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Democrats Make the Case for a Veto Override Session as Jindal Support Wanes

Acadiana Democrats (from left) Vincent Pierre, Stephen Ortego and Jack Montoucet at a press conference slamming Jindal's veto of Codofil funding.

Acadiana Democrats (from left) Vincent Pierre, Stephen Ortego and Jack Montoucet at a press conference slamming Jindal’s veto of Codofil funding.

BATON ROUGE — Legislative and community leaders across the state have reacted with shock and anger at a number of the vetoes handed out by Governor Jindal following the completion of the Regular Session of the 2012 Louisiana Legislature.

The latest voices added to the chorus of outrage were raised this morning in Lafayette where Representatives Stephen Ortego, Jack Montoucet and Vincent Pierre who slammed on Thursday the Governor’s veto of $100,000 in funding for a teacher training program for French immersion schools. That relatively small amount of money is the Louisiana match for $600,000 in funding from the government of France to train teachers for the program that is operated by the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL).

The French Ambassador to the United States will be in Lafayette next week.

In Central Louisiana, business and community leaders joined Republicans and Democrats in bashing Jindal’s veto of funding for the J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center located adjacent to the Louisiana National Guard’s Camp Beauregard in Pineville.

That veto, local government leaders say, will drive up the cost of operations for local governments by as much as $7 million per year as they will be forced to hire civilians to perform tasks now carried out by Dabadie inmates.

This comes on the heels of the loss of 2,000 state jobs in Central Louisiana through reductions at facilities ranging from Huey P. Long Hospital, the state mental hospital and behavioral health center Pinecrest. The closing of Dabadie, which local officials say the state has ordered by the end of July, will cost the area an additional 300 jobs.

Jindal appears to have used his vetoes to target those who opposed him on major initiatives. His original prison privatization plan called for the sale of Avoyelles Correctional Center, but that was defeated in the House with the opposition led by Rep. Robert Johnson of Marksville.

Closing Dabadie provides a form of revenge against Johnson, but inflicts serious collateral damage across the already struggling Central Louisiana economy.

Jindal vetoed HB-1104 by Rep. Katrina Jackson. That bill, which passed both houses by large margins, would have required the agencies and departments administering tax credits, exemptions and rebates to report on the effectiveness of those tax breaks each year. Jindal vetoed it, claiming that such work is already performed, when clearly it is not.

Count this as yet another blow against fiscal responsibility and accountability by the Governor who, during his tenure has given away billions in corporate tax exemptions and refused any and all efforts by legislators to impose some form of accountability on those giveaways.

He vetoed SB-629 by Republican Ronnie Johns that would have provided a degree of transparency and oversight to the massive DHH contract for the privatized management of the state Medicaid program.

The governor lashed out again against public education by vetoing HB-1106 also by Rep. Jackson which would have granted tax rebates to Louisiana taxpayers who contributed funds to support under-performing public schools.

He vetoed SB-577 which was called for the creation of a task force to study paycheck inequality in Louisiana. That bill was authored by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson.

The vice presidential candidate in waiting vetoed Rep. James Armes‘ HB-133 that would have allowed Veterans to have a special designation on their drivers license. Representative Armes was a staunch opponent of the Jindal retirement packages that would have decimated the retirement security of state workers already in the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System.

Jindal vetoed HB-865 by Rep. Regina Barrow. The bill would have removed the Capital Area Transit System (CATS) from the control of the East Baton Rouge Metro Council. The bill had support across the community. The Governor, a notorious opponent of public transportation options ranging from bus systems to high-speed rail, vetoed the bill because he said it would have given the CATS board too much power. The problems that threatened to take down the system stemmed from the fact that the board did not have enough control over the operation of the system.

Jindal vetoed renewals of car rental taxes across the state. He vetoed HB-971 by Rep. Barrow. He vetoed SB-350 by Sen. Ed Murray. He said these tax renewals would have violated his pledge not to increase taxes.

Jindal vetoed SB-362 by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell that would have affected the ability of truck stops to maintain their video poker licenses.

The Governor vetoed construction projects in districts of Republicans who did not support him on every issue.

In a session where his administration rode roughshod over the State Constitution, laws and rules of the Legislature, Jindal’s vetoes prove him to be a petty, vindictive Governor who is too insecure to tolerate even a modicum of dissent among those he deigns to include in the team that works with him (it would be wrong to call it a leadership team when the role of legislators in the Jindal regime is clearly to just take orders).

It wore on legislators during the session as resistance grew to the administration’s bills — and its tactics.

Legislative Anger and Jindal Arrogance

The question now becomes this: What will legislators do about these vetoes?

The State Constitution provides that the Legislature can call itself into a Veto Override Session if majorities in both houses vote to do so. The Times-Picayune reported this week that the annual ritual of preparing the veto messages to mail to lawmakers has begun.

The last time it happened, we had another arrogant, Ivy League-educated governor sitting in the Mansion.

If the lawmakers do call themselves back into session, it will take a two-thirds vote in each chamber to override a Jindal veto. That may be within reach on some bills, such as HB-1104 by Rep. Jackson, which swept through both chambers with large margins.

There is bi-partisan anger on a number of issues, including the veto of the Dabadie funding, as well as Jindal’s snub of the Legislature through his move to transfer much of the operations for the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs to DHH even though the Legislature specifically voted against that move.

Are legislators angry enough at the Governor’s arrogance and disrespect for their role as a (theoretically) co-equal branch of government; or has the Governor finally gone too far? Will legislators stand up against him on these outrageous, vindictive vetoes? 

Jindal’s Disapproval Ratings Have Jumped

Lawmakers have additional information to consider based on new poll results released by Verne Kennedy’s Market Research Insight firm. In that poll, conducted on behalf of a group of business leaders that includes New Orleans businessman John Georges, Jindal’s favorable ratings with the public has fallen by six percentage points over the past two legislative sessions but his disapproval ratings have jumped by 25 percent over the same period.

The most recent poll was conducted while vetoes were still being announced. The Dabadie veto, for instance, was announced on Friday, June 15, the final day of the four-day sampling period.

Winning Requires a Willingness to Lose

There is a large gap between the anger and resentment that legislators will reveal privately and what they will say publicly about calling themselves into a Veto Override Session.

Publicly, some say it is a wasted effort; that the hurdles are too high and that the chances for success too low.

But, as the saying goes, “In order to win you must be willing to risk losing.”

This Governor is a bully. Bullies are, at heart, scared – and that is evident by the his frantic response to those who oppose him. He will run away if he gets his nosed bloodied.

Democratic legislators got their noses bloodied frequently during the session but, fought back effectively to the point where major Jindal initiatives were defeated or abandoned when it ended on June 4.

The way to prepare the ground for an effective legislative session in 2013 that can begin to address Louisiana’s real needs without all the posturing and contortions of Jindal’s national ambitions distorting the process is to force him into a Veto Override Session and beat him there.

If you agree, contact your legislators today. Tell them to not send in their ballot.  That you want them to call themselves into session to override some or all of these vetoes.

There is no shame in trying and there is no shame in losing. The only shame would be to slink off into the background and wait to lose again next year.

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Originally published: June 22, 2012