Senate balks at official’s hiring changes

Giving up power isn’t easy, it seems.

The Louisiana Senate on Friday refused to agree with the House version of a bill that would have eliminated Senate confirmation of the state higher education commissioner. The bill also eliminates a requirement that the commissioner’s salary be approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, but that wasn’t the hang-up.

The Senate voted 37-0 to go to conference on Senate Bill 108, where representatives from each chamber will hash out their differences.

Senate Education Committee Chair Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said he anticipates SB108 will emerge with the salary approval stripped but with Senate confirmation intact.

But he’s not worried about the impact that would have on efforts to attract a new higher ed commissioner.

“I’m confident we’re going to be able to recruit the best candidate,” he said.

Appel said he has supported the proposed shift back toward more authority for the state Board of Regents, but there was pushback in the chamber.

Supporters of the legislation have argued that both changes would help the state attract better candidates. Representatives from universities and the Regents backed the legislation.

Lawmakers implemented the approval steps in 2010 after former commissioner Sally Clausen resigned amid controversy after she secretly retired for a day and then was rehired, netting her a nearly $90,000 lump payment in vacation and sick leave time.

The state Board of Regents is in the process of finding a successor to former higher education commissioner Jim Purcell, who quietly left the job in March.

Leaders expect to have an initial list of candidates by early August. At that point, the Board of Regents will determine the process of narrowing the field, consultant Tom Layzell said in a hearing on the proposed legislation. The goal is to wrap up the process by early October.

“Along the way, any candidate is going to want to have some idea what the salary might be,” he said.

Regents Chairman W. Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry Jr. said he estimates that the new commissioner will be paid in the mid-$300,000 range. The commissioner doesn’t receive free housing, a car or other perks that university presidents and chancellors often receive.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of the Louisiana Legislature, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .