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Senate Democrats face responsibility or politics choice

A stark choice presents itself to the Louisiana Senate – do what’s in the interests of the state, or do what scores Democrats political points.

With the escape of HB 841 in amended form from the House, the Senate now deals with it. The bill, which originally made uncontroversial changes to workers’ compensation law, had on the House floor gotten an amendment by the author state Rep. Avon Honey to permit the state to spend money on expanded unemployment benefits and coverage that would change the nature of the program from insurance to welfare, to tap into the federal spending bill’s permitting of this. The state could do so with the legal changes now part of the bill.

Inattentive opponents, mainly Republicans, let the amendment on without objection and then voted unanimously to pass it. This was a bigger hurdle than the Senate, as Republicans have a working majority in the House while Democrats have a nearly two-thirds advantage in the Senate. Its presiding officer, state Sen. Joel Chaisson, also identifies as a Democrat in contrast to the House Speaker Jim Tucker whose confusion on HB 841 let it go through.

There’s only one chance that the bill in the Senate has to survive both houses, and that is to make no changes at all to it. This is because anything that creates a different version would allow the House to change it back, or to sit on it and not let it proceed in the process. That may be too difficult for Chaisson to achieve if this is his intent. While he has a majority, there are enough Senate Democrats with quibbles over the bill as is that enough of them may not support it for different reasons to get it through.

But if it does somehow make it unaltered, then it would go to the governor, where it awaits a sure veto by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal who has vowed not to let such bad public policy become law. There is next to no chance two-thirds of the Senate would override the veto, and there is no way that could be obtained in the House. Simply, this bill is dead in amended form, and in fact to allow it to continue is self-defeating for its original purpose.

Therefore, the only reason Democrats would pursue this bill with that amendment attached would be to try to score political points by forcing Jindal into vetoing the bill. This is done on behest of the national party, which fears Jindal’s stature as a national politician and competitor to them, and could use this to claim Jindal was against (with rich irony considering the source) workers in the hopes of reducing him as a threat. State Democrats, who until Jindal’s rise historically have run their agenda down the state’s throat, also would like to weaken Jindal with this to strengthen their own hand.

So the question to Senate Democrats as a whole is whether they are more interested in the original intent of HB 841 making into law, or that they would rather irresponsibly waste time, effort, and taxpayers’ resources in trying to play politics. GOP House members already have suffered embarrassment on this. Do Democrats want to add Jindal to that list?

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