By Kathleen Randall
Speaker Jim Tucker launched the House into the era of legislative term limits by holding an unprecedented extended organizational session of the House in order to consider key procedural changes sparked by a year-long study of the effects of term limits. The session also included a comprehensive briefing for representatives on current Louisiana law on ethics for public servants, a subject which Governor Bobby Jindal promises to call his first special session to address. Only one day after legislators and the governor were sworn into office and legislative leaders were elected by their peers on January 14 , Speaker Tucker introduced a proposal, House Resolution No. 1, to change the Rules of Order of the House in three key areas.
Speaker Tucker said that many other legislatures have Appropriations Committee membership made up of a quarter or more of the House membership, thereby giving budget review responsibilities to more members. He proposed increasing the membership of the House Appropriations Committee from 19 members to 25 members and creating six standing subcommittees of the committee to specialize in separate areas of the state's budget. The Speaker would appoint the additional six members and by virtue of his current and new appointive power, ensure that seven of his appointments would represent the respective congressional districts. The six subcommittees would be Education, General Government, Health and Human Services (including review of the budgets for delivery of health care services in the state), Business Development, Infrastructure and Resources, and Public Safety and Corrections. Tucker said he offers this proposal in the spirit of developing a more educated membership, who, given responsibility for different state budget units, could develop more awareness of budget issues. He cited a particular commitment to making it easier to develop business across the state as the rationale for the Business Development subcommittee. He said these changes would bring transparency to the budget process as well as increase the effectiveness of the House in performing duties of the legislative branch of state government. The Chair of the Appropriations Committee would appoint the subcommittee chairs and members as well as set the meeting schedules; the chair could also refer other budgets and appropriations to the subcommittees for review. Speaker Tucker envisions that the subcommittees would perform intense reviews of their respective budget areas and subsequently report their findings and recommendations to the full Appropriations Committee.
The next significant change proposed by Speaker Tucker was the consolidation of the House committees on Natural Resources and Environment, based on the rationale that the amount of legislation referred to the Environment Committee had waned in recent years and that those matters could be absorbed into a related committee's jurisdiction. The resulting new committee would be called the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment and would add to its jurisdiction the former subject matter jurisdiction of the Environment Committee, namely, environmental control and regulation generally; land pollution; pollution of air, water, and land and environmental control generally; air quality; hazardous waste regulation; solid waste regulation; and laws regulating clean water, drinking water, and ground water.
In a proposal affecting purely internal matters of the House, Speaker Tucker recommended that the current House Executive Committee be divided into three standing subcommittees of at least five members each: Affairs of the House, Litigation and Legal Issues, and Personnel. The Speaker would appoint all subcommittee chairs and members. The Personnel Subcommittee would take on the responsibilites of the current House Legislative Services Council to employ and supervise a research, drafting, and committee staff for the House. That council would be abolished. Speaker Tucker suggested that this change would repeal duplicate responsibilities and simplify and expedite administration of matters affecting the internal business of the House.
After review by the newly-appointed Committee on House and Governmental Affairs, the proposal was introduced in the House, debated, and finally adopted by a vote of 103 yeas and 0 nays.