Saturday, March 25, 2006

Almost Repeal!!

There's another wrinkle in the set of Louisiana bills being offered by the Acadiana delegation to overturn or substantially modify the notorious Local Government Fair Competition Act. One of them, HB 537, might look at first glance like it just adds the names of new sponsors to HB 257. The lineup of Representatives Robideaux, Pierre, Trahan, and Alexander and then Senator Michot, gives it more weight. Their names on the bill helps. My first take was that adding heft to the bill was the point.

But I was wrong.

HB 537 doesn't just grandfather Lafayette out of the (un)Fair Competition Act and provide a full wireless exemption for Louisiana localities, 537 effectively repeals all of the act except for the referendum provisions for any local government whose people vote for telecommunications in the way described in the Act. Here's the deceptively simple change; in the originally filed bill, HB 257, description of the "scope" of the new law you find that it won't apply to any local government:
(2) Which has held an election on or before August 15, 2005, pursuant toR.S. 45:844.50(A)
That would have excluded Lafayette (but only Lafayette). HB 257 cuts the August 15th bit:
(2) Which has held an election pursuant to R.S. 45:844r
The law and all its obnoxious and anti-municipal bits that force prices higher and impose absurd conditions on the operation of public utilities remains on the book but no longer applies to anything that can actually happen. --A city must vote to offer the service and no city which has voted will have to follow the rest of the provisions of the law. (Readers with a long memory may recall that this is basically the same strange way that the anti-muni "Broome bill" was gutted. [1,2,3])

This amendment basically repeals all but the feasibility study and referendum parts of the law. (Check the difference in the "scope" section, by eliminating language about August 15th it effectively widens the exemption to all municipalities, not just Lafayette.) This is almost surely the bill that Acadiana will ride forward with. It will be a perfect fit with the rhetoric of self-determination.

I can still wish for full repeal...Lafayette dodged the bullet of a vicious, full-scale, incumbent campaign during the referendum only by making it clear that the community and its officials both were willing (and even eager) to match every attack from the incumbents with a fast, hard return that emphasized local pride and lambasted "out of state monopolies." BellSouth and Cox, used to casual intimidation of little local guys, got none of the fawning respect they are usually able to count on as a consequence of their proven political power and enormous wealth. After enduring an initial firestorm of response to their ugly tactics they flinched during the homestretch.

Lafayette is unique in many ways--and lucky to boot. No other community ought to have count on having the resources and fortune Lafayette did in order to do what's right for their people. We elect representatives we trust to do the research we as individuals don't have the time or inclination to do. Utility decisions are exactly the sorts of technical decisions that we elect representatives to make for us. There is no reason to make a referendum issue out of this particular decision unless it is to make it more difficult to offer competition to the incumbents. That isn't a good enough reason to single out telecom decisions. (A city could decide to offer electricity without all this bowing and scraping in the direction of incumbent monopolies.)

Still, this is not bad law, all told. The feasibility study and referendum requirements are enough to concede to power and campaign contributions.

You might want to congratulate the guys while they're doing good: Representatives Robideaux, Pierre, Trahan, and Alexander; Senator Michot


Lagniappe: HB 244/SB 192, the "Poison Pill" bill would apply the governance provisions to "subsidized" private providers. If it were to pass first and then this "Referendum & Wireless Exemptions" bill were to pass the result would be to effectively turn the table on BellSouth. The onerous, absurd restrictions BellSouth intended to apply only to public utilities would suddenly apply only to them. As we used to say on the playground: "Turnabout is fair play." Sly.

A guy can dream....

State Legislation Department, repeal!!

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