April 11, 2012 06:00
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The legislative session has spawned retirement controversies, Web-based agendas and stupid bills. By Jeremy Alford


The old adage that no one is safe in life or property as long as the Louisiana Legislature is in session certainly applies this year.


The legislative session has spawned retirement controversies, Web-based agendas and stupid bills. By Jeremy Alford


The old adage that no one is safe in life or property as long as the Louisiana Legislature is in session certainly applies this year. Just ask school teachers and state employees, who are the latest targets of "reform" efforts led by Gov. Bobby Jindal as he positions himself for more national attention.

This year's targets even include public officials themselves - even lawmakers.

Here's a look at some of the latest controversies:


RETIREMENT ON THE ROCKS

While Gov. Bobby Jindal's education reform package sailed through both chambers, the governor's retirement package entered rough waters.

Last week, we reported in this space that Jindal bought 2.2 years worth of service from the Louisiana State Employees' Retirement System to enhance his own retirement plan - just as he was trimming the sails on the retirement programs of state workers.

The Baton Rouge Advocate, following up on Jindal's pension maneuvers, learned that Jindal also began to purchase another two years of retirement benefits through the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana. (He formerly served as president of the University of Louisiana System.)

On top of that, a Jindal bill that would make LASERS participants pay 3 percent more toward their retirement exempts the governor. Team Jindal offered the flimsiest of excuses: the constitution bars a "reduction" in the "compensation" of elected officials during their terms of office.

Critics howled, and Jindal apparently realized the ridiculousness of such logic: On Monday Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin confirmed that the governor will ask lawmakers to change the measure to include him in its provisions. "The governor thinks it's the right thing to do," Plotkin said.

BACK AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, has drifted into an Internet controversy. A conservative blogger has requested copies of "any and all electronic and written correspondence" between her and the teacher unions dating back to January.

Several other Democratic lawmakers were targeted by the public information request, but Peterson has been the most vocal. She says the request will "cause significant strain on Legislative staff and incur considerable costs to the taxpayers." Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp says the request will take 446 calendar days of work to fulfill. Peterson, for her part, has been holding forth from the Senate floor and complaining about "shameful political attacks."

Politicians' emails on their taxpayer-financed computers and smart phones are public record, however. At the same time, some public records requests can be burdensome if they are overly broad in scope. After all, a Democrat colluding with teacher unions is no more unusual than, um, Bobby Jindal conspiring with the Louisiana Family Forum.

Given recent events, where a New Orleans cop was disciplined for commenting on WWLTV.com and a federal prosecutor resigned for doing the same on NOLA.com, the Internet has become a major political player.


NEW BILLS

Lawmakers have filed their final round of bills, a total of 1,189 in the House and 746 in the Senate.

Some could spur interesting debates, like Senate Bill 738 by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D- New Orleans, which re-defines what "self defense" means, and House Bill 1072 by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, which would allow the NBA Hornets to take part in the state's Quality Jobs Program.

House Bill 1170 by Rep. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, would regulate the retail sale of cigarette rolling machines. Um, why not just call this one "the Doobie Law?"

Of course, some are just of the same old flag-waving variety. Senate Bill 641 by Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Pearl River, would require public school students in grades four through six to be able to recite passages from the Declaration of Independence. When in the course of legislative events

It's doubtful that any of those bills will be as controversial as Jindal's education and retirement packages, but they're a reminder of what some lawmakers consider their real priorities - as well as their targets.


Jeremy Alford can be reached at jeremy@jeremyalford.com.

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