Special session waits on 13 signers

10 26, 2012 by The Advocate

Efforts to hold a special legislative session will either die Friday in the state Senate or forge ahead to the next battle stage.

At least 13 members of the state Senate must submit their signatures in order for a petition to go in the mail asking a majority of the Legislature to agree to a special session. The necessary signatures to circulate the petition already have been obtained in the Louisiana House.

“It looks good. We’re not there yet,” state Rep. Dee Richard said Thursday of convincing senators to back a session.

Richard, No Party-Thibodaux, and state Sen. Ben Nevers are spearheading efforts to call a November session to review Gov. Bobby Jindal’s closure of a Lake Charles area prison and massive cuts to health care.

Legislators’ main complaint is that the governor is leaving them out of the decison-making process on important issues impacting their constituents.

The prison closure, which the administration said will save the state money, will lay off workers in a small town. Health care cuts, which came after an unexpected drop in federal funding, will eliminate jobs and reduce services.

Senate spokeswoman Brenda Hodge said two signatures had been received as of Thursday morning.

State Sen. Dale Erdey, who quarreled with the Jindal administration over funding for a road project, said he signed the petition.

“There’s been a substantial flaw in the communications channel between the administration and the members ... We should be invited to the table,” said Erdey, R-Livingston.

Nevers, D-Bogalusa, refused to reveal how many senators are committed to backing the session.

He said he asked his colleagues to make a decision by 3 p.m. Friday.

“We’re working on it,” Nevers said. “Senators are weighing whether to sign or not.”

However, several senators said they are troubled by the special session agenda, or call, that Richard drafted.

The agenda, which limits what legislators can address, includes the re-establishment of correctional facilities, health care facilities and human services districts.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said he is unhappy with the call because it would limit legislators to rearranging money in the current year’s $25 billion state operating budget.

He said legislators would be unable to address the “ridiculous tax credits” that reduce state government revenue. Instead, he said, legislators would be limited to slashing programs to restore funding for prisons and health care services.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said he agrees with the governor’s decision to close the state prison near Lake Charles because money will be saved.

He said he is concerned about the health care cuts, but does not want to sacrifice higher education funding to unravel the reductions.

“I’m Meryl Streep standing there on the train station with my two children,” he said, referring to the movie “Sophie’s Choice,” in which Streep must decide which of her children will die in the gas chamber.

“Which one am I putting on the train for execution?” asked Claitor, adding that he had not decided whether to sign as of Thursday afternoon. “It’s a tough spot. But money is not going to miraculously appear.”

State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said he wants to see what solutions will be offered for resolving the state’s budget problems. He said he’s not inclined to sign.

“Thus far, I have not seen a plan that solves the budget problem,” he said. “Short of that, I’m not in favor of spending money just to go down there and visit.”