Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The state House committee tasked with spending Louisiana’s money got an extra voice from Lafayette last week when Speaker Jim Tucker named Rep. Rickey Hardy to the House Appropriations Committee. Hardy had to resign from the House Commerce Committee to accept the assignment, which he happily did; widely regarded as the most powerful committee in the House, Appropriations deals with the state budget and other fiscal matters. The north Lafayette Democrat joins south-side Republican Page Cortez on the committee. (Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, rounds out an Acadiana trifecta.) This newspaper has given Hardy the business in the past over his sponsorship and co-sponsorship of some questionable legislation — barring senior citizens from seeking office, for one; forcing welfare recipients to pass drug tests, for another — but we’ve never doubted that Hardy is a straight shooter with the best interests of his district at heart.

Louisiana lawmakers proved yet again that deference to industry lobbyists over protecting public health is de rigueur in state politics. A bill that would have banned smoking in bars in Louisiana went up in smoke in the state Senate last week by a 22-15 vote, with Acadiana Sens. Elbert Guillory and Fred Mills joining the pro-carcinogen contingent. (Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, was absent for the vote.) It was the third such attempt to ban smoking in bars by state Sen. Rob Marionneaux Jr., D-Livonia. The bill originally included casinos in the ban — the legislation aimed to protect bartenders, waitresses, musicians and others who work in bars and casinos from the deleterious effects of second-hand smoke — but that component was stripped from the bill in a House committee. The ban on smoking in bars, however, did clear the full House. Opponents of the bill argued it would drive smokers and their tax revenue to other states. There may be a tendril of truth to that argument for establishments skirting state lines, although the ban on smoking in restaurants in Lafayette Parish doesn’t seem to have driven diners away. They adapted. The net result of this stupid failure by the Senate is that employees in Louisiana bars and casinos are virtually the only workers not protected by law from a proven environmental carcinogen.

We get the feeling Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, is just trying too hard to out-conservative Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, Landry’s presumptive opponent in the election next year for the new 3rd Congressional District. Landry’s D.C. press hack, the curiously named Millard Mulé, has been firing off chest-thumping press releases on the freshman congressman’s behalf since Landry took the oath of office in January. One of the most recent, however, raised eyebrows across the political spectrum: a braggadocios bulletin announcing the rep’s refusal to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss the budget impasse. Roughly 200 House Republicans, it’s worth noting, did accept the president’s invitation. The Times-Picayune reported the story last Wednesday, quoting Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who pursed his lips at Landry’s petty posturing: “It is more than a little arrogant,” Ornstein told the Times-Pic. “It belittles the office of the presidency and shows that Landry has little understanding of the political process, the role of the constitutional institutions, much less basic politeness.”

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