Commentary

Clutch or not so much: Rating the 2022 Legislature standouts

June 9, 2022 3:57 pm
Royce Duplessis, Jerome Zeringue

From left, Reps. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, and Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, in the Louisiana House of Representative, Feb. 2, 2022. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

The regular session of the Louisiana Legislature produced clutch performances from lawmakers in 2022. While everyone might not agree with the merits of their legislation, they were effective in getting bills through the Legislature from what was at times a jam-packed calendar.  Others, not so much

Before another round of redistricting begins, it’s worth looking back at what many consider a historic  session to see who stood out, for better or worse. 

Jerome Zeringue
Rep. Jerome Zeringue leads the House Appropriations Committee at its May 26, 2022, meeting. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

Clutch: Republican leaders in the Legislature wanted to get next fiscal year’s budget on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk ASAP so there would be ample time during the session to address any unfavorable line-item vetoes. 

The budget originates in the House of Representatives and is shepherded by the House Appropriations Committee chairman. Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, R-Houma, advanced the bill from his committee to the House floor on April 18, and it was sent to the Senate three days later.

After nearly a month in the Senate, Zeringue’s House Bill 1 was sent to the governor, who used his veto pen sparingly

Not so much: Senate Finance Committee chairman Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Baton Rouge, managed to devote $2.2 million in the spending plan to pet projects in the city of Central, which is his district. On its own, the appropriation might be considered praiseworthy on his home turf. 

But some of White’s colleagues took issue with how he exercised his influence over fiscal matters this session. He rejected a bill from Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, that would have required insurance companies to cover the cost of fertility treatments for cancer patients whose treatments made them sterile.

In return, the House scuttled a White bill that would have carved out a new residential development from the highly rated Central Community School System. Black residents are expected to comprise the community, although White denied his bill was racially motivated.          

Also, one of the line items Edwards edited in the budget restored a portion of the pay raise the governor had promised state university faculty. White’s committee had reduced the increase from 5% to 3%.

Beth Mizell
Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, presents her bill to ban transgender athletes from women’s and girls’ sports to the Senate Education Committee Thursday, April 7, 2022. (Greg LaRose | Louisiana Illuminator)

Clutch: Eleven bills from Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, received approval covering a variety of issues. She cleared the way for victims of sexual assault to obtain copies of their rape kit exam results, records that law enforcement and health care providers had been reluctant to produce. Her successful proposals also benefit human trafficking victims, persons wrongly accused of child abuse and honeybee research.         

Not so much: All of Mizell’s accomplishments listed above are overshadowed by her authorship of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which the governor allowed to become law without his signature. It bans transgender athletes from competing in women’s and girls sports in Louisiana, although existing high school rules already prohibit it. 

Critics correctly label Mizell’s bill as a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. It also brings additional stigma to an already marginalized and mentally vulnerable segment of the community. 

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Clutch: Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, fought to the end to get restrictions on the public release of police booking photos of arrestees. Amendments softened his bill some, but his colleagues seemed to agree the practice of shaming people who have yet to be convicted needed to be curbed.

Furthermore, Duplessis also got a bill passed that requires mental health instruction for K-12 students and another that significantly scales back the use of solitary confinement in juvenile correctional facilities.   

Not so much: All six bills Rep. Ray Garafalo sponsored failed to get out of committee, most notably two attempts (three, if you count last year’s failure) to keep “concepts” such as race, color, religion and ethnicity out of the classroom. 

House Education Committee members involuntarily deferred those bills, along with one that would have forced school districts to post online instructional materials that involve nondiscrimination, diversity, equity, inclusion and race.

Louisiana State Representative Danny McCormick
State Rep. Danny McCormick, pictured May 26, 2022. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

Not so much: Perhaps no lawmaker embraced futility during the session as much as Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City. Even the staunchly anti-abortion Louisiana Right to Life organization opposed his bill to criminalize women who seek abortions as well as practioners of in vitro fertilization.

McCormick also brought back his bill to allow the concealed carrying of firearms without a permit or training. It advanced to the Senate, where a committee converted it into a bill to allow teachers to conceal carry. The full Senate never took up the proposal.

More than once, colleagues questioned whether McCormick understood the contents of his legislation, including an attempt to exclude wind and solar projects from industrial tax breaks.

Clutch: One of the more prominent voices in opposition to McCormick’s abortion bill was House Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee, R-Houma. The father of triplets conceived through in vitro fertilization, Magee bluntly pointed out the absurdities in McCormick’s proposal, and he later took issue with Catholic bishops’ opposition to Rep. Paula Davis’ bill to assist cancer patients.

Magee pushed through legislation to restrict expansion of medical marijuana pharmacies to those already holding licenses, much to the dismay of free market advocates. The Legislature also approved his bill to transfer regulation of the industry from the agriculture department to the Louisiana Department of Health.

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Not so much: House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, was able to advance a bill to the governor that moves a major event incentive fund from Louisiana Economic Development to the lieutenant governor’s office, a post he may well run for next year. 

However, his attempt to put the lieutenant governor in control of the Capitol complex, which the governor’s Division of Administration oversees, was thwarted. Schexnayder had valid complaints about the state of disrepair at the Capitol and at the Pentagon Apartments that house several lawmakers during the session.

The Advocate broke news that the speaker had fired contractors who were to work at the Pentagon Apartments and instead hired his stepsons, who billed taxpayers. Although Schexnayder says he eventually paid them himself, he struck a deal with Commissioner Jay Dardenne that kept the administration in charge of the Capitol buildings.

Troy Romero
Rep. Troy Romero, pictured at the May 26, 2022, meeting of the House Appropriations Committee. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

Clutch: One of the smoothest early exits from the Legislature came from Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen. He left before the end of his term to take a job in public relations and continue his law practice, according to the Plaqumines Post Gazette.

Ward departs after being a vocal champion for the construction of a new bridge across the Mississippi River in the Capital area. While the project didn’t get the $500 million allocation from lawmakers that Gov. Edwards had sought, Ward was instrumental in securing $300 million in the state budget. 

Not so much: If there were a prize given for beating a dead horse in the Legislature, it would be a competitive bout when it comes to COVID-19.

It was disappointing to see physical therapist Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, vigorously – and ultimately fruitlessly – try to compel hospitals to extend privileges to health care providers who prescribe ivermectin to treat COVID-19. 

Rep. Troy Romero, R-New Iberia, wanted “God-given antibodies” to be given the same recognition as those acquired through vaccination. 

Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, was futile in his multiple attempts to undermine state health officials’ work through the pandemic. His doomed proposals provided a regular forum for anti-vax proponents and conspiracy theorists. 

Most concerning were the proclamations on the COVID vaccine from Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, who didn’t understand the difference between how a single vaccine works and the impact of mass vaccinations. Making matters worse is that Bagley chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee. 

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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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