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LA legislator laziness demands procedural changes

Here we go again, and this time Louisiana’s legislators have no real excuse for giving the impression that they don’t really know what they are voting on, nor should they have any excuse to try to fix this.

A number of sitting justices of the peace and constables just now are kicking up a fuss after they have appeared to figure out that a bill signed into law two months ago disallows them running for their jobs again this fall. Act 495 removes an exception to the law that permitted those already elected to office as of Aug. 15, 2006 to be eligible for reelection without the age limit of being younger than 70 when beginning a term of service that otherwise would apply. It is estimated to affect around 160 officials, only some of whom already are over 70.

Justices of the peace fitting that loophole were the only elected state judicial officials excepted from the state’s 70-year-old age limit (the constitutionality of age limits having been upheld). They handle civil claims under $5,000, can issue orders pursuant to those, and perform marriages. Constables carry out those orders and also have minor law enforcement powers associated with that ability.

Author state Sen. Elbert Guillory claims to have been asked to do this by somebody representing himself as from the professional organization for these officials, the Louisiana Justice of the Peace and Constables Association. However, the organization denies this – even though it never raised any objections to the legislation. Further, the organization had opposed HB 237 by state Rep. Sherman Mack that originally would have lifted the age limit on constables entirely.

And it’s not like this was done in a cloak-and-dagger fashion. The bill didn’t have obscure passages buried in it and rammed through quickly, but was a short, clear, standalone bill making the change that had numerous presentations. A Senate committee heard in on May 6, where Guillory succinctly and unambiguously explained it. Only state Sen. Dan Claitor had a question then, asking why the bill as he had heard of no complaints, to which Guillory responded (repeating his introduction) “a constituent” expressed concern about elderly constables without Peace Officer Standards Training carrying guns. Two days later, Guillory presented it to the Senate, where he got no questions and unanimous passage of the members present.

On May 22, a House committee heard it, where Guillory got a question from Mack for a request to amend it on the floor to except Livingston Parish constables from the requirement, which Guillory then said he was amenable to. Then the House heard it on May 30, with state Rep. Ledricka Thierry handling it. Mack nor anybody else offered any amendments, much less any questions. Only state Rep. Kenny Cox voted against it. In all, legislators spent fewer than eight minutes on the bill for the entire session.

Recently, legislators also caught flak over apparent inattentiveness in allowing a bill to pass that raised state liability on pensions that apparently would benefit only two individuals. Some defended themselves by saying the bill came through at the very end of the session with that provision tucked away into a larger bill by a conference committee at the last minute (which, as the amended bill changed that liability, makes it of dubious constitutionality). Many have vowed to repeal that portion as soon as possible.

But now some, including Guillory, are talking of repealing Act 495 as well, even though it was right out in the open for months unobscured and unchanged, taking a leisurely stroll into law, on the basis they didn’t know some of the affected might get upset over it. The LJPCA had it in full view at all times – and if it found the time to review and object to Mack’s bill it surely knew of this one – and found as little wrong with it as did legislators, who approved of it by a whopping 117-1 margin. There’s no excuse here to claim they didn’t know about this unless they simply were inattentive and not doing their jobs.

Relevant to all of this is one bill from last session that not only did not pass but also did not even get out of its initial committee hearing. State Rep. Steve Carter’s HB 373 would have reduced the general session length (60 days met out of 85) to the fiscal-only session length (45 days met out of 60) and limit the number of general session non-local bills that could be introduced to 10 total. His argument was too many bills got offered that never would pass, spreading everybody’s attention span and time too thin, and that other states operated successfully with these kinds of restrictions.

Naturally, given that much legislation gets offered more with future campaigns in mind rather than with any real commitment to it and/or any realistic chances these can pass, the committee shunted this aside. Being that Louisiana’s legislators, elected and paid to do the job, twice within the past month have said they didn’t understand what they were doing when they passed a bill, an idea like Carter’s ought to be taken more seriously beginning next session.

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