BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Thibodaux lawmaker seeking a November special legislative session to challenge Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget-cutting moves is encountering opposition from the governor's allies who lead the House and the Senate.
Rep. Jerome "Dee" Richard, an independent, has only a few weeks to gather the support he'd need to hold the special session after the Thanksgiving holiday, an effort borne out of frustration that the governor has shuttered a state prison and made deep health care cuts without legislative input.
Richard's circulating a petition to drum up support for the session. In the proposal outlined, he's asking lawmakers to consider enacting new restrictions on Jindal's ability to privatize or close state-run health care facilities and prisons, and he's suggesting lawmakers revisit cuts that have been made.
"I am signing it. I think it's our job. I think it's our responsibility to be involved in critical decisions like that," said Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles.
Richard's long-shot bid for a special session has attracted vocal disapproval from Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, Republicans who won their leadership jobs with Jindal's support.
Alario, R-Westwego, said Richard hasn't explained how he'd balance the budget differently if lawmakers reversed Jindal's cuts, the deepest of which have hit the LSU-run network of public hospitals and clinics that take care of the uninsured and train medical students.
"Taxpayers shouldn't be forced to foot the bill for a special session if there is no clear proposal. Calling a special session without any substantive plan illustrating alternative suggestions for where these cuts should be taken is not a responsible action," Alario said in a joint statement Monday issued with Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.
Jindal opposes the special session, which Richard proposes to start Nov. 26 and last up to 15 days.
Even lawmakers who talk of irritation that they weren't involved in the budget decision-making don't necessarily agree that they want to return to Baton Rouge before their regular session in April.
Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said the governor's mishandled the closures and cuts, but Adley said he's reluctant to spend an estimated $80,000 a day on a special session without a clear idea of what alternate plan Richard is proposing to balance the budget.
"Unless there's a game plan that people can agree to, we don't want to be calling ourselves into special session to be spending taxpayer money and to be chitchatting with each other. We can do that over the telephone," Adley said.
Richard said he's still working on a proposal for how he'd rework the budget.
Right now, he's trying to get 35 House members and 13 senators to back the idea of a special session, the number needed to trigger a formal petitioning of the Legislature. Then, he'd need a majority of the members in each chamber — 53 in the House and 20 in the Senate — to call a session.
It's a difficult task in a Legislature that traditionally follows the lead of a governor.
The Legislature has called itself into session only once since the modern state constitution was enacted nearly four decades ago, for the required task of redistricting and with the support of the governor.
A lot has changed, however, since lawmakers wrapped up their work on the $25 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. The Jindal administration has made hundreds of millions of dollars in additional cuts, largely in a response to a drop in federal Medicaid funding that happened after lawmakers went home.
Just last week, lawmakers were told of a $152 million budget cut plan devised by LSU and the governor's health secretary that will shutter services, eliminate nearly 1,500 jobs and threaten access to uninsured patients.