April 20, 2021
Yesterday, observers of the Louisiana Legislature were provided credible evidence that reeks of the Huey Long-era of questionable practices. LFF conducts its legislative outreach in a respectful, researched, and relevant manner. But even by those standards, something unusual happened yesterday that will cause some to charge corruption.
At issue was a bill by Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell), heard in the Senate Judiciary B Committee, which would allow Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E) to move their bankrupt riverboat from Bossier City to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. A similar effort failed a few years ago as it sought to move the casino to a 'pond' in Tangipahoa Parish. Yesterday’s hearing drew a resolute group of pastors and concerned citizens to oppose the casino’s move on Slidell.
Opposition abounds by gambling venues in surrounding parishes. Legislators representing those parishes opposed the bill. In the end, the vote to move the bill out of committee would have failed on 3-3 vote. However, the Chairman of the Committee, Sen. Gary Smith (D-Norco), broke the tie by voting to move the bill forward! This is where the cynics may cry foul: Sen. Smith’s wife, Katherine Smith, is a paid lobbyist for the casino which seeks to move the boat to St. Tammany!
Baton Rouge Advocate reporter, Tyler Bridges, confirmed this with records from the Louisiana Ethics Board.
Read that again: the committee chairman who cast the deciding vote likely benefits financially from this bill moving forward, by virtue of his spouse’s employment. None dare call this curious!
Sen. Gary Smith, who said that he was not aware of his wife’s employment, after the vote said: “Any involvement by her would not change my opinion that letting the people of that area vote on the issue is the correct vote.”
This begs the question: Was Sen. Smith voting to assist his wife or is he just a super proponent of a Casino in Slidell -- even at the expense of calling his own credibility into question? We are told an ethics complaint is being filed by impacted citizens who are disgruntled with this action.
Sen. Page Cortez could settle this question by remanding this bill back to that committee for another vote in which Sen. Smith is ordered to recuse himself. He could also remand it to another Senate committee where the bill could get a fair hearing without the cloud of an ethical faux pas in which a Senator could be seen as benefiting personally as a result of his votes on a matter.
This type of unforced lapse of judgment in the State Legislature is what gives Louisiana a black eye and casts doubt on very integrity of the whole process. The bill’s author may, through no fault of her own, become the causality of those who cry corrupt. The misguided actions of one public servant should not be allowed to cast aspersions on the entire Legislative process.
It is now up to the Senate President Page Cortez to remedy the situation – PLEASE CLICK HERE TO ASK HIM TO SEND THE BILL BACK TO COMMITTEE AND ENSURE NO ETHICAL VIOLATIONS.