Thursday, June 08, 2006

HB 699 & Cravins' Attack

HB 699, the state-wide franchise bill, was scheduled to pass in the Senate today. But a dramatic attack on the floor of the Senate put off that fate for at least one day.

The bill came to the floor under the care of "Noble" Ellington who noted how contentious a bill it had been and thanked its supporters. He said that the oft-amended bill had gathered many compromises and that cable was now on board and that, and this was a stunner, the Louisiana Municipal Association had backed off of what had been vitrolic opposition and was now said to be "neutral" according to Vinton Mayor Riggins. Ellington claimed the Police Jury Association was still opposed but not very actively. The success of the bill seemed assured.

Then ensued a strange series of events. As Ellington got into the bill, describing its supposed sterling qualities, a crowd from the House gathered in the back of the chamber. It was the winning house ball team from a charity game that had come to collect their trophy from Senate and to gloat a bit. Ellington stood aside and a good bit of mutual ribbing and weak jokes ensued. His bill was deferred until later in the afternoon.

The fire fighters, who apparently had also won their game--against the police--were congratulated and all manner of bills were heard.

Finally, toward the evening, Ellington was back up with 699. He again presented his introduction and finished describing the bill with particular emphasis on claims that it would result in more revenue for local governments (cough) that the big home-rule charter cities would be exempted (well...) and that it would mean more broadband in rural areas (cough, sputter).

There was a question or two from the floor and then Cravins rose to address a question. Unlike others he went to the podium and faced Ellington directly. After pleading for quiet and highlighting the importance of the bill, he started asking questions. Very direct ones. The questions were ones like: Why would any small or local government want to give up its rights to negotiate against a big corporation? What happens after current franchises expire? He fretted about about BellSouth cherry-picking the rich areas. He wasn't sure he wanted to advise the small people he represented to trust BellSouth's word that they'd serve all. He asked whether we weren't just creating a big monopoly. Several times.

Ellington responded to each at some length and with a touch of the old rhetorical style. He repeatedly claimed that other companies than BellSouth could take advantage of the law he proposed. But he clearly was growing irritated with having Cravins in his face with so many questions for so long. Finally Cravins sat down and a series of suggested resolutions came from the floor. Nevers had one. Hollis wants to offer an amendment that would try to deal with the "information services" issue that threatened municipal income. Michot wanted to change "has" to "had" in one place. Ellington opposed that. Discussion ensued.

Cravins got up and returned to the podium, reiterated the importance of the bill and restated some of his objections more forcefully. Finally he asked Ellington to withdraw it for the day in order to give members time to consider it. Ellington responded by noting that people were actually paying attention and that only one person was talking on the telephone. Cravins pressed the point. Ellington refused. The acting chair asked if Cravins wanted to present a motion. Finally he did giving another, if short, oration emphasizing an "all or none" opposition to cherry-picking and doubt about BellSouth/AT&T.

When the vote was called, the bill was deferred for a day, 18-17.

Somewhere in all that Hollis's amendment was adopted, and both Nevers' and Michot's changes remained proposals.

It will be the Special Order of the Day and is moved up in the agenda as a consequence.

Without the LMA, it still looks as if it may pass. (You still have time to call your Senator before the Senate comes into session tomorrow afternoon.) But it won't have gone down easy.

Thanks are due Senator Cravins.

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