's actions were harmful to parents, teachers and students.
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram isn't letting a humbling start to his pro career lower his opinion of what he can still accomplish in the NFL.
Visualize Lafayette’s next great thing from 3,000 feet.
A Baton Rouge judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday against enforcing a law that prohibits anyone 70 or older from running for justice of the peace or constable.