Politics 04.30.2008

Skinner won't run for DA, Acadiana legislators say "enough" to surplus spending and more

SKINNER NOT RUNNING FOR DA Disappointingly, it’s over before it officially began. Former U.S. Attorney Mike Skinner, who had been planning to mount a challenge to 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson this fall, says he will not seek the office. “Basically it came down to a decision of not being able to do two things well at the same time,” Skinner says. “The harder I have tried to get the campaign off the ground, the busier I have gotten in my practice. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t have the time to adequately devote to each of them.”

Skinner has a thriving solo law practice that primarily focuses on business and commercial litigation and transactions, as well as white collar criminal defense and governmental relations work. The financial strain of giving up his practice was another factor, as Skinner’s two children are in college, with son Winston heading to Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville this fall.

Skinner’s campaign unofficially got under way early last year when he passed out lapel stickers at the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce’s Building Community Conference at Toledo Bend. He served as U.S. attorney for the Western District from 1993 to 2000 and chaired the Louisiana Democratic Party from 2003 to early 2005.

“Mike would have been a fine candidate for any position,” says attorney Gary McGoffin, a friend and supporter. “We need more good citizens running, but I can understand the personal and professional decisions he made.”

The 15th Judicial District includes Acadia, Lafayette and Vermilion parishes.

ACADIANA LEGISLATORS SAY "ENOUGH" TO SURPLUS SPENDING A bipartisan coalition of Acadiana legislators wants to put the brakes on state surplus spending. Six state House members, led by Rep. Joel Robideaux of Lafayette and Fred Mills of St. Martinville, have filed legislation requiring any additional state surplus dollars that may come in this year be returned to taxpayers in the form of rebates. The proposed bill establishes an “enough is enough” fund to collect any additional revenues identified at the state’s May Revenue Estimating Conference and calls on the Legislature to formulate a plan for rebates. In addition to Robideaux and Mills, the other legislators backing the bill are Taylor Barras (New Iberia), Simone Champagne (Jeanerette), Page Cortez (Lafayette) and Jonathan Perry (Kaplan).

The group notes that the state has already spent a surplus of more than $1 billion for fiscal year 2006-2007, and nearly another $1 billion for fiscal year 2007-2008. “The people of Louisiana are struggling financially,” says Mills. “With the high price of gasoline and groceries, it’s ridiculous that the state is spending every extra billion it gets. Enough is enough. The state spending spree must stop. It’s the people’s money, let’s give it back to the people.”

ROBIDEAUX WADES INTO IMMIGRANT DEBATE Illegal immigrants are one of many lawmaker targets during the ongoing legislative session. GOP Rep. Tim Burns of Mandeville has legislation that would ban unauthorized aliens from renting property. Fellow Republican Rep. Brett Geymann of Lake Charles has another bill that would prohibit state agencies from contracting with businesses that employ illegals. Additionally, there are other measures that increase penalties for contractors violating hiring laws, create new tracking systems and force courts to pay for interpreters for non-English speaking persons involved in criminal trials.

One of the more heated debates may come from Lafayette Rep. Joel Robideaux, who has no party affiliation. His House Bill 1233 would allow those with a J1 visa, provided to foreign citizens participating in an internship/exchange program, to take part in the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana. The J1 visa is intended for students needing practical training that is not available in their home country.

Despite constitutional concerns (opponents believe the feds should be handling many of these issues), Louisiana isn’t the only state taking a swing at sovereignty right now. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 1,100 immigration-related bills were introduced in 44 state legislatures during the first quarter of this year. A NCSL report found that the top three issues were law enforcement, employment and driver’s licenses or other identification.

HOUSE APPROVES HAND-HELD CELL PHONE BAN Legislation banning the use of handheld cell phones while driving passed the Louisiana House of Representatives last week. With 55 members voting for the ban and 43 against, the lower chamber approved House Bill 852, which requires the use of hands-free devices, such as wireless Bluetooth. It was a narrow win, as a bill needs at least 53 votes for House approval. Violators face fines of up to $250, depending on how many times they are pulled over. The measure now heads to the Senate.

HB852 allows for the use of handheld cell phones to call 911 in an emergency, in addition to a physician, fire department, ambulance or law enforcement authority. The ban also applies to text messaging, which critics say is 50 percent more dangerous while driving than talking on handheld cell phones.

Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, said he sponsored HB852 because state Highway Safety Commission statistics in 2007 showed that cell phone usage played a role in 2,285 accidents in Louisiana, causing 1,247 injuries and 10 deaths, including a 16-year-old.

Contributors: Leslie Turk, Nathan Stubbs and Jeremy Alford