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A second life for 'liberal' causes 

With roughly a month remaining in the legislative session, many of the policy assaults from the left are either dead and buried or running out of steam. Some already are carving tombstones for issues such as LGBT rights, marijuana reform, Medicaid expansion and environmental justice — to name a few.

  At some point before the session convened, all of those issues appeared to have momentum, particularly in the form of mainstream media attention. Each issue benefited from open-minded evaluations by Democrats, moderates and Republicans with libertarian bents.

  Poll numbers were encouraging as well, but apparently no one told the lawmakers who hold tight grips on legislative pressure points.

  The best a supporter of "liberal" causes can hope for now is a second life, which all of these issues are positioned to have if the promoters of those causes stay focused, avoid pettiness and seek new coalitions.

  The latter is what's keeping the LGBT community in good spirits these days. While anti-discrimination proposals and a repeal of the state's anti-sodomy laws (which unconstitutionally criminalize oral and anal sex as "crimes against nature") failed to gain traction at the Legislature, LGBT activists say they still managed to score a big win this session.

  They're referring to state Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, the first rural lawmaker to take up their cause. Traditionally, New Orleans legislators have been the ones carrying the LGBT banner. That changed with St. Germain's House Bill 887 to ban employers from making decisions based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

  St. Germain voluntarily shelved her bill in mid-April after proponent testimony in committee — before opponents could chime in so that, as she put it, those in favor would not be subjected to homophobic tirades. (She also didn't have the votes to move the bill forward.)

  "I think it could encourage more lawmakers to take stances they believe in but might not be comfortable with," said Bruce Parker, coalition manager for Equality Louisiana.

  The silver lining for pot enthusiasts, after the failure of bills to reduce criminal penalties for first-time possession of small amounts, can be found in the emergence of new special interests. At press time, legislation to open medicinal marijuana applications was still pending, but a group had been formed to lobby on its behalf.

  The Louisiana Cannabis Industries Association (LCIA) is registered with the secretary of state as a nonprofit group and lists its president as Matt Moreau, a Baton Rouge attorney. Lobbyist Jesse McCormick is registered to represent LCIA.

  The group will be put to the test on Senate Bill 541 by state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, which sets up the Therapeutic Marijuana Utilization Review Board to write rules for prescriptive authority by certified neurologists, oncologists and ophthalmologists. (Louisiana currently allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, but doesn't protect either prescribers or users.) Even though Gov. Bobby Jindal is open to the idea, the real task of the LCIA may be to lay the groundwork for future gains.

  On other fronts, lawmakers refused to put forth a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed voters to decide whether Louisiana should accept the Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama's health care law. With the feds on the verge of withholding $307 million for the governor's privatization plan for public hospitals, and public opinion supporting expansion, it's clear this will not be the last time lawmakers take up the issue. It could become a major issue in the governor's race next year.

  Then there's the GreenARMY, which hopes to beat back legislative attempts to scuttle the historic lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies filed by a New Orleans-area levee board. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore and author/historian John Barry are claiming wins on some fronts, but their troops are fighting many uphill battles.

  They're also spreading the word by protesting outside a lawmaker's office and hosting a bus tour. By most accounts, they have been overmatched and underprepared this session, but their movement has legs. In time, it could gain lots of political traction.

  All of these issues may die in the current session, but they could find second lives in the 2015 statewide elections. No doubt their advocates will see more defeats, but the road to victory often is paved with disappointments. Politicians come and go, but voters ultimately recognize — and embrace — just causes. For true believers, this session is just the beginning, not the end.


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