THE INVESTIGATORS: Lawmakers rack up nearly $1M during redistricting efforts
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Lawmakers spent two special sessions trying to redraw congressional maps after advocates and members of the legislative Black Caucus pushed for more representation. The big argument is should the map add an extra majority-Black district to better match changes to the state’s population and give African Americans a better shot at getting elected to represent folks across Louisiana in Washington, D.C. For now, the matter is on hold until the United States Supreme Court weighs in on a similar case in Alabama that should decide how they rule in Louisiana.
“The fact that we won’t have a ruling for this upcoming congressional election means that we’re going to go at least an additional term without a third of African Americans in this state having fair representation,” said Rep. Royce Duplessis.
While the Republican-controlled legislature ultimately passed this map that did not add that extra majority-Black district, democrats like Rep. Duplessis have been vocal, saying without that extra district, not only does the map violate the Voting Rights Act but he believes it is just not right.
“I say it’s a step backwards because of what we had to go through just to get to this point,” said Rep. Duplessis. “The fact that we’re still even having to argue for this is absurd.”
Regardless of that argument, the fact is lawmakers have gone back and forth over the issue for a while. They even came to the table for two special sessions to get it done. Each time they gaveled in, it cost taxpayers despite the matter still being in limbo.
According to records obtained by WAFB, the first special session to tackle the map was set to run from February 1, 2022, to February 20, 2022. In that time, the bill for the House and Senate ballooned to $786,997. Of that figure, the House racked up $511,300 in fees while the Senate was responsible for $275,697.
After the map was vetoed by the governor, then overridden by the legislature lawmakers went back to the drawing board and gaveled back in on June 15, 2022. This time around, the clock was ticking with just five days for lawmakers to come back with a re-drawn map. They ended early, but in that time, it still costs you the taxpayer. The second special session in the House and Senate cost $147,842.17. Of that figure, the House was responsible for $90,000 and the Senate racked up $57,842.17.
For both special sessions, the fight over the map cost taxpayers $934,839.17, almost a million dollars.
“It’s just unbelievable. It’s unbelievable that we would willingly pay this money, pay taxpayer money, to come in there and have a special session,” said Rep. Duplessis. “Even though we were ordered by the court, that’s our doing.”
“We spent more than $900,000 and as one who is an advocate for early childhood education, I just look at $900,000 and what we could do with early childhood education,” said Rep. Barbara Freiberg.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Rep. Freiberg what she would say to the average taxpayer who has questions over how much money was spent.
“I regret that we’ve spent the money in that way. I deeply regret it,” said Rep. Freiberg. “I guess it’s the cost of doing governmental business sometimes but it just seems like this was not the wisest way to spend our money.”
Rep. Freiberg said if she had her way, the second special session would not have even happened, especially because, in her opinion, there were not many people who were coming to the table truly thinking they would be able to get the work done.
“I don’t believe there was anyone who went into that session who believed truly in their heart that we were going to come out with something other than what we already had,” said Rep. Freiberg.
Both Freiberg and Duplessis said they did not believe anything would get done on taxpayers’ dime during that second special session because there were some days when they admit there was not a lot of actual work.
“We went three days without doing any work so that just shows you that there was no desire and no real intent to try to fulfill the court’s order,” said Rep. Duplessis.
“There were days when we didn’t come in until in the afternoon and maybe spent a matter of a couple of hours there,” said Rep. Freiberg. “There was a day when the House and Governmental Committee didn’t even meet to look at maps so there were days that we just really didn’t do anything.”
After spending nearly $1 million on a squabble over the map, Rep. Duplessis said this should grab the attention of every taxpayer in the state.
“I want people to take note of that and find out who their representatives are and what side they stood on… and if that number doesn’t raise concern or if it does raise concern, then they should make their representatives or their senators or whomever aware that it’s unacceptable,” said Rep. Duplessis.
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