Our Views: Good law, bad process?

For the second time, Judge Michael Caldwell of state district court in Baton Rouge has struck down on technical grounds one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s key education bills, Act 1 of the 2012 session of the Legislature.

It’s the second round in Caldwell’s court because there were two bills in the 2012 session that made sweeping changes in public education. Act 2 ended up approved, mostly, by the Supreme Court, and the higher court asked Caldwell to review his opinion on Act 1; he came to the same conclusion, and it’s difficult to see how he could have ruled otherwise.

Like the constitutions of most states, Louisiana’s limits bills in the Legislature to a single legislative “object.” The Supreme Court rejected the challenge to Act 2 on that ground, so Jindal said he’s pretty optimistic the high court will agree with the administration on Act 1, even if Caldwell does not.

What’s the big deal?

It is the process, not the substance, of what Jindal did in the two bills in 2012.

Instead of pushing separate and clearly “single object” bills on each topic — tenure, hiring and firing, charter schools, authority of school superintendents, funding of vouchers for private schools and on and on — he baked the topics into two cakes and rammed the two measures through the legislative process. It was a political tour de force, but at what cost?

We said then that the public was shortchanged.

The committee hearings could not possibly engage in the kind of thoughtful deliberation of such major changes packaged into those two bills.

The governor and legislative leaders point out that the legislative process was followed. And so far, they can point to the Supreme Court having upheld Act 2. But this was transparency without consultation, and the anger of many rank-and-file teachers at the raw politics involved was obvious then, and still rankles.

Are these bills bad ideas? By and large, we don’t think so, and as the governor pointed out, the laws remain in effect. The only major change so far struck down was the method of funding for vouchers for private school tuition; other funding was found to pay for those vouchers.

“Its principles are working in our schools, and we are going to continue to implement it day-to-day,” John White, the state superintendent of education, said of Act 1.

But if these “comprehensive” measures are not multiple objects, the result is that the power of an aggressive governor is increased.

Louisiana’s governorship is already too powerful. The 2012 precedents should worry reformers, even if they like the outcome.