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It may have appeared to be political mumbo-jumbo, but the move by the Louisiana City Council last week to bring everyone into the law-making picture was a huge step for representative government.
If you missed it, what happened was the board changed a standing city ordinance that steered creation of new laws to a committee. Ordinarily, that is the ordinance committee, which here-to-fore acted as a limitation screen for any new ordinances offered by council members.
The ordinance committee had the power to kill a new law, or refuse to consider an amendment to an existing one.
With four of eight council members on the ordinance committee, the ability to make or stifle change was in the hands of only half the people elected by city residents.
The political noose was even tighter than that, considering that two votes of the four committee members was enough to stop a new law or block tweaking an old one.
I understand the argument that Louisiana was just following state and federal legislative practices, where bills have to pass in committee votes before being considered by all the full bodies. However, the state and federal legislatures are dealing with much more complicated matters that involve millions of dollars and introduce bills that are many pages long.
Without committees, larger legislatures would completely bog down. They pretty much hammer out a law from committee to committee, change it, tweak it, improve it sometimes and give it numerous looks in the process.
City ordinances state legal policy in plain terms and are simplistic enough to be dealt with by a small body quickly.
There’s nothing wrong with an ordinance committee per se, but it’s role in Louisiana government has now become more like advise and consent for the entire council instead of something that could be used as a political hammer.
The amendment also has also removed another political layer.
It means whomever is mayor can’t stack the ordinance committee for control.
I’m not saying Mayor Tom Wallace did that. Indeed, the current ordinance committee selected by him of Monroe Elliott, Larry White, Kathy Smith and Chuck Hoffman includes two members in Smith and Hoffman who have disagreed with the mayor on several major issues in the past year.
We should recognize to City Attorney Robert Rapp, who researched the issue and realized the committee-only setup did not conform with state law. I’m pretty sure it averted a lawsuit, from what I hear on the street.
Recognition also goes to the council members who voted for the change, which included, Bart Niedner, Sal Pollice, Hoffman, Russell Stephens and Larry White. Kathy Smith was absent from the vote but probably would have sided with the majority.
I’m not upset with Monroe Elliott and Jim Wood voting against the change, I believe they voted their conscience and without ill will.
It’s just my opinion that in the long run, this change will help Louisiana.