Gov. Bobby Jindal has finally taken a stand on the controversial "discrimination" bill filed by Sen. A.G. Crowe of St. Tammany — but his late support for the measure proved too little, too late. Crowe's SB 217 would bar state agencies from protecting classes of people who are not already specifically protected under state law. The bill's many critics say it's an embarrassing throwback to the days of segregation.
During the Senate debate of Crowe's bill April 17, aides to the governor passed out notes asking senators to support the measure. "Please support SB 217," the note from "Office of the Governor" read. "This bill provides relative to discrimination regarding certain public contracts including the limitation of categories for nondiscrimination purposes."
After an hour of debate, senators voted instead to return the bill to the "Involuntary Calendar" — over Crowe's objections — which means the measure likely won't be taken up again. Calling a bill from the Involuntary Calendar requires a majority vote of the members present; since Crowe and Jindal could muster only nine votes to keep the bill under active consideration, its chances of revival appear slim.
"This is a rare happening," one senator told me afterward. "Senators generally give one another the courtesy of not returning things to the calendar involuntarily — unless the bill is something they just don't want to have to vote on. That was the case here."
Returning Crowe's bill to the Involuntary Calendar also marked one of the few times this session that Jindal did not get his way with lawmakers.
Current state law bars discrimination against people based on six factors: race, religion, national ancestry, age, sex or disability. Crowe's bill would have barred state agencies from protecting other classes of persons (gays, e.g.) — even though billions in federal dollars are tied to expanded protections, according to conservative Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, who expressed concerns echoed by many senators.
Crowe told his colleagues that his bill has been mischaracterized by its opponents. He said he never intended to discriminate against school kids. Recent history proves otherwise.
When the bill was presented to the committee Crowe chairs, his legal "expert" used state contracts with charter schools as a prime example of the kind of "rogue" lawmaking the bill purportedly seeks to end. The only other witness to testify for the measure was a woman who presides over a local charter school board. Her entire testimony was couched in terms of charter schools and gay students. Crowe made no attempt at that time to say the bill was not aimed at charters and school kids.
The real architect of the bill is the Louisiana Family Forum, but for some reason LFF leader Gene Mills has remained closeted on this one. During the Senate floor debate Crowe dodged questions from Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, about who helped draft the bill and several amendments offered by Crowe.
It will be interesting to see if Jindal tries to help Crowe revive the controversial bill. If he does, he will cement his good standing with the Evangelical wing of the GOP — but probably also cement his shoes when it comes to his national ambitions.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was the darling of the evangelical right this election year. Santorum is much more polished, better looking and more articulate than Jindal, but his campaign still collapsed under the weight of his extreme right-wing views. Even conservative Republicans regard him as unelectable in a race for president.
Jindal, who bombed in his only star turn on national TV, may have an even more difficult time trying to sell himself to a national audience after openly supporting Crowe's bill.