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Fool me twice ...

State Rep. Jack Smith seems to have gotten caught in a lie, and now he asks us to believe he didn’t know it. It happened in regard to HB 755 which originally was a proposal to establish a telephone helpline for families of alcoholic youth. It turned into a vehicle that would allow convenience stores to sell frozen, alcoholic drinks without a standard liquor license.

On the last day of the session, when dozens of bills are in conference and await floor action, the conference committee in charge of this one slapped on amendments longer in text that the original bill (which means a member or two on the six-member committee briefly told the others what should be done to the bill, and they agreed). Smith, a co-author with Rep. Carla Dartez of the bill, then carried it to the House floor where he insisted the conference committee additions did not add to the list of vendors allowed to sell daiquiris.

Smith, an insurance agent, claims he got counsel from a liquor lobbyist and Rep. Taylor Townsend, a lawyer, to back up this assertion. Regardless, others lawmakers such as Rep. Mike Powell, a lawyer, and Sen. Jay Dardenne, another lawyer, saw a very different and obvious meaning to the bill. So many did that the House forced essentially a retraction of a prior affirmative vote on the bill, and it died. Ever since, Smith has conducted damage control to remove the perception that he deliberately tried to mislead legislators.

His story: as a way to get funding for the hotline, he took without really reading the language the amendments written by the liquor industry lobby. After the impartial lobbyist and the learned Townsend reassured him, still without really knowing what it was all about, he got the conference committee to approve the language (yes, believe it or not, he and Dartez were both on the conference committee). Still an innocent, he then insisted to the House that, trusting these others, the bill didn’t do what it really did.

So, for this version of events to be credible; first, Smith had to approach the liquor industry with an idea for funding of the helpline; second, they said to him, “sure, no problem, and by the way, here are some amendments to the bill which look a lot like another bill previously rejected by the House but don’t worry they don’t allow for daiquiri sales in convenience stores;” third, even though it was his bill and he was on the conference committee, he decided not to read through the amendments and pushed them on trust from the highly-impartial (on this matter) liquor lobby (heavy sarcasm, thank you); fourth, when Powell to pick his brain on the matter, even though he really hadn’t analyzed the amendments, he still insisted he knows what it says and dismisses Powell’s questioning; and, fifth, when he joked about the matter later with colleagues, afterwards he said he wasn’t referring to this bill (although he apparently did not reveal which one he was being dishonest about?).

Believing this improbable train of events means two things, that you also believe the Louisiana Legislature isn’t really chock full of good old boys and girls who can’t pass the simplest ethics reforms, and that Smith is so incapacitated by the legislative process that he can’t even pay attention to what his own bills say, including when he gets a second chance by being on their conference committees, and then has the audacity to dismiss opposition and to joke about the subject.

If his constituents don’t move to recall Smith for incompetence and/or mendacity, the least they can do is get him to co-sponsor any of several pieces of legislation designed along the lines of last session’s HCR 31 which would have required a day’s layover of conference committee reports before floor action. Of course, it failed to pass the House by one vote – and Smith voted against it.

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