The newly ended legislative session has undermined the expectation that being in charge usually means getting your way. While more than a thousand bills won passage, few were proposals offered by the Legislature's leaders.


The newly ended legislative session has undermined the expectation that being in charge usually means getting your way. While more than a thousand bills won passage, few were proposals offered by the Legislature's leaders.

Whether they picked fights with bureaucracies they couldn't beat or just wouldn't come to terms with each other, House Speaker Jim Tucker and Senate President Joel Chaisson carried a paltry number of their bills to final passage before the session wrapped up last week.

Instead, the two often were so at odds that there was little room for compromise or negotiation, and their bills directly or indirectly got jettisoned in the melee. Tucker also ran up against several entrenched powerhouses at the Louisiana Capitol - and lost.

Chaisson, D-Destrehan, can say he won the budget battles - with the help of Gov. Bobby Jindal. Under pressure from Jindal, the House grudgingly agreed to a $26 billion budget bill largely written by the Senate and with far fewer cuts than the House wanted.

That was where Chaisson's success ended. While the Senate president scrapped some ideas on his own, two-thirds of the bills he pursued failed to escape the House - at least in any form near what he proposed - including measures that had the governor's backing.

Tucker, R-Terrytown, couldn't even get some of his retirement and higher education ideas through his own chamber. Other measures never emerged from the haggling with the Senate on the session's last day.

The House speaker suffered an embarrassing defeat when his bid to merge the governing boards for four-year public colleges failed to get out of the House Education Committee, after facing significant push-back from higher education leaders.

Rather than face a possible losing vote, Tucker shelved a proposal to rework the state's retirement program for new government workers, that would have stripped the guarantee of a benefit tied to salary and years of service. Instead, he backed another representative's more moderate proposal that tweaked the existing retirement system plans.

Meanwhile, all of Chaisson's bills to help lessen cuts in the 2011-12 budget year were rejected by the House. The package of proposals, backed by Jindal, would have made it easier to tap into the state's protected funds, offering more flexibility to deal with the steep budget drops looming. House members expressed resistance to what they considered a raid on the funds.

In one of the most heated disputes, negotiations between Chaisson and Tucker imploded in the final hours before adjournment last Monday over Chaisson's bill to let the attorney general use contingency fee contracts for oil spill litigation, to pay outside lawyers a percentage of any damages collected from the lawsuit instead of an hourly rate.

The measure died when the House and Senate failed to reach a compromise and time on the session ran out.

A red-faced Chaisson angrily lambasted the House and business lobbyists for killing the bill, in a fiery speech on the Senate floor that only further sharpened the divisions between the House and Senate leaders.

Tucker called Chaisson's suggestions he deliberately stalled to run out the clock "rubbish," decried Chaisson's behavior in the House during negotiations as inappropriate and claimed Chaisson lost passage of the proposal because he offered a "greedy bill."

Also lost on the last day was Tucker's proposal to give lawmakers more oversight of the decision-making of hurricane recovery spending. The House speaker had expected the bill, rejected once by the Senate, to be revived and passed. But he couldn't get that through the Senate while arguing with Chaisson over the contingency fee bill.

Those kinds of exchanges can't do much to improve already contentious relations between the two chambers, particularly with deeper budget woes on the horizon and heated debates about the redrawing of political districts awaiting lawmakers in 2011.