Saturday, February 18, 2006
By Jan Moller and Ed Anderson
BATON ROUGE -- The Legislature wrapped up a contentious 12-day special session Friday that produced a compromise bill to restructure southeast Louisiana's patchwork system of levee boards but failed to deliver on Gov. Kathleen Blanco's efforts to downsize New Orleans' government and to form a state trust to distribute federal housing aid.
Beyond the specifics of what passed, the session is likely to be remembered for the raw emotion it elicited as lawmakers confronted difficult issues tinged by race and parochialism.
Barry Erwin, president of the nonpartisan Council for a Better Louisiana, said the levee board consolidation ranks as the highlight of a session that will otherwise be remembered for bills that failed to pass. "We didn't accomplish what we came here to do, by and large. That's the bottom line," Erwin said.
He cited the failure of Blanco's housing trust legislation, which underwent many revisions before it died on the final day, and the failure to downsize city government in New Orleans, where seven elected assessors serve a city that has lost more than half its population since Hurricane Katrina. Most of the legislation failed to get out of committee.
Halfway through the session, several of Blanco's key initiatives appeared either dead or mortally wounded, and allies and opponents of the governor were both describing a sense of disarray in the Capitol.
Some powerful lawmakers in the House and Senate, including Blanco's hand-picked leaders, refused to go along with the single levee board, insisting that a separate governing authority be established for the West Bank. During the weekend, they won key victories on the Senate floor and in a House committee, prompting the bill's sponsor, Sen. Walter Boasso, R-Arabi, to pull the measure from consideration.
Several legislators complained publicly that Blanco and her staff weren't working hard enough to advance their agenda, a claim that a spokeswoman for the governor denied.
Things appeared to hit bottom late Monday afternoon, when members of the Legislative Black Caucus tried unsuccessfully to adjourn the session after the House rejected a bill by Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, D-New Orleans, to set up 10 satellite voting centers around the state for displaced New Orleans voters.
But some said the governor still has work to do if she wants to repair the bruised feelings among some legislators as the session drew to a close. "This session smelled of Edwin Edwards," said Rep. Pete Schneider, R-Slidell. "There was no leadership from the governor or her floor leaders."