Did The A.G. Break The Law?

Jeremy Alford Thursday, September 19, 2013 0
Did The A.G. Break The Law?

In the ongoing debate over a historic lawsuit filed by a New Orleans area levee board against 97 energy companies, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Assoc. is now accusing Attorney General Buddy Caldwell of breaking the law.

By authorizing the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East to hire its own special counsel to pursue the lawsuit, LOGA, some of whose members are targeted, contends Caldwell violated constitutional and legislative provisions.

LOGA’s executive committee voted to send a petition to Caldwell asking him to reverse the authorization. LOGA president Don Briggs said such a decision “would bring an end to the lawsuit effective immediately.”

What if Caldwell doesn’t comply? Briggs said LOGA has hired the law firm of Mahtook and Lafluer in Lafayette to move forward with a declaratory judgment against the attorney general. The move would pinpoint LOGA’s legal position on the laws in question.

LOGA contends Caldwell is ignoring a state law that mandates that he and his assistants serve as representatives for the levee board or retain special counsel on its behalf. The petition also accuses the attorney general of usurping legislative authority by allowing state money to be used for the lawsuit.

The levee board turned heads and incurred the opposition of Gov. Bobby Jindal when it filed its lawsuit in Civil District Court in New Orleans in July, demanding the oil companies make immediate restitution for damages to wetlands caused by decades of energy exploration, including dredge work and the crisscrossing of canals through coastal marshes.

Amanda Papillion Larkins, Caldwell’s director of communications, said she couldn’t provide a comment without first reviewing LOGA’s petition.


Poll Focuses On State’s Marijuana Laws

A new poll obtained by LaPolitics suggests voters in Louisiana overwhelmingly support medicinal applications for marijuana and are increasingly coming around on the decriminalization issue.

But while states like Colorado and Washington recently changed their laws to allow marijuana to be regulated and taxed, the political will in Louisiana for any substantive reforms in this area still appears to be weak.

Efforts to discuss the topic in the Legislature over the past few years have been met more frequently with jokes than debate. But the new survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling of North Carolina, shows 49 percent of those polled would be more likely to support a candidate for office in Louisiana if he or she voted to reduce penalties for the possession of marijuana.

Another 53 percent said they would support laws mirroring those put into place in Colorado and Washington.

Dr. Edward Chervenak, an assistant professor of political science at the University of New Orleans, said the poll numbers may not amount to much unless there’s a large organized effort statewide to explain the benefits of the new laws. He added that such an organized movement has usually preceded reforms in other states.

“That’s what would get the Legislature moving, although we’re unlikely to see it any time soon,” said Chervenak. “Something else that might convince them is whether Colorado starts to see big bucks rolling in from tax revenue.”

One localized effort, called SaferNOLA, is underway in New Orleans. Its organizers say support is mounting for sentencing reforms. Spokesperson Brian Welsh said its poll, commissioned by the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU, shows as much, and that various judicial interests are coming together to do something about the matter in the 2014 regular session.

In the PPP poll, 56 percent of participants said they would support a $100 fine without jail time for those who possess an ounce or less of marijuana. Another 59 percent said they currently oppose, in general, long prison terms for simple possession.

“The Legislature came close earlier this year to reducing penalties, and there’s a lot of interest from folks in the legal and judicial communities to revisit that next year,” Welsh said. “That could be the big takeaway from this poll.”


Race For No. 2 Starts Early

The annual Lieutenant Governor’s Tourism Summit was recently held in Baton Rouge. It drew a large and diverse crowd, including a handful of politicians — most notably those who want to be the next No. 2, since, after all, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne appears to be running for governor in 2015.

Working the crowd hard were Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and Jefferson Parish President John Young. Both Republicans have been mentioned as likely contenders.

Nungesser ran for the post in 2011 when Dardenne pulled ahead with 53 percent following what was a very nasty race. In his second term, Young is looking to make his move to statewide office.

A trio of black Democratic officials are also eyeing the race. They are Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden and state Sens. Rick Gallot of Grambling and Elbert Guillory of Opelousas. It’s doubtful that all three will go to the post.

Legislators’ Pay Varies Greatly

According to the latest salary breakdown by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the annual base salary of a Bayou State lawmaker is $16,800.

But that doesn’t represent total compensation. Lawmakers also get a $6,000 per year expense allowance and a $149 per diem, which is paid out for every day of official work.

The numbers can add up quickly. For instance, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, made more than $53,000 last year in total compensation, based on his latest personal financial disclosure form on file with the Ethics Administration. Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, pulled in $52,800.

But it’s usually the lawmaker in charge of the budget process who makes the most, due to their longer hours and position; even more so if he can claim mileage by driving into Baton Rouge. That’s why Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, had a total compensation of more than $64,000 last year, which is comparable to the base legislative salaries in Illinois, $67,836; Massachusetts, $60,032; and Ohio, $60,583.

Still, the $16,800 base in Louisiana seems to be a better deal than the $7,200 annual salary paid to Texas lawmakers, along with their $150 per diem. Although the Lone Star State has a much larger population than Louisiana, its legislators only meet every second year.

Arkansas lawmakers are much closer to Louisiana’s pay rate, making $15,869 annually with a per diem of $147. The figures are even lower in Mississippi: $10,000 per year and a $123 per diem.

While Louisiana lawmakers certainly hold their own regionally, they should just be glad they don’t represent the good people of New Mexico, which offer their lawmakers no salary at all, though they do get a $154 per diem. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, a two-year term nets legislative members only $200 — and nothing more.

The highest annual salaries for lawmakers are where you might expect them to be: California, $90,526; Michigan, $71,685; New York, $79,500; and Pennsylvania, $83,801.

The most interesting twist, can be found in Illinois, where lawmakers are paid a salary of $67,836, but are required to forfeit one day of compensation per month. That practice came courtesy of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who stuck lawmakers with the strange provision when they dragged their feet on unfunded pension liability.


Regents Won’t Fight Funding In Court

The Board of Regents won’t be pursuing litigation over the massive $251 million construction program that was created specifically for institutions in the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. The board made the final decision at its most recent meeting, behind closed doors and in executive session.

Regents Chairman Bubba Rasberry said the Legislature’s and governor’s backing of SB 204 this year deviated from the constitutionally prescribed funding process. More important, he said, it overlooked the needs of universities.

They took a different view, Rasberry noted; and he said, “We accept that.”

The board went into an executive session at its last meeting to begin discussing the contract of higher ed commissioner Dr. Jim Purcell. As LaPolitics reported in March, the administration previously attempted to force the Board of Regents to fire Purcell in a strategy that backfired.

Is this a workaround to another college coup? Sources involved in the closed-door talks told us it’s routine and no fireworks are expected. Time will tell.


They Said It

“Finding common ground with the Democrats is a positive thing. I mean, the people of Louisiana expect us to act like big boys and big girls and not be divided on everything.”

—Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, to LaPolitics

“Liberalism has nearly destroyed black America.”

—Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, to Greta Van Susteren on Fox News

“We meet about every week or so.”

—Congressman Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, regarding a small group of conservative lawmakers who call themselves “The Jedi Council” and recently played a significant role in major budget negotiations

“You can have my go-cup when you pry it from my cold, dead drunk fingers!!!”

—Tweet by Brian Huddleston on a rumor, since debunked, that the New Orleans City Council would consider a ban on go-cups

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