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Notes From Baton Rouge 

Jeremy Alford on how this legislative session has spawned retirement controversies, Web-based agendas and stupid bills

The old adage that no one is safe in life or property as long as the Louisiana Legislature is in session certainly applies this year. Just ask schoolteachers and state employees, who are the latest targets of "reform" efforts led by Gov. Bobby Jindal as he positions himself for more national attention.

  This year's targets include public officials themselves — even lawmakers.

  Here's a look at some of the latest controversies:

  Retirement on the rocks — While Jindal's education reform package sailed through both chambers, the governor's retirement package entered rough waters.

  Last week, we reported in this space that Jindal bought 2.2 years worth of service from the Louisiana State Employees' Retirement System (LASERS) to enhance his own retirement plan — just as he was trimming the sails on the retirement programs of state workers.

  The Advocate of Baton Rouge, following up on Jindal's pension maneuvers, learned that Jindal also began to purchase another two years of retirement benefits through the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana. (He formerly served as president of the University of Louisiana System.)

  On top of that, a Jindal bill that would make LASERS participants pay 3 percent more toward their retirement exempts the governor. Team Jindal offered the flimsiest of excuses: The constitution bars a "reduction" in the "compensation" of elected officials during their terms of office.

  Critics howled, and no doubt George Orwell would love Jindal's logic. We'll see how it plays with lawmakers.

  Back away from the keyboard — Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, has drifted into an Internet controversy. A conservative blogger has requested copies of "any and all electronic and written correspondence" between her and the teacher unions dating back to January.

  Several other Democratic lawmakers were targeted by the public information request, but Peterson has been the most vocal. She says the request will "cause significant strain on Legislative staff and incur considerable costs to the taxpayers." Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp says the request will take 446 calendar days of work to fulfill. Peterson, for her part, has been holding forth from the Senate floor and complaining about "shameful political attacks."

  Politicians' emails on their taxpayer-financed computers and smartphones are part of the public record, however. At the same time, some public records requests can be burdensome if they are overly broad in scope. After all, a Democrat colluding with teacher unions is no more unusual than, um, Jindal conspiring with the Louisiana Family Forum.

  Given recent events, where a New Orleans cop was disciplined for commenting on and a federal prosecutor resigned for doing the same on, the Internet has become a major political player.

  New bills — Lawmakers filed their final round of bills last week, a total of 1,189 in the House and 746 in the Senate.

  Some could spur interesting debates, like Senate Bill 738 by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, which redefines what "self defense" means, and House Bill 1072 by Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, which would allow the NBA Hornets to take part in the state's Quality Jobs Program.

  House Bill 1170 by Rep. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, would regulate the retail sale of cigarette rolling machines. Why not just call this one "the Doobie Law?"

  Of course, some are just of the same old flag-waving variety. Senate Bill 641 by Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Pearl River, would require public school students in fourth through sixth grades to be able to recite passages from the Declaration of Independence. When in the course of legislative events ...

  It's doubtful that any of those bills will be as controversial as Jindal's education and retirement packages, but they're a reminder of what some lawmakers consider their real priorities — as well as their targets.

Jeremy Alford is a freelancer in Baton Rouge. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @alfordwrites.


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