Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Broome bill advances

An Advocate Legislative reporter has filed a story on the Broome/Cox Bill. The hook, and the only apparent reason the story got filed, was that there was a flash of humor in a house committee meeting. The reporter apparently thought that unusual enough to be worth building a story around.

[There are those of us that think this bill might deserve some coverage because it is an abysmally bad bill, written by Cox lobbyists, introduced by a Senator who had no idea what it meant, and amended in such a sloppy way that fully half of the amendment is now meaningless, mean-spirited verbiage that can never have the effect of law. But apparently that isn't unusual enough to warrant coverage. But humor in a committee meeting...that's notably rare.]

The bare bones report is that the bill was reported favorably out of the House committee and will be seen on the House floor soon (it passed in the Senate on June 6th). At this point the bill has the effect of forcing every municipality that wants to provide a telecommunications utility to go through a referendum and go up against the largest and wealthiest media and telecommunications corporations in the world. It's a serious change. The humor, such as it was, came in when lobbyists for the municipalities were apparently "beat up" for suggesting that substantially changing a law that went into effect only a year ago after a bruising compromise forced by the governor really, in all fairness, shouldn't be tinkered with until it had at least been used, you know, once. That's the way it usually works.

But, apparently, not when a major media-owning company thinks it should work differently.
After beating up on city and parish government lobbyists, a House panel forwarded legislation Monday that essentially changes a single word in a law passed last year...
Former Baton Rouge Mayor-President Tom Ed McHugh, representing the Louisiana Municipal Association, and Dan Garrett for the Police Jury Association of Louisiana testified against the legislation.

They asked for patience before changing a law that only went into effect in July 2004.

The law that opened the door last year for local government to enter the telecommunications business was the result of many hours of negotiation, in which every line was approved by local government officials, telecommunications industry representatives and legislators, McHugh and Garrett said.
Now be aware that in Louisiana it's unusual to "beat up on" folks like McHugh and Garrett. I mean, you just don't offend the state's police juries. There are huge swaths of rural Louisiana that are ruled by this peculiar institution and crossing them is rightly recognized as dangerous. During the fight to turn last year's bill (the one this amends) into something marginally acceptable, I knew a milestone had been reached when the police jury association came out against the bill. Rural and urban Louisiana. When they stand together, others usually stand aside. My suspicion is that this is a nice index of just how little any legislator wants to offend the companies that can decide to carry or not carry political advertising and to charge open rate or cut a deal with politicians. So little that they'd risk offending both the municipalities and the police jurors at the same time. Modern telecommunications is indeed changing the world.

It's too bad that the full court press that Lafayette put on the Senate Commerce Committee wasn't visited on the House Committee as well. In that committee Broome tried to float the same silly idea that this wasn't a big change. She didn't get away with it and even after Lafayette agreed to amendments that radically altered the bill and left it with that ugly vestigial, impossible-to-implement language, it still only passed by one vote.

What makes the display in the House particularly distasteful is that Lafayette's representative Don Trahan was a lead participant in rounding on the men who had helped save Lafayette's fiber-optic project from a second referendum vote and a $900,000-per-year fine. You'd think he, at least, would show a little decent reserve. But apparently that's not necessary when the bill on the table is desired by the masters of media.

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