Thursday, July 18, 2024

6 incoming laws that will increase Jeff Landry’s power as Louisiana governor

by BIZ Magazine

BY: JULIE O’DONOGHUE – Louisiana Illuminator

Louisiana’s powerful governor will become more so after a massive push from Republican Jeff Landry to increase his authority and influence over state government.

In his first few months in office, Landry prioritized bills in the legislative session that will increase his control and make documents about his activities private. He put pressure on the GOP-dominated Louisiana Legislature throughout the spring to approve the measures.

The proposals will not only empower Landry but also governors who will follow him.

He has not signed all the legislation yet but is expected to over the next three weeks.

State board and commission leadership

Landry has signed a law that allows him to appoint the leaders of nearly 150 state boards and commissions. He’s already used this new authority to pick leaders for the University of Louisiana System and the Louisiana Housing Corp. board of directors.

For decades, the governor has appointed most or all members of dozens of state boards and commissions, but Landry wanted to take his authority a step farther and obtain power to select their leaders.

There are concerns this change could impact the accreditation of public colleges and universities, as independent reviews typically frown upon excess political influence on higher education campuses.

State ethics board

The governor will gain more control over the Louisiana Board of Ethics, even as ethics charges the board brought against Landry last year remain unresolved.

He’s in an ongoing dispute with ethics board members over what consequences he should face for not disclosing flights to Hawaii he took on a political donor’s private plane while attorney general. A status conference in the case is scheduled for July, and the law change giving Landry control over the board takes effect Aug 1.

Under current law, leaders from Louisiana’s private universities and colleges nominate five people for each of the 11 seats on the ethics board, and then the governor and state lawmakers pick their appointees from those lists. The governor gets to pick seven members, and legislators select four.

The incoming law removes the private university and college presidents from the process. It also expands the ethics board from 11 to 15 members, with nine appointed by the governor and six by lawmakers.

The governor and legislators will be encouraged to build the board with five retired judges, five retired elected officials and five people who have never held elected office “to the extent practicable,” under the law.

The larger, 15-seat board will allow Landry and Republican legislative leaders to take over the board more quickly. With four new members added in 2025, Landry will get to install new people faster than if he had to wait for Gov. John Bel Edwards’ appointees to cycle off the panel.

The ethics board is supposed to monitor whether elected officials and government workers abide by regulations preventing conflicts of interest and campaign finance rules.

Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority

Legislation Landry is expected to sign into law will remove the independently elected state insurance commissioner and agriculture commissioner, or their designees, from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board.

Four other people from the governor’s cabinet would also come off the panel: the state transportation secretary, economic development secretary, commissioner of administration and director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Economic Preparedness.

Instead, Landry would get to appoint three at-large members to the authority with no restrictions on his choices.

The changes give the governor control of a slightly larger share of the board.

Under the CPRA Board’s current makeup, 17 of 22 members come from the governor’s cabinet, staff or other appointments. The new structure will have 16 of 19 members chosen by governor.

Travel and schedule records

The governor is expected to sign a bill into law that will let him keep more documents about his work schedule and travel hidden from the public indefinitely if they threaten the governor or his family’s security. Currently, such records must be made available seven days after a scheduled event or trip.

Government transparency advocates worry the exemption could be applied broadly because the new law doesn’t clearly define what constitutes a security risk.

Government documents

Out-of-state residents won’t be able to request records from the governor’s office under legislation Landry is expected to sign. People will need to present Louisiana government identification to receive records from the governor’s office when they file a public records request.

Governor’s Mansion information

The governor has signed into law a new set of rules that give him more control over the operations of the publicly funded Governor’s Mansion and the ability to keep records related to the mansion private.

All meetings of the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion Commission will no longer be open to the public. Documents the commission produces will also be kept secret.

The authority of the commission is also weakened. Its members now serve at the pleasure of the governor instead of in staggered terms that could overlap with different office holders. Commission members also lost authority over private areas of the mansion, and its oversight over the public areas of the mansion is further restricted.

The governor used to need permission from the commission to repaint, redecorate or make substantial changes to the interior design of the mansion’s public areas. Now the governor has power over all of those decisions.

The new law also takes the state wing on the second floor and makes it a “private area,” closing it off to the public.

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