By Jeremy Alford & Mitch Rabalais
With so much attention directed at the traditional gaming bills that were introduced for the regular session, the Louisiana Lottery Corp. has received nary a political glance at the Capitol lately.
But out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind, especially as government officials, in tough economic times, continue to bank on a revenue stream generated by scratch-offs and pick-a-number tickets.
Asked for an outlook report, Lottery president Rose Hudson told LaPolitics that there are national and regional trends worth tracking that could influence her outfit’s record sales of late. New types of games are growing in popularity, jackpot sizes are increasingly unpredictable and various state lotto systems are being proposed.
Then there are more immediate issues; for example, which, if any, of the ongoing session’s key gaming bills will be enacted? Bills pending in the legislative process are related to sports betting, riverboat casinos, the state’s lone land-based casino, video poker, horse racing and more.
Hudson said her office has been mindful of these bills, but she doesn’t see any direct threats for the Lottery from the proposals, some of which expand gaming. That’s because the Lottery has long enjoyed a mutually beneficial business relationship with the state’s casinos, she said, through bulk scratch-off purchases and cross-marketing initiatives.
The Lottery wasn’t completely left out of the regular session shuffle. There are actually two bills, authored by Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, that pulled Hudson and her team directly into the orbit of the Capitol’s annual policymaking gathering.
Carter’s SB 244 is a constitutional amendment that would create three new lottery games. His SB 407 would deposit their proceeds into three separate funds to benefit veterans, seniors and the disabled. Neither bill has a clear path forward, lawmakers say.
The Carter package got jammed up in the committee process due to a five-year expenditure estimate of $16.4 million, which no one involved, including Lottery officials, wanted. In addition, opponents are concerned about the impact of eliminating old games to make way for the new.
As for the earnings of the current Lottery products, this year’s sales are up 8.8 percent. But future sales projections are unpredictable, due primarily to fluctuating jackpots. In other words, when prizes balloon, so do sales.
While new, constitutionally created games may not be on the horizon, Lottery officials do see opportunities to expand. Merchandising scratch-offs, like the one produced for the New Orleans Saints professional football team, have been popular and represent a growth area.
Other states, such as Georgia and Illinois, have moved some sales online, which is an experiment Lottery officials here are following with interest. But it’s not the only thing.
Lawmakers and politicians in the neighboring states of Mississippi and Alabama have been trying unsuccessfully to create new lottery systems there. The financial impact those two proposed systems would have on Louisiana is difficult to determine, Hudson said, but they’re developing storylines worth watching.
Political History: Before Scalise, There Was Johnston
Long before U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was thrust into the developing race for speaker, there was another Louisiana politico making power plays on Capitol Hill in the hopes of landing a leadership gig.
No, that wasn’t a reference to former Speaker-elect Bob Livingston or late House Majority Leader Hale Boggs. It was actually a tip of the hat to former U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, who made two serious bids for majority leader.
By the 1980s, Johnston had been representing the Bayou State in the Beltway for more than a decade. He had staked out a conservative corner in the Democratic Caucus, but also maintained relationships with liberal lions, like the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.
If there were ever a time for Johnston to get his own D.C. trophy, it was then. So when Democrats recaptured the majority following the 1986 midterms, Johnston made his move — for majority leader.
The late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia had led the caucus for the previous six years and was the obvious frontrunner. That mattered little to Johnston; the Shreveport native was undeterred, and he almost immediately took aim at Byrd’s leadership style.
Johnston told reporters the party had become rudderless, and suggested to others he would be a “better face” for the job — a clear dig at Byrd’s poor performances during television appearances. In response, Byrd told The New York Times, “I can’t help it if I don’t have a pretty face.”
Johnston’s tactics, though, were not successful. Unable to corral enough support, he dropped out of the contest before a single vote was cast.
While it’s often true that there are no second place prizes in American politics, there are definitely consolation prizes. In the wake of his loss, Johnston secured the chairmanship of the upper chamber’s energy committee, and Byrd publicly pledged to step aside in 1988, clearing a possible path for Johnston to run again.
And that’s exactly what happened. The 1988 race for majority leader found Johnston squared off against Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who had chaired the high-profile Iran-Contra hearings; and George Mitchell of Maine, who was the deputy pro tem of the Senate and, more important, the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Johnston focused on personal meetings with his colleagues — and personal touches, like handwritten letters. As it happened, that was enough of an effort to deliver a tie for second place with Inouye. Each man notched 14 votes to 27 for Mitchell — a bit of math that inspired both to withdraw from the race.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, Johnston and others believed he had a fighting chance. The reality, however, was more nuanced. In an oral history recorded years later for Bowdin College, Johnston laughed when recalling his struggles with that 1988 leadership election. “Senators are very cagey,” he said, “and they don’t want to tell you they’re against you.”
House Chair Targets Agency Heads
The last bill that Rep. Lance Harris managed to file for the ongoing regular session seeks to add “new layers of transparency” to the way agency and department heads do their state jobs and earn money.
Harris’ HB 849 has been assigned to the House Appropriations Committee. The legislation takes a hard look at the top officials appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor.
Amendments are said to be in the works. But Harris’ bill as introduced would force secretaries and directors to work “at least seven hours per day … and at least 40 hours per week.”
In what some see as more pointed language, the legislation prohibits department and agency heads from engaging in any outside employment related to the mission of their department or agency.
“I don’t think we have anyone doing that right now,” said Harris, a native of Alexandria who serves as chairman of the House Republican Delegation. “But maybe we’ll hear about it during the process.”
In somewhat related news, another bill is on the move to create an ethics code exception for licensed physicians to work at the Louisiana Dept. of Health and practice medicine outside of their departmental roles. HB 724 by Rep. Dustin Miller, D-Opelousas, has passed the House and is pending introduction in the Senate.
Business Laments Legal Reform Landscape
A procedural move by the Senate on a bill to reverse the so-called seat belt gag order, caught the attention of business lobbyists in a big way.
Many of them viewed the bill by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, as one of the few opportunities lawmakers would have this session to vote on something squarely in the realm of tort reform. That means it may become a memorable vote for the political action committees run by associations that play in legislative elections.
The Senate Transportation Committee amended Hewitt’s SB 382 to permit a judge to inform a jury if a driver was not wearing a seat belt — but only in relation to car accidents that produced personal injury lawsuits.
Rather than receiving a floor vote, a motion was approved by the full Senate (21-16) to recommit the measure to the Judiciary A Committee.
Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Assoc. of Business and Industry, wrote in a column, “The stated rationale was simply to ‘follow the process,’ but the unstated goal was clearly to kill the bill. The motion passed, and this common-sense legislation will likely die in that committee.”
Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Winnsboro, has a similar approach with his HB 700, which has passed the House.
“Why should you care about this tidbit of parliamentary procedure?” Waguespack asked in his column. “Because ‘following the process’ will once again quietly kill anything remotely close to legal reform in the Louisiana Legislature.”
When Hewitt’s bill received its first committee hearing, no one spoke in opposition. When McFarland’s version was heard initially on the House side, Bob Kleinpeter of the Louisiana Assoc. For Justice, which has a membership of mostly trial attorneys, offered several arguments against the bill. He said 39 of 50 states do not allow seat belt violations to be entered as evidence under similar circumstances.
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