First week of La. legislative session cut short

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 2, 2010

VIDALIA — Area legislators said the first week of the Louisiana legislature was devoted mostly to procedure, and was cut short by the Easter break.

One of the most notable happenings was the election of the speaker pro-tem of the House, which was done by roll-call vote instead of worked out behind closed doors for the first time in years.

District 21 Rep. Andy Anders (D) said he backed the losing candidate, Noble Ellington (D), whose campaign for speaker pro-tem ran against the candidate backed by House Speaker Jim Tucker (R), Rep. Joel Robideaux (I).

“Rep. Ellington represents the north, and I was very much in support of Rep. Ellington, and I told the speaker that at the get-go,” he said. “The number one rule, once you tell somebody down there what you are going to do, you never switch back.”

The Speaker of the House has the final say on house committee assignments.

“The speaker did take it kind of personally, and he made some committee changes but he did not mess with me, but I told him where I was,” Anders said. “The ones who spoke out a lot more vocally lost some positions, but I thought they did a good job. It was a 53-48 vote, and I think if it had been a secret ballot, I think it would have been different.”

Because the roll call vote was done alphabetically, Anders was one of the first to cast his vote.

“You could have heard a pin drop,” he said. “I said, ‘They know where I am, I might as well holler it out.’”

District 32 Sen. Neil Riser (R) said he walked over to the House chamber to watch the vote, and he was particularly impressed by a speech Ellington made before the vote in which he asked that any retaliation for bringing the issue to a floor vote be placed on him.

“I think that Americans died for us to vote for who we want to vote for without repercussions,” Riser said. “Anybody has the right to vote for who they want.”

Anders said he didn’t want the goings-on leading up to the speaker pro-tem election to define the rest of the legislative session.

“We are all down here to do our jobs, and I hate to see it start off on the wrong foot,” he said.

Because of the short week, Anders said he has only attended one committee meeting, and much of what has gone on was dedicated to procedural matters.

He has a meeting with the governor Monday.

“They kind of bring everybody in and tell you (the governor’s) game plan,” Anders said.

From what he’s been able to gather, Anders said that plan is, “to do more with less,” a reference to tight budgets and unexpected revenue shortfalls.

And while doing more with less, Anders said he will do everything he can to defend education funding.

“I am going to make sure education is defended in this deal because with these kids these days you have to have an education to even walk in and ask for a job,” he said.

He also noted that health care — like at a national level — will be a big issue this session, and that members of the House black caucus had already protested at the Capitol the fact that Attorney General Buddy Caldwell (D) had filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of the new federal health care overhaul.

But Caldwell isn’t the only person in Louisiana government working to block the legislation, and Sen. A.G. Crowe (R) has filed a bill that would block the controversial individual mandate of the federal package to buy health insurance.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate finance committee, and Riser said it is likely to make it through committee.

He also said he would vote for the bill if it came to the floor.

“As I understand it, (the federal overhaul) mandates someone who does not have health care to have health care, even if they are someone who says, ‘I don’t want it,’” Riser said.

“To mandate someone who does not want something is not really the American way.”

Another bill that caught his attention was one that would tax interstate gas sales, as well as a proposal he has heard about that would restrict the number of non-related people allowed in the vehicle of a driver younger than 17 years old, Riser said.

“In a rural district like we live in, you are only hurting the poor,” he said. “You can have a job where two or three girls ride to work together, or in high school, everybody gets off practice and rides together, or goes to summer ball together.”

The House will next convene April 5, and the Senate will next convene April 6.