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31.3.12

Pension reform report has not legal but political impact

Flying under the radar, until the results were made public last week, was a report requested by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor to assess costs associated with the implementation of retirement system reforms promoted by Gov. Bobby Jindal. While it did not shed much light on the final determination of legal issues involved, it made clear the political issue.

It’s important to understand what the report, rendered by an out-of-state law firm, was intended to do and what it does not say. As, constitutionally, notes must be produced for legislation the fiscal impact of which may be more than a (relatively) small amount, part of the potential cost could be legal challenges. Already, opponents and special interests have indicated this would be a consideration in their reaction to the legislation, potentially adding millions of dollars to the cost (although, in the larger scheme of things, the changes would save taxpayers hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times that cost).

As the report itself indicates, its job was to assess the likelihood of legal challenges to these bills if becoming law, not the constitutionality or legality of them. And nowhere in it does it say it builds, according to the Louisiana Constitution in the context of existing Louisiana jurisprudence, any kind of compelling case that these laws would not be constitutional. Indeed, there is not a single remark in it that suggests the bills would be contrary to established Louisiana case law.

29.3.12

Landrieu Senate seat imperiled by coming Court decision

Given the direction of the justices’ interlocution, it almost would have to be necessarily have been an intentional fakeout for some part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (“Obamacare’) not to be declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer. It’s never over until the decision actually gets announced by the Court, so in the opinion shopping that will ensue it’s possible that it could stand. But going with the smart money that foresees, at the very least, the excising of the individual mandate, how will this forecasted result affect the political career of Sen. Mary Landrieu?

Louisiana’s only remaining statewide-elected Democrat made infamous by her “Louisiana Purchase” concerning the law, she provided the crucial Senate vote for the matter as a result of a provision slipped into it that would increase the Medicaid reimbursement Louisiana would receive over the next few years. It was a canny political move for her in a sense because she played hard-to-get on a bill she really wanted to vote for in the first place, eliciting a state benefit and a campaign point in her favor. (It also got her a jab as a “prostitute,” making her the original less stupid, less ideologically brain-dead version of a blathering idiot who didn’t get an apology for that remark.)

Since then, Landrieu has continued her liberal ways (as a quick perusal of her voting record shows), but all the while trying to inoculate herself from enough of the larger voting public realizing that her ideology runs counter to its majority’s beliefs through tactical statements and votes, such as in defending interests in increasing oil extraction. Her strategy is to accumulate enough of these non-liberal moments to publicize mostly them in a 2014 reelection campaign, throwing up enough of a fog to deflect sighting her true views.

28.3.12

LA education special interests find new world disorienting

If Louisiana populists, liberals, Democrats, and defenders of the status quo in the issue area of education get tired of any single concept during this legislative session, it is the thought that elections have consequences, as committee deliberations of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee demonstrated this morning.

At stake were a couple of retreads from past sessions. This year’s HB 89 by state Rep. Tony Ligi would prevent local elected bodies from making collective bargaining decisions in executive session, which by law do not have to be in a public setting. It stemmed from an incident two years in Jefferson Parish, where its school board’s members, after a pro-union majority had been defeated in elections, tried to push through additional union recognition in the system. Mainly through (un)lucky timing, it never got implemented and the new board negated any chance of its resurrection.

Last year, Ligi brought forward essentially the same bill as he did this year to the committee. There, his HB 204 got rejected by the same committee – but with a much different membership even as it had a Republican majority then. Then, the bill was defeated by a vote of 8-7, aided by four GOP absences but, more crucially, two Republicans voting for defeat – state Rep. Greg Cromer, no longer part of the committee, and former state Rep. Jane Smith, term-limited and then defeated in a bid for the Senate, in part because of the vote cast by this former Bossier Parish school superintendant.

27.3.12

School reform bills to help districts achieve unitary status

Lost in the shuffle about the major changes that would come in Louisiana education with passage of reform bills is how these alterations can assist in allowing school districts exiting from consent decrees or desegregation orders.

Beginning over three decades ago, many districts in the state found themselves embroiled in one of these kinds of federal court-administered programs, coming about because of pervasive histories of racial discrimination in these jurisdictions. An order comes from a judicial determination of constitutional violation, where the court lays down standards and may issue remedies to achieve them, with monitoring. A decree is where a district voluntarily undertakes actions, approved by the supervising court, designed to correct for a constitutional problem alleged by plaintiffs in exchange for their halting a suit against the district, where failure to do so would lead to revival of the case.

Unitary status is achieved when a court decides six factors (student assignment, faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities) indicating minority student populations have been segregated into presumed inferior education opportunities have been addressed to the extent indicating that the school district had eliminated the vestiges of what had been legalized segregation, allowing dissolving of the order or decree. The pace has been slow in Louisiana; 59 of the state’s 69 districts have been subject to one of these, and only 16 of them had exited them as of 2007.

26.3.12

LA primary results show troubled Obama reelection bid

If the Louisiana presidential preference primary is any indicator of the fortunes of Pres. Barack Obama this fall, a second glance tells he’s in trouble.

The results can show how much enthusiasm exists for an Obama reelection relative to a Republican challenger, when investigating turnout, but also keeping in mind that this is an incumbent vs. challenger contest. If, all things equal, there appears a lack of enthusiasm for Obama relative to a GOP challenger in Louisiana, replicated across the county, this would be problematic for Democrats.

At first glance, one might not see in the state’s results anything of particular alarm for Obama. Democrat turnout was less than half of that of the GOP’s, with fewer votes cast, but that’s unremarkable given the dynamics. There’s an incumbent running for the Democrats, and a spirited contest not yet resolved going on for the Republicans. True, this meant more cast votes in the GOP version, and, adjusted for overall registrations in the state, turnout in the 2004 Republican primary with incumbent George W. Bush was about equivalent with Democrat turnout then, signaling perhaps some concern. But, then again, one can point to 1996 with Democrat incumbent Bill Clinton on the ballot where Democrat participants, adjusted for overall registrations, trailed Republicans in turnout. Not only did Clinton win the state, which Obama won’t, but he did win nationally as well.

25.3.12

Losing rhetoric on reform issue confirms LA Dems' decline

If nothing else, resolution of the first half of the public policy contest involving education reform in Louisiana demonstrates the death throes of Democrats as a major political party in Louisiana and the erosion of a two major-party system in the state.

After roughly 25 hours in both committee hearings and floor consideration, HB 976 passed both the panel, about 10 days ago, and the entire House chamber, last week, comfortably. The same occurred with HB 974, using about a quarter of the time. The former would allow students in poorest performing schools priority in receiving state money to pay for attending private or better out-of-district public schools, while the latter created procedures to encourage better matching of pay and other personnel actions to actual educator achievement.

While about 80 percent of partisans lined up on the same side of the issue, Republicans for and Democrats against, most significantly the greatest defections came from the Orleans Democrat delegation, where the most of its members voted for both measures, Orleans, of course, has been the cockpit of reform to date in the state, with most of its schools run the by Recovery School District, all charter schools, and only a few of the remaining left in the Orleans Parish School District not being charters. Whether this indicates ideological preference is one thing, but almost certainly it denotes strong constituent favor for the reforms.