The most important law adopted during this year's annual legislative session generated no attention at all, probably because lawmakers failed to give it so much as a hearing. But it was adopted nonetheless — in a very big way — as the normal way of doing business.
Better known as Murphy's Law, the new "act" took hold on the session's opening day in late March, as House members applied it to the speaker pro tem election — a normally uneventful contest. This year, instead of working things out quietly, the election was a public display of discord and dissent that caused several House members to lose key committee assignments — and a freshman representative to consider resigning. It also contributed to the defeat of a key bill by House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, that would have created a single board for all of Louisiana's four-year colleges.
It soon became obvious that the 2010 regular session would require careful observance, for Murphy's Law dictates that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Starting with the opening-day debacle in the House, things really unraveled after the BP oil calamity in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20.
Ironically, this year's session was supposed to be a game changer for commercial shrimp harvesters and processors. After months of low dockside prices, Gov. Bobby Jindal got behind bills to create an official Louisiana Shrimp Task Force and to fund an annual seafood marketing and inspection program. Now, instead of celebrating, shrimpers are watching their industry die.
While stock assessments aren't showing major damage at present, no one expects that to last. "We've tested all the oyster beds and we've taken samples of finfish, crabs, shrimp," says Dr. Jimmy Guidry, the state's top medical officer. "We've also taken baseline samples before the oil even got here. Because what's going to be critical moving forward, as we look at the chemicals in our seafood, is that we know where we started."
Truly, April 20 marks the date that Murphy's Law dealt a catastrophic blow to the state and to the legislative session. Today, enough crude flows into the Gulf every 24 hours to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool — and estimates continue to rise. As horrific as the BP disaster is, there were still opportunities during the session that lawmakers wasted — opportunities that had little to do with the oil gusher.
For example, this was supposed to be the year that lawmakers manned up on public records in Jindal's office. But, for the third year in a row, they rolled over for the governor and killed bills that would have opened up one of the worst gubernatorial disclosure laws in the nation.
Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, author of one of this year's gubernatorial transparency bills, hopes to have the last laugh on that one, though. During the session's final days, he attached an amendment to a House bill making all of the governor's oil spill-related communications public record. Of course, Jindal can veto that measure (if it passes — the session doesn't end until 6 p.m. June 21), so we'll see who's laughing by week's end.
Elsewhere, lawmakers lost control of the annual operating budget, thanks partly to the fact that it's a complicated mess and partly to the overshadowing effect of the BP oil disaster. In the fiscal year that begins July 1, the state is expecting $1 billion less in revenues, and the following fiscal year should see another $2 billion decline. As bad as the future looks, the current fiscal year, which expires June 30, has proven to be a real problem — even though the Jindal administration said things were on track.
With 10 days left in the legislative session, state officials concluded that the current year's revenue projections were off by an additional $261 million. No elected officials saw that one coming, and no one had a contingency plan.
Another irony: This was supposed to be the session in which Jindal's Commission on Streamlining Government and House Speaker Tucker's Post-secondary Education and Review Commission bore fruit. That basket of fruit never ripened.
That's too bad, because the economic and fiscal impact of the BP debacle will likely push future revenue shortfalls even higher, proving once again that Murphy's Law not only remains in effect, but also that it is veto-proof and immune to repeal.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.