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|What else legislators did, besides that|
After the legislative session ends is typically when lawmakers go about their districts explaining to constituents what they did. This year, the people know all too well what they did, leaving a majority of lawmakers to attempt to placate voters incensed over the legislative pay raise and, in some cases, to try to talk them out of signing recall petitions.
At least for forlorn legislators, what's done is done. Not so for Gov. Bobby Jindal, who will continue to be pounded in the press and on the Internet, and have his political manhood questioned, until the July 8 deadline to veto the pay raise bill or to let it become law without his signature. His aides are describing the interlude as the "20-day death march," which won't end well whatever he decides.
Though he opposes the 223 percent salary increase, the governor has said he will not veto it. Yet lawmakers fear he will buckle under public pressure--like he buckled under theirs--and spike their raise in the end, thus causing politically mangled legislators to lose twice.
Bumming out lawmakers even more is the realization that the nuclear blast from this issue vaporized all the session's accomplishments that they hoped to take credit for. Here is a largely new bunch of legislators who raised ethics standards to the highest in the country, cut businesses and personal taxes, ramped up highway construction, raised teacher pay and balanced the budget with nearly $1 billion in surplus--and they leave Baton Rouge as the most cursed and reviled Legislature in modern history. What a business.
Despite fears that term limits would induce chaos and logjams, this regular session ran more smoothly and orderly than recent ones, due largely to the organization and cooperation between Senate President Joel Chaisson and Speaker of the House Jim Tucker. At time things went too smoothly. Bills, the likes of which sparked rigorous debate in the last Legislature, passed with barely a floor question or a vote against.
On what counts most, the budget, the governor, who campaigned against the out-of-control spending of the Blanco administration, exceeded that by $1 billion from the state general fund. Lawmakers gave him nearly all that he asked for, plus $40 million or so they added for their pet projects.
If the governor wants to work out his veto pen, he might use it to line out any of the hundreds of items that legislators added for non-governmental organizations, from historical societies to fishing tournaments, that do not meet his criteria for funding.
While legislators put something extra in their pockets, they returned money to yours, or to the half of you who earn enough to benefit from the repeal of the 2002 Stelly income tax plan. But because lawmakers will begin seeing more in their paychecks a year before the income tax withholding tables are adjusted for everybody, the timing of the two only stirred public resentment more.
Viewed from outside the state, the session's most controversial bill was one to allow teachers to introduce materials advancing alternative notions to evolution. You would not know that from the absence of debate or the near-unanimous votes for Senate Bill 733 in both houses. The only argument heard on this matter will take place in federal court.
Business interests were disturbed by the seemingly more conservative House freshman class often agreeing with populist arguments advanced by trial lawyers and consumer advocates, such as a bill that flew through both houses to mandate that health insurance policies cover child autism.
Legislators spent a lot of time coming up with new ways to punish sex offenders, from chemical castration to forbidding them from wearing masks or dispensing candy on Halloween.
Lawmakers also acted to protect the public from the new hazard of driving while texting. Should that not help reduce car accidents, insurance will cover more because of the bill increasing the minimums on policies. Motorcyclists will continue to be protected from themselves by the defeat of the effort to repeal the helmet law.
So it's not fair to say this legislative session was good for nothing. Now, having given the poor devils their due, it's back to the veto watch.