Governor deflects questions over travel

As the Senate Finance Committee listened to the public’s concerns about the $25 billion state budget, Gov. Bobby Jindal settled into an airplane seat. Jindal flew to Denver, where he attended meetings for his national nonprofit organization, America Next, and spoke at a reception for the Alliance for Choice in Education.

Jindal has visited more than a dozen states since January. He’s been to California, Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Florida, New York, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee. He’s also visited Washington, D.C.

America Next, the nonprofit that Jindal launched to find solutions for national problems, drives a lot of his traveling. He conducts what his press office simply calls “meetings” for America Next across the nation. The meetings are more likely fundraisers.

Asked about his frequent flyer miles Thursday following a graduation speech at the State Capitol, Jindal amused himself by deflecting questions about whether he was absent a bit too much during the legislative session. He picked apart a Web-based reporter’s question, focusing on the lead-in about the session being a good one and ignoring the follow-up about legislators remarking on his absence.

“I think we have had a good session. I agree with you,” Jindal said.

The more he was pressed, the more entrenched Jindal became in his repeated answer.

“(For) the third time, this has been a great session for the people of Louisiana, specifically talked about job training, cracking down on frivolous lawsuits and human trafficking,” the governor said.

The governor then offered some statistics about new jobs and per capita income.

“I’m answering your question, but I want to make sure this gets in your story. I just want to make sure this goes into your story. Look, you’re on the Web. It’s free. It doesn’t cost you anything to put this in there,” the governor said.

Finally, the governor’s aides called an end to the impromptu news conference.

Plans to close OMV locations scrapped

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is backpedaling on plans to close 18 Office of Motor Vehicles locations around Louisiana.

The idea was recommended by a consulting firm hired by the administration to look for “efficiencies” in state government. The closures were planned for the budget year that begins July 1.

But lawmakers objected to the proposal, and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said Friday that the closure plans have been scrapped.

Nichols said the administration also has decided against limiting ferry hours in Cameron Parish on a critical route for emergency vehicles. That idea faced loud complaints from southwest Louisiana lawmakers and local officials.

The plans were estimated to save $2.3 million next year. Nichols said the administration will make up those savings elsewhere with other recommendations from the consulting firm.

Group urges legislators to start budget work

A nearly $1 billion shortfall is looming for state government, and a Baton Rouge-based research group wants legislators to start tackling the problem now.

The shortfall stems from the way next year’s $25 billion state operating budget is structured. Nonrecurring revenue is being used to pay for recurring needs. In a year’s time, legislators will have to find new dollars to pay for expenses that must be met year after year.

The Public Affairs Research Council, or PAR, offered a little advice Friday.

“State government’s structural deficit did not happen overnight, and it is not likely to be fixed in a single legislative session. But the longer lawmakers postpone dealing with Louisiana’s budget issues in a sustainable manner, the worse the situation will become,” the organization said.

Among other things, PAR wants legislators to resist piling pricey pet projects for their district into the budget.

Senators complain of opposition attacks

A parade of state senators used the Senate microphone to do some venting last week.

State Sen. Jody Amedee opened the floodgates when he complained about a direct mail flyer urging his constituents to call him about votes on bills dealing with lawsuits against the oil and gas industry for coastal damages.

“I don’t know who sent it, but I have a feeling probably somebody in the oil industry,” said Amedee, R-Gonzales. Amedee said he voted for both measures. “I just want to let my constituents know in case they are watching” so they don’t have to tie up the phone lines, he said.

Next up is state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, who is sponsoring bills to scrap the lawsuits.

“I’ve had my home picketed,” said Adley. People have been seen walking around New Orleans with his picture on sticks, he said.

“It’s seems to be the new politics now to go out and just make fun of, chastise,” Adley said.

If that wasn’t enough, Adley said he’ll be handling the Real ID bill, which would allow drivers to choose whether to get a driver’s license that also meets federal Homeland Security Department criteria. Some are angry, arguing that Real ID is but a step away from the “papers please” dictatorship.

“It turns out to be my stepmother sending these emails out to get all of you to oppose my bill,” said Adley. “It ain’t easy being Adley.”

Then came Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, who has been vilified for supporting the more stringent academic requirements of Common Core.

Again, the issue has attracted anger from some parents who say Common Core is tantamount to the federal government dictating policy for local schools. The day before, Gov. Bobby Jindal compared Common Core to centralized planning in Russia.

While the Metairie Republican insists he’s not a commie, he does admit that the epithet has been hurled so often that he has given members of his committee nicknames from the Politburo.

Bill lifts state ban on Independent Party

Beginning in 2015, there will no longer be a Louisiana ban on recognition of a political party that declares its name to be Independent or the Independent Party.

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the legislation into law.

The bill was sponsored by Thibodaux state Rep. Dee Richard, who is not affiliated with a political party that’s recognized in the state. He doesn’t like the “No Party” designation that he’s left with.

State law spells out the manner in which a political party becomes recognized. Among the stipulations: The political party must have at least 1,000 registered voters 90 days prior to the qualifying period for any election and must have filed a notarized registration statement with the secretary of state and paid a registration fee.

The party designation of a candidate as Independent could not appear on the ballot until 2015 elections at the earliest.

Bow-tie fundraiser to benefit hospitals

There will be bow ties aplenty around the State Capitol on Tuesday.

It’s the third annual “Put a Bow On It” fundraiser in support of children’s hospitals. The event is spearheaded by state Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, who regularly sports a bow tie.

Broadwater is encouraging his colleagues to donate $100 to the children’s hospital and to wear a bow tie that day to signify that support. He also will ask private businesses to donate.

The fundraiser has benefited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Shreveport. This year, the funds raised will go to St. Jude.