Rep. Ligi forges compromise with unions on transparency bill
Rep. Tony Ligi (R-Metaire) would like for taxpayers to have a seat at the table when public employee unions negotiate with government officials over the size and scope of their compensation and benefit package. To this end, he reintroduced a bill in the current legislative session that would have subjected collective bargaining sessions to open meetings law requirements. This means any document created or presented during the sessions would be available to the public and the details attached to collective bargaining agreements posted on the Internet.
Last year the “Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Act” was blocked in the House and Government Affairs Committee in an 8-7 vote. This time around HB 89 made it to the House floor after passing the committee by an 8-2 margin with Reps. Jared Brossett (D-New Orleans) and Randal Gains (D-LaPlace) opposing the measure. Instead of risking defeat in what would have been a very close vote on the House floor, Ligi reached a compromise with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and other opponents.
“The vote would have been very, very close,” he said. “There were some people who wanted to vote for it, but they had already put themselves in a tough spot by voting for the governor’s education package and they were under a lot of pressure. While it possible that bill still would have passed in its original form, I didn’t think it would be good idea to risk walking away with nothing. So I settled on alternative that still allows for public scrutiny and transparency.”
Last week the Senate passed legislation authored by Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge) that reforms teacher tenure (HB974) and another bill that makes it possible to expand the number of charter schools while converting the scholarship program in New Orleans (HB 976) into a statewide option.
Ligi credits Gov. Bobby Jindal and fellow lawmakers for exerting the “willpower” needed to “buck the status quo” and implement “transformative” policy changes. But, at the same time, the votes on tenure reform and school choice drained away some of political capital needed to help pass his legislation, Ligi acknowledged.
“What we decided to do was to go with an amendment that took out the part relative to bringing collective bargaining negotiations under the open meeting law,” he explained. “But we were able to add in a provision that requires collective bargaining contracts to be viewed on the Internet at least five business days before it is voted on. I see this as a step forward.”
Les Landon, director of public relations for the LFT, said “barring further amendments” his organization is “okay” with the compromise, which passed the House unanimously.
“We are going to monitor it (HB 89) very closely to make sure there are no nefarious amendments,” he added. “But as it stands, we can support it. We see it as a reasonable compromise.”
Even with the compromise, Vincent Vernuccio, a labor counsel with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), believes that Rep. Ligi’s bill could potentially spark a larger national movement in favor of bringing transparency to collective bargaining.
“Sunshine is the best antiseptic,” he said “Rep. Ligi’s bill will allow taxpayers to know how their money is being spent. The backdoor deals and the vicious circle between union bosses and the politicians they support help the bosses win more dues and the politicians with more campaign contributions from organized labor. Everyone wins except for the taxpayers who are stuck paying the bill. Ligi’s bill will bring this process in the open and protect citizens against the special interests.”
Ligi initially advanced the idea of opening up contract negotiations to greater public scrutiny last year when members of the Jefferson Parish School Board, who were set to leave office, attempted to force through a contract before their terms ended. They were unsuccessful.
“While the new bill is not everything I wanted, it would certainly help prevent another scenario like the one we saw in Jefferson ,” he said. “At least the public will have the opportunity to review contracts and ask questions.”