Second term puts Brown in senior role in House
It's only the second term for state Rep. Chad Brown, but the Plaquemine Democrat now holds seniority over most of his fellow House members.
He will head into the general session of the Louisiana Legislature on March 9 amid a large crop of newcomers after term limits marked the end of service for two-thirds of the state House of Representatives.
"I guess there's pros and cons to term limits," Brown said. "I may not even be there today it if wasn't for term limits."
The 2020 session will include plenty of new faces. Some may possess a solid idea of government, yet others will face a major learning curve.
"This will be a learning session, with so many new members and a challenge as far as getting to know the personalities and new faces and gaining knowledge of the process," Brown said. "I had a very good mentor in Major Thibaut (now Pointe Coupee Parish president), who taught me a lot about the process."
The loss of longtime legislators also means less experiences on crucial issues, Brown said.
"I truly think you lose some knowledge on how the budget works and how funding in government works . . . I don't know if people know how complex our budget is," he said.
The state constitutional mandate for a balanced budget usually figures as the biggest challenge lawmakers face each year in session.
The decision of where to cut does not come as easy as some may think. It's a very complex process, Brown said.
"So much of it is tied into federal funding and so much of our funding is tied to federal mandates where there's only so much you can do with it," he said. "There are many cases we can say we can cut $100 million in this area, but then we lose $500 million in federal funds."
Unlike Congress, the state cannot formulate a budget to stimulate the economy, which means the state cannot enact tax measures that may bring a windfall two years down the road, Brown said.
"We have to rely on the funds we have for a balanced budget to get us through the years," he said. "We have certain parameters to work in."
New lawmakers are not the only adjustment. The new term for the state lawmakers also ushered a new Speaker of the House.
State Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, will take over the reins from Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia. Schexnayder, a third-term lawmaker, won the Speaker's post in hotly contested race against Rep. Sherman Q. Mack, R-Albany.
Brown and fellow lawmakers from both parties believe Schexnayder will prove more flexible than Mack, who was pushed heavily by state Attorney General Jeff Landry and GOP donor Lane Grigsby, who engineered Eddie Rispone's gubernatorial campaign.
"Clay's more independent. He's not going to be beholden to any special interest, and he didn't make any unreasonable promises during the race (for Speaker)," Brown said.
Schexnayder may work better with Democrats, but Brown does not expect him to go very far from his conservative roots.
"Anybody who says Clay isn't being a true conservative is not being honest, but I think he has reached out to everyone and wants to make sure we can get some things done," Brown said. "I said all the time that 90-plus percent of the issues we vote on are not Democrat-Republican issues and are about getting things done."
Lawmakers will head into the session not long after the appointment of a yet-to-be-named replacement for state Department of Education Superintendent John White, who announced his resignation earlier this month.
Additional funding to early childhood education will rank high on the legislative priority list, along with another round of pay raises to bring Louisiana public school teachers back to the Southern regional average.
Legislators will also face redistricting or reapportionment, which will have an impact on congressional seats as well as state representation.
Brown represents a majority of Iberville and Assumption parishes. Neither parish saw significant population growth over the last 10 years, which could affect his district.
"What happens will depend on how many people respond to the census," he said. "The Secretary of State's Office and the Governor's Office will make a big push on the census to get as much participation as we can."
Lawmakers will also make another try on tort reform, which could figure as one of the most contentious items during the session.
The House needs to take an "overall" approach and not just target litigation costs, Brown said.
"Other states have shown that it's not the case, whether it's medical costs or costs of repairing vehicles, whether it's our horrible roads or bad driving habits, or simply insurance regulatory reform," he said. "There's a number of things that need to go into that discussion."
Brown is optimistic about the appointment of state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. The two collaborated last year to form a coalition that led to the La. 415 connector project, which will link Interstate 10 to La. 1 near the Intercoastal Waterway.
"Obviously, it can only help, both from the ability to educate both people statewide when they do the statewide tours they do, but also from the funding side," Brown said. "It will help having a stronger voice both with DOTD, our congressional allies and it will help make sure we utilize our opportunities to get federal funding or make sure we are prioritizing the correct areas with funding we have."