20110622-news-0101Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On June 16 the Louisiana House of Representatives voted unsuccessfully to override Gov. Bobby Jindal’s mindlessly ideological veto of a bill renewing 4 cents of the state’s tax on a pack of cigarettes. The tax was devoted to underwriting health care and, supporters pointed out, renewing it could have helped leverage an additional $38 million in federal funds for health care in one of the most unhealthy states in the nation. That’s $50 million up in smoke.

The House needed 70 votes to override the veto — the exact number of reps who voted for the renewal in May. But, fearing reprisals from the governor, putting party over principle (in fairness, two Democrats also defected) or merely divorced from their senses, 11 reps changed their votes and sided with Jindal.

Speaker Pro Tem Joel Robideaux’s 180 we understand: He’ll need Jindal’s support in next year’s bid to become House speaker. But we don’t condone it. With Rep. Nancy Landry giving Lafayette a pusillanimous pair, the Hub City accounted for nearly 20 percent of the override’s failure.

Robideaux and Landry were joined in betraying their better angels by Reps. Robert Billiot, D-Westwego, Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, Charles Chaney, R-Rayville, Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, Kay Katz, R-Monroe, Thomas McVea, R-Jackson and Thomas Wilmott, R-Kenner.

Contrast how two Republicans accounted for their override vote: Landry acknowledged that her stepmother died of lung cancer and she didn’t believe the renewal was a new tax. Yet, she sided with Jindal because, she told Gannett, she’s “going to be, hopefully, working with the governor another four years” and she “didn’t think it was worth a challenge to him.” Ruston’s Hollis Downs stuck to his principles, voting for both the renewal and the override. Downs cited his father’s death from emphysema: “I would dishonor his life if I didn’t do everything I can to reduce smoking.” 

Let’s not forget that Jindal, when he was secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals, defended such consumption taxes as a means of reducing smoking and covering state health care costs for smokers — you know, the mark of a “just society.”

Kudos to Lafayette Parish Reps. Bobby Badon and Rickey Hardy, who voted to renew and override. The latter took advantage of the House’s epic failure by pointing out, a pack of smokes in one hand and a textbook in the other, that while Louisiana is lowering the cost of smoking — arguably an enticement for young people — we’re raising the cost of higher education.

We hope these 11 state reps can sleep at night.

No, wait, we don’t.

[Editor’s Note: Democratic state Rep. Harold Ritchie of Bogalusa made an 11th hour maneuver Monday, tacking his cigarette tax onto SB53, a proposed constitutional amendment to dedicate more tobacco settlement dollars to TOPS. Given the opportunity to redeem themselves, Robideaux and Landry instead voted against the cigarette tax amendment, which passed 59-40, but later voted for the TOPS bill. If the Senate concurs with the House, the constitutional amendment will go to a vote of the people. Follow The Independent online for updates on this story.]

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