Last month, almost nobody seemed happy in the aftermath of the passage of Act 859, which on the surface seemed to make mere semantic changes to the law about investigating law enforcement officers. At least that’s how it started out, but on the final day of the session, in a conference committee because of minor disagreement over versions of the bill between the chambers, a provision appeared that undid a law passed a few years ago on behalf of a narrowly-defined class of individuals – estimated at exactly two – which seemed if not innocuous, then unnoticed by legislators who passed it unanimously, and then got Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature on it.
The only problem is this violates Art. X Sec. 29 of the Constitution. Because it made a change to retirement benefits, the entire bill in that form had to be advertised at least 30 days prior to passage, at least twice. Now it’s incumbent on the State Police Retirement System to sue the Legislature to have the law declared unconstitutional. Yet no action seems forthcoming at least until the board meets in early September.
But, politically speaking, the real fallout hits policy-makers, who apparently didn’t read the bill or didn’t care or didn’t understand its unconstitutional implications, and especially related to state Sen. Neil Riser, who had the measure slipped in that most notably would benefit state police Commander Mike Edmonson, who has said as a result of the ruckus he would not take the raise if he retired. Riser had been considering whether to run again for the Fifth Congressional District seat that he lost in a special election runoff last year, and announced his intentions to pass on it just days after the end of the session. This incident would have put a serious dent in those hopes, and may for his legislative reelection next year.
Retirement also may place a bump in the road for what was appearing to be an inevitable ascension of First District Judge Scott Crichton to the state Supreme Court. A year ago he began running, and soon found himself the only candidate competing when the current justice from the northwest Louisiana district, Jeff Victory, announced he would not run for a final term for which he was eligible.
With endorsements left and right, steady fundraising on his behalf, and nobody having indicated they will oppose him, Crichton still may have to answer satisfactorily a question about favored treatment to run for that office. In 1991 and 1993, laws were passed to allow for judges then sitting in districts that would be reconfigured in the next election as a result of lawsuits creating minority sub-districts to receive retirement benefits that they ordinarily would not have qualified for, on the condition that such judges do not seek election or reelection to any judicial office. The law said any such decision properly executed was “irrevocable.”
According to copies of apparently genuine documents received anonymously, such procedures were executed before the deadline by Crichton. Further, others of these show that in 1996, as his first term was coming to a close, Crichton had a change of heart. He wrote the board that oversees judicial retirement, the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System, to pursue revocation of that declaration. The board ruled that perhaps a legislative instrument could allow for this. In the 1996 session, SCR 42 by then-state Sen. (now Public Service Commissioner) Foster Campbell was passed that suspended that part of the law. LASERS then apparently approved the revocation, and Crichton ran unopposed for reelection in 1996, 2002, and 2008.
The Legislature is empowered constitutionally to suspend laws, but is limited in making any one suspension to last only until 60 days after the next year’s regular session end. Apparently, since Crichton and LASERS acted within that window, the revocation was legal. Still, like the favoritism shown to Edmonson by Riser, in the court of public opinion a break from the law sought by a judge might not look so good. While it’s unlikely to prompt a candidate to get into the contest, if one or more do get in, this could become a distractive issue that Crichton’s campaign would rather not have to address.
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