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More history in offing at Edwards' expense

One historic session of the Louisiana Legislature down, one to go – and historic for more than one reason.

After enduring a regular session interrupted for about a month-and-a-half because of gubernatorial restrictions due to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the Legislature launched itself into a special session potentially a month long. It’s only the second time it has done so, and the first time it hasn’t restricted itself to a narrow agenda.

Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards did take issue with the generality of the call, implying that it tried to do too much, although his claim rings a bit hollow. Of the 41 items, 14 deal with budgeting matters, some of which the chambers resolved in the regular session but left most hanging because of the shortened nature of the session. Another nine address the impact of Edwards’ actions because of the pandemic. A dozen concern tax matters, which in this even-numbered year the body couldn’t address during the regular session. Outside of these areas that timing has prevented to date their resolutions, just a handful of issues remain, and one named – tort reform – the Legislature successfully completed in the regular session.


LA tort reform bills realize different outcomes

Two (or two-plus) bills essentially addressing the same subject, but with two different outcomes in the Louisiana Legislature; why?

SB 418 by Republican state Sen. Kirk Talbot passed both chambers three votes higher than a supermajority. The bill would reform extensively tort law dealing with vehicular accidents in a way that, if the history of similar laws in other states provides any guide, will reduce both insurance rates and the size of court-ordered judgments, which garnered opposition from the trial lawyer lobby.

Those opponents include Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, on whose behalf a political action committee devoted to opposing tort reform in all of its forms spent $13.5 million that resulted in his narrow reelection. Edwards is using every last bit of his leverage to dilute the bill in any way possible, by promising not to veto the measure even as he doesn’t stand much of a chance in having such a veto stick, in order to save face. An overridden veto will reduce his governorship going forward to a cipher and even the smallest change that he could cajole from a conference committee picked by legislative Republican leaders would allow him with a straight face to refuse conceding defeat and to sign the bill.


Tort reform vote to force Edwards gamble

Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards now faces the biggest gamble of his undistinguished career in the state’s top office.

Today, the House of Representatives passed HB 418 by Republican Sen. Kirk Talbot. The bill makes major changes to the state’s tort system as it pertains to vehicle insurance, containing features in the legal codes of many other states that have far lower personal vehicle rates.

Edwards, who before making it to the Governor’s Mansion worked as a trial lawyer, doesn’t want to see this threat to the wealth and livelihoods of his professional colleagues, not only out of comradeship, but because he owes his political life to them. Heavily backed by trial lawyers – who along with other beneficiaries to the current system gave to the special interest group Gumbo PAC $13.5 million from 2018-19 it spent on behalf of Edwards’ narrow reelection – he is considered by the special interests currently fleecing ratepayers as their guarantor that they can continue living the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed through vetoing bills like Talbot’s.


LA medical marijuana scam budget booster?

So, this is how Louisiana solves it Wuhan coronavirus-induced budget problems? By stimulating demand for medical marijuana and becoming a bigger than ever pusher?

That’s the most logical conclusion that can be drawn from the Louisiana Legislature’s passage of HB 819 by Republican state Rep. Larry Bagley, which awaits concurrence and gubernatorial assent to become law. Because nothing else can explain why something almost useless in addressing medical maladies suddenly becomes considered a wonder drug whose manufacture the state happens to control.

In the past couple years since the Legislature created a viable production and distribution system (subject to, naturally, the usual politicking) its legal use has expanded rapidly from just a handful of state-vetted “recommending” physicians (because the federal government bans its use in any form with one narrow exception, so doctors in Louisiana cannot prescribe it) for a small number of maladies to now on the brink of anything goes. Bagley’s bill basically allows any physician to recommend it for any reason.


Conservatism supports smoking ban ordinance

Shreveport’s pending decision to enact a partial smoking ban in bars exposes the complex politics behind these.

This week, the City Council engaged in the first reading of an ordinance that would build on existing state law and corresponding city ordinance regarding smoking in public places. It would extend a ban on indoor smoking at bars and include vaping as a form of smoking, but would exempt cigar and hookah bars.

Appropriately, the more conservative members of the Council brought this forward. In justifying smoking in public, supporters often allege conservative principles back that preference, but that contention relies on misappropriating the foundations of liberalism.


Budget can kicking sets up day of reckoning

It’s a legally dubious effort which will draw a bipartisan blind eye allowing a traditional kicking of the can down the road in Louisiana budgeting.

This describes state policy-maker response to using federal CARES Act dollars in supplementing the fiscal year 2020 budget and the upcoming FY 2021 budget. The Legislature appears poised to approve within the week legislation affecting the former and to do the same with the latter in a special session in June.

The state has received $1.802 billion designed to offset costs at the state and local level for expenses related to combatting the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic over the last four months of FY 2020 and first six months of FY 2021. At the same time the associated economic shutdown, prompted by a series of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards proclamations as part of the response, prompted the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference to forecast of a loss of just over $1 billion in general fund revenue in this span.


Memorial Day, 2020

This column publishes every Sunday through Thursday around noon U.S. Central Time (maybe even after sundown on busy days, or maybe before noon if things work out, or even sometimes on the weekend if there's big news) except whenever a significant national holiday falls on the Monday through Friday associated with the otherwise-usual publication on the previous day (unless it is Thanksgiving Day, Independence Day, Christmas, or New Year's Day when it is the day on which the holiday is observed by the U.S. government). In my opinion, in addition to these are also Easter Sunday, Memorial Day and Veterans' Day.

With Monday, May 25 being Memorial Day, I invite you to explore this link.


Leftist bias in LA media outlets: case study

The next time an obviously leftist journalist sniffs and haughtily tells you the mainstream media, at least in Louisiana, doesn’t display a clear liberal bias, shut him up with this URL.

Ever since the end of the 19th century through the next half-century when changing market conditions diluted the partisan press into a more balanced kind of political coverage, the pendulum has inched its way from the center – but not in an increasing amplitude in arc, rather fixed ever more firmly on the left. It largely has continued (if now eroding) norms developed over a century ago – striving for accuracy and objectivity in reporting – but increasingly allows bias through other means.

These days, that takes the form of selective use of information and selective coverage. Bias enters the equation when reporters express incuriosity in comprehensively covering a story because what they see on the surface confirms their deep-seated political biases, and when editors make selections on what they deem worth covering or qualifies as news that mirror their political prejudices.


Brumley choice ends expansive reform era

It may be déjà vu all over again in some ways for the Louisiana state superintendent of education, but that’s least true in the most important ways and most true in the least important of ways.

Wednesday, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education installed Jefferson Parish school Superintendent Cade Brumley as the state’s top education official, with the bare minimum of eight votes. This means Brumley will helm the Department of Education through 2023, subject to favorable annual evaluations by BESE.

In some fashion his rise to the post echoes his predecessor John White. Both were young at their commencement, had not spent a lot of time in the classroom, but had plenty of administrative experience.

There are a couple of key differences, which in large part defined the politics of Brumley’s selection. His administrative experience, with the exception of the last two years in Jefferson, was relatively parochial, starting as a principal, then becoming superintendent in DeSoto Parish. Prior to his taking the job in 2012, White had spent years in high-profile administrative roles, first in New York, then as head of Louisiana’s Recovery School District – as well as a stint outside of government as the head of Teach for America affiliates, the organization which prepared him for classroom teaching. To put it another way, White never had run a school or answered to a school board of elected officials, while Brumley until he became Jefferson’s leader (when he added charter schools to his portfolio and had a significant nonpublic school presence) had little experience with anything but traditional ways in education.

Also, Brumley’s career followed the most traditional of traditional paths – a bachelors education degree, teaching in a traditional school, principal of one, advanced education degrees, then onto his superintendent jobs. Unlike White, he never became a policy entrepreneur with visionary ideas of where to lead Louisiana education, but took a pragmatic tinkering view of policy implementation to get results within the larger framework that White and BESE provided.

That’s why Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and his three BESE appointees so enthusiastically backed Brumley. They knew, with a solid majority of reformers on BESE, that nobody could win appointment who lobbied to turn back the clock on a successful series of reforms White, with legislative and BESE cooperation, had launched, changes which began with increased accountability of all of students, teachers, schools, and districts and then moved to more rigor, effort expended, and subject area expertise conveyed in instruction.

But at least they could get somebody in there who would lift the foot from the gas pedal, figuring Brumley with his very traditional background would. The person they didn’t want ascending to the job was Assistant Superintendent Jessica Baghian, whose background and links to education reform plus longtime association with White within the department they oversimply saw as cloning White on policy.

And Brumley has shown he’ll carry water for the education establishment troika of school boards, district superintendents, and unions. In his last year in DeSoto, he served as head of the lobbying arm for district chiefs, which reflexively opposed White, and carried their criticisms to him.

These interests convinced enough of the reform majority to back Brumley, and thus breaks the string of unambiguous reformers (excluding interim holders) on the job stretching back to Paul Pastorek’s term starting in 2007. No doubt this thrills Edwards, his education policy fellow travelers among elected Democrats, and the troika.

At the same time, Brumley didn’t get this far without having political skills, and so he must know this: nearly on a daily basis, Edwards’ influence fades a bit more, well before the end of his term (the latest sign: Edwards trying to bargain to reduce even a little extensive tort reform he appears unable to stop). Large Republican majorities in the legislature, who see no reason to change existing education policy, remain entrenched. Reform sentiments still have sway over the BESE majority – and when voters almost certainly elect a Republican governor in 2023 with the same, the existing three anti-reform appointees will flip to pro-reform replacements ready to offer a new four-year contract to a superintendent that fits their views.

Brumley could buck these dynamics and try to take the state backwards on education, which one might do if the next career step envisioned takes you to a larger state where anti-reform elements rule over such policy, with no certainty that ever could happen with the inertia he would face that would lead to much conflict and little in the way of results to impress outsiders. Much more likely, in order to leave any kind of imprint and make his career prospects brighter whether he seeks another four years in Louisiana, he’ll realize he needs to go with the flow.

Revanchist education forces in Louisiana may celebrate because the Brumley appointment means no more bold reform initiatives coming from that office. Yet neither should they expect any real backtracking from those initiatives already in place.


Unemployment challenges Edwards agenda

Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, in his quest to avoid right-sizing state government and introducing fiscal reform fueled by the imperative of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, finds himself wedged between a rock and hard place because of unemployment insurance changes.

Prior to the crisis, the state found itself in good shape on this account. States collect from employers (adjusted for experience) and employees (twice that for the self-employed) a tax that goes into a fund held by the federal government on their behalves, from which they can draw upon if current benefits payouts exceed tax intake. Louisiana collects and pays out in ranges and on average among the lowest amounts among the states, but had collected a nice cushion in its fund because of a number of policies – such as having no Short-Time Compensation program, typical earnings base and duration of benefits receipt, and (until Edwards waived it in late March) a waiting week for receive benefits – prevented aggressive distribution of benefits.

That thrift the federal and state pandemic responses now will put to the test, creating a two-fold budgetary problem. One is that unemployment insurance policy hastily created in the aftermath of the virus’ descendance onto society has the counterproductive impact of creating more unemployment and less economic activity, causing state government costs to rise and revenues to fall.