Louisiana legislators work hard to do little: John Maginnis

Date: Jun 22, 2011

Louisiana legislators work hard to do little: John Maginnis

As the legislative session enters its final hours, a thorough assessment of its accomplishments should only take a few minutes. In the spirit of the state Constitution, lawmakers in this odd-numbered year did little more than balance a budget, though not for a lack of trying to do more. Seldom has the Capitol seen as much spirited debate, clever stratagems, emotional pleas and hard feelings resulting in so few substantive bills, or trivial ones, passed into law.

There was also one good surprising twist to maintain the status quo when the TOPS-funding constitutional amendment was itself amended to add the renewal of the 4-cent tax on cigarettes. That marked an end run on the governor's veto of the tax renewal, which the House failed to override last week.

At the time his veto was sustained, it was the high point of the session for the governor, though it didn't take much elevation to tower over the rest of what he got done.

He pushed hard on a higher education agenda that went almost nowhere. His signature issue, the merger of the University of New Orleans and Southern University at New Orleans, started off poorly and ended badly, with ugly racial overtones throughout. Distrust emanating from the merger bill helped to derail a broader effort by Jindal and Speaker Jim Tucker to form a single board of higher education.

Colleges did get authority for a modest tuition increase and were given more autonomy on spending it. But a major fee increase proposal backed by the administration flunked its House vote, 9-84.

The governor's privatization plans created a lot of controversy during the session, but the only such bill he presented, to authorize the sale of prisons, was locked up in committee.

Even after a Senate committee accused the administration of withholding information on privatization contracts, the full body could not muster the votes to remove the veil of secrecy from records in the governor's office.

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