Dig Baton Rouge

Sinking Ship

By Nick BeJeaux

HB 707, The Marriage and Conscience Act, was indefinitely tabled after its first debate in the Capitol, but Governor Bobby Jindal—who considered the bill to be a top legislative priority—has announced he will use executive authority to enforce its intent, much to the chagrin of the legislature and political movers and shakers.

The original bill, written by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bosssier City), was designed, according to Johnson, to underline a person’s right to act in accordance with their own deeply held religious beliefs and protect them from government action for doing so. But many activists and LGBT rights groups saw the bill as the mirror image of the controversial Religious Freedom laws passed in Indiana and Arkansas, fearing they will lead to rampant discrimination against LGBT people.

On May 19, the bill was tabled until further notice in a 10-2 motion by the committee of Civil Law and Procedure.

However, unlike the state legislature, Jindal isn’t walking away. Two hours after the bill effectively died in committee, Jindal’s office released a statement saying the following:

“We are disappointed by the committee’s action to return the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act to the calendar.  We will be issuing an Executive Order shortly that will accomplish the intent of HB 707 to prevent the state from discriminating against persons or entities with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

According to the statement, the executive order will specifically “prohibit the state from denying or revoking a tax exemption, tax deduction, contract, cooperative agreement, loan, professional license, certification, accreditation, or employment on the basis the person acts in accordance with a religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

And then the other shoe dropped. Hard.

“Are you kidding me?” said Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) on the Louisiana Senate floor a few hours later. “It’s a cynical attempt to deflect from the failures of what should be the top legislative priority, what we’re dealing with every day, and that’s a broken state budget.”

Peterson also called Jindal out on his past comments of executive orders issued by President Obama, saying that he is willing to ignore the House in what is a “clear rejection of something that is not good for our state.” To date, this is Jindal’s eighth executive order 2015, bringing his total to 255 since 2008.

Political columnist for the Time Picayune and holder of the Manship Chair in Journalism at the Manship School of Mass Communication Robert Mann says he doubts the sincerity of this move by Jindal.

“If you think you have the legal authority to do this, why wait until your seventh year in office to do it?” said Mann.“The legality of this decision is still to be decided, but by the time it is decided, Jindal will be out of office. That question, at this point, I think is moot. But I think the real practical effect this will have is that he’ll have another talking point when he goes to Iowa. But he also damages the reputation of the state.”

As it stands, the executive action will stay in effect until 60 days after the next legislative session, but it can be repealed by the next governor. Right now the two front-runners for this position are Representative John Bel Edwards (D) and Senator David Vitter (R), neither of whom are allies of Jindal. But Mann says Vitter may choose to keep the order on the books.

“On this issue, I would not be surprised if Vitter went with it,” he said. “Gene Mills of the Family Forum was testifying [May 19] that he was very disappointed the bill didn’t make it through. Vitter is clearly on the record when he was speaking to the FF saying to the effect, ‘whatever you guys need me to do, I’m going to do.’ He needs that group to support him, and he’s going out of his way to show the evangelicals that he’s a changed man and his history with prostitution is nothing they need to worry about. So I worry that if he’s elected, he’ll be pushed to extend the order or reintroduce this bill.”

Since DIG’s Interview with Mann, state lawmakers in New York have called for a ban on nonessential travel to Louisiana. Similar action was taken against Indiana, but it was reversed when the RF laws there were reconsidered.

“Our state’s employees should not be put in a situation where they can be legally discriminated against or made to feel unsafe, and our state must not support Governor Jindal’s campaign against LGBT individuals,” stated New York Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell in a letter to NY governor Andrew Cuomo. “We must move our business to places that treat their citizens equally and fairly.”

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