"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."
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, April 18, 2014:
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.