In the upcoming regular legislative session that will begin on March 14, LSU can expect to see legislation that will directly impact the university. Previous sessions have seen budget increases and decreases, Title IX changes and even bills challenging the academic discussions hosted at LSU. Here’s what to look out for next year:
Davante Lewis, director of public affairs and outreach for the Louisiana Budget project, said the legislature will have to appropriate about $450 million left over from the American Rescue Plan in addition to hurricane relief funds. He speculated that President Biden’s Build Back Better plan should pass before the beginning of the session.
“I could see some more funding going directly to the campuses, particularly in the scholarship programs of TOPS and Geaux grants,” Lewis said.
After Louisiana's $1 billion budget surplus was announced, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said that Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration is recommending some of the excess funds be used for deferred maintenance projects on college campuses.
Dardenne said that after constitutional requirements are met, there will be about $400 million to be doled out at the legislature’s discretion. Dardenne is recommending that a third of that, or about $133 million, be used for deferred maintenance projects at Louisiana’s colleges and universities.
Dardenne pointed out that the legislature does not always act on the administration’s recommendations.
“I'm certainly hoping that if they don't accept our proposal in its entirety, that they will accept the portion that is going to deferred maintenance because this is an investment that the state has for far too long ignored, and the longer that you ignore deferred maintenance issues, the more expensive they become," Dardenne said.
LSU keeps a running list of all of the university’s deferred maintenance needs. There are over two thousand projects on the list and the total to repair all of it would require about $650 million. Roger Husser, Assistant Vice President for Planning, Design & Construction, said that as new items are added on, the cost of the list steadily increases.
“The deferred maintenance problem on the LSU campus is growing at about $20 million a year,” Husser said.
In 2021, the university received $5 million for deferred maintenance needs. That money went to twelve projects, including replacing the roof on Nicholson Hall, coating the roof on LSU Library, and paying for part of the studio arts building renovations.
Husser stressed that while LSU’s need for maintenance is great, it is not unusually so.
“LSU is pretty close to average with our peers, maybe slightly lower," Husser said. "But the point is that LSU is not falling apart.”
In 2021, Rep. Ray Garofolo, then chair of the House Education committee, filed a bill to prevent public K-12 schools, colleges and universities from teaching theories of systemic racism, commonly known as critical race theory. In discussions of the bill, Garofolo specifically mentioned the “White Rage” discussion that was hosted by the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs at LSU.
Jenée Slocum, director of the Reilly Center, said the organization was not surprised by conservative efforts to limit discussions about race in the last legislative session, as similar bills have been popping up across the country.
Slocum said that Garofolo’s efforts were the “quintessential representation of systemic racism.”
“It’s an almost certainty that we will see more of these bills,” Slocum said. “What’s not a certainty is whether or not any of our particular events will be at the center of those discussions.”
Slocum believes that these discussions are going to be the frequent subject of legislative debate because conversations about race and gender inequality are often misunderstood by constituents and misrepresented by legislators.
“There are people who see it as an attack on them and calling them racists,” Slocum said. “In fact you’re talking about culture and history embedded in the institutions we have. It’s meant to provoke questions about what our institutions do and how marginalized communities interact with those institutions.”
Although bills that target academic institution’s discussion of race are likely to be introduced, Slocum believes Edwards will veto any that pass.
Lewis said the legislative session is sure to have CRT at the center of its debate, despite the fact that Garofalo’s bill never mentioned it by name.
“They’ve recently been engaging people saying that critical race theory is in our schools but it’s code words for equity and diversity,” Lewis said. “I think it’s going to be even more of an attack than we saw last year, challenging the offices of diversity, equity programs, anything that talks about race in a holistic way.”
CRT has become a catch-all term for describing curriculum involving race, although it traditionally describes an advanced academic theory taught in post-graduate programs. There have been widespread movements to prevent CRT from being taught to children in schools.
Garofalo, Rep. Mark Wright, Rep. Tammy Phelps and Rep. Valerie Hodges's offices did not respond to or denied the Reveille's requests for comment.
While Title IX and sexual assault conversations have filled Louisiana's public sphere in recent months, Rep. Aimee Freeman says that more legislation regarding it is unlikely. Freeman says it isn't necessary as long as the current legislation is properly enforced.
“I worked with Sen. Beth Mizell this year to create Act 472 and Act 439 to address power-based violence on our college campuses. Those bills haven’t fully taken effect yet. We’ll start to see updates from these bills over the course of the next year,” Freeman said.
Title IX reporting rates have increased considerably following an overhaul of the university…
Freeman emphasized that it doesn’t mean she has given up the fight.
“I plan to keep watching to make sure we follow through on these new requirements, Title IX offices are fully funded, and we’re holding people in charge accountable,” Freeman said.
Lewis pointed out that there will be a lot of power dynamics in play during the upcoming session.
“I keep telling people it’s going to be a session for the books,” Lewis said.
He pointed out that almost 40% of the legislature was elected in 2019 and began their first session in March 2020, a week prior to the beginning of quarantine. This put many bills on the shelves as the pandemic took precedence and new lawmakers had few chances to push their agenda. The 2021 session limited their actions because odd-numbered years in Louisiana host fiscal sessions dealing solely with money matters.
“This legislative session is going to be members first and last shot to do a host of issues prior to reelection,” Lewis said.
This session comes on the heels of a redistricting process that determines how Louisiana’s US representative districts are redrawn.
“It pits geography versus geography, pits the two parties against each other and may even pit sitting party members who gets in inner party fights over who represents who,” Lewis said.