When the nation’s financial health is in the trenches, few local issues are spared from political battlefields.
“Until the U.S. economy gets better, Louisiana’s is not going to get better,” said state Sen. Francis Thompson following Wednesday’s Legislative Luncheon at the Visitor Center.
The event, organized by the Chamber of Commerce, featured 10-minute talks each from five local state representatives, including, besides Thompson: Rep. Katrina Jackson, Sen. Mike Walsworth, Rep. Jay Morris and Rep. Charles “Bubba” Chaney.
Education reform, acute funding cuts to Medicaid and health care, and changes to pension funds for state employees were topics mostly mentioned.
The representatives spoke congenially of one another and of Morehouse Parish.
But Thompson, a veteran legislator, said the recent legislative session in Baton Rouge was one of the fiercest, most contentious ones he’s ever been a part of.
“I can talk about it, but you have to be in the session to understand what’s it’s like,” he said.
The anemic economy, it being a election year and the fact that La. Gov. Bobby Jindal remains in the spotlight as an advocate and vice presidential candidate for presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney have contributed to the tensions, Thompson said.
Chaney told the audience that his predictions about the legislature’s education reform package has come to pass, unfortunately.
“I told the governor (at the start of the session): ‘Let’s slow this down so we are sure not to pass up reasonable measures, so we don’t wind up spending the next three years undoing it or winding up in court.’
“Now we are already in litigation.”
Acknowledging one of Thompson’s favorite lines, Chaney said the legislators regularly initiate a bill that “looks like a horse to start, but comes out looking like a zebra.”
Jackson mentioned two bills she proposed, one that would allow a 75 percent tax rebate for persons or businesses that donate to public schools, and another one that would permit transparency on the state’s tax credit allotment, saying the process does not do enough to boost small businesses.
Both bills passed both the house of representatives and senate, but were vetoed by Jindal.
Jackson praised efforts from local residents in her ad hoc committees, which each include about 12 members.
“We feel like the committees offer a good representation of constituents,” she said.
Rep. Mike Walsworth spoke about a desire to create a health care system in which the sick do not have to pass up nearby charitable hospitals to visit ones where there’s available care.
He said the state can’t afford to have its community hospitals closed.
“We must think about health care as one together,” he said.
“With health care and education, we can’t do the same things we were doing yesterday. It’s ridiculous.”
Rep. Morris said that most every issue that comes before legislators, and especially education and money matters, has an impact beyond boundaries.
“What happens in Monroe affects Morehouse, and what happens in Morehouse affects Monroe. We are all in this together,” he offered.