James Gill: Bill was colossal waste of time

The phone call came from a humble constituent, but the response must have left professional lobbyists green with envy.

It is, after all, not often that they can get a bill through the Legislature with barely a peep, even if it fills a legitimate need. This one could only cause disruption. The caller must have bet his pals that they’d fall for anything in Baton Rouge.

We can’t ask him, because his name is unknown and the number he called from doesn’t work any more. Whoever the joker is, he sure showed how easy it is to make the Legislature look foolish.

Now a judge has enjoined enforcement of the law and its sponsor, state Sen. Elbert Guillory, vows to undo his handiwork in next year’s session.

Legislators have been known to point out that it is a tall order to read every word of every bill, but this one was short and simple. A few minutes’ thought at the outset would have tagged the bill as a turkey and saved a lot of time later.

Guillory says he got a call from a man purporting to be with the association that represents justices of the peace and constables. He was told that some constables are so advanced in years that they may be seen carting oxygen tanks in their wheelchairs as they go about enforcing orders issued by the justices of the peace. Since constables carry firearms in the performance of their duties, the caller suggested that the old-timers were a menace that had to be stopped.

It would indeed be alarming if armed and incapacitated geezers were evicting delinquent tenants, say, and such scenes would surely attract attention. None, however, appears to have been reported.

The caller kindly sent Guillory a draft of an amendment to the law that requires justices of the peace and constables to retire at the end of the first term after they have turned 70. Those elected in or before 2006 are exempted from that requirement. Guillory filed the bill removing the grandfather clause, confident of the association’s gratitude.

He didn’t exactly face a grilling at committee hearings when he explained that not only were some constables too ancient to be trusted, but they all toted guns without the training required of regular cops. It was dangerous, he suggested, not to require constables to be certified by the Police Officer Standards and Training Council. Nobody asked why, if that is so, his bill did not address the issue, but merely excised the retirement grandfather clause.

One member of the Senate committee did wonder what had happened to make the bill necessary, but Guillory merely repeated that a constituent had asked for it. On the House side, one member asked Guillory not to oppose a floor amendment exempting Livingston Parish, he agreed and that was it.

As it turned out, the floor amendment was not necessary, because a separate bill exempting Livingston also passed. The Guillory bill was unanimously approved by the Senate and attracted only one nay vote in the House.

The association was somewhat surprised to learn that it was supposed to have backed Guillory’s bill, because it meant that some 200 of its members would be ineligible to run in this fall’s election. Connie Moore, president of the association, said she had no idea who had proposed the bill. The draft sent to Guillory had gone missing, and he found that the caller’s number had been disconnected.

The association filed suit claiming age discrimination and suggesting that, if geezers were OK in Livingston Parish, they could do the job elsewhere, too. Perhaps there is an elixir of youth in Denham Springs. State Judge Tim Kelley put the law on hold, all the incumbents can qualify for re-election next month and Guillory vows to put the law back the way it was.

So it was all a monumental waste of time except that it might encourage legislators henceforth to check out the provenance and effect of a bill before they vote on it.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.