Louisiana Purchased Educational Supplement: Government in Louisiana

Except where noted, the following information comes from the state's official web site:

The State Legislature 

The legislative branch includes the legislature, which is comprised of the House of Representatives with a limit of 105 members and the Senate with 39 members. Legislators are elected for four-year terms.

The legislature convenes in Baton Rouge at the Louisiana State Capitol for regular annual sessions and may convene for extraordinary or special sessions and for veto sessions.

The legislature is responsible for determining policy through the enactment of laws, subject to federal and state constitutional restrictions. In addition to general laws having statewide application, the legislature may also enact laws applying only to particular localities, within a number of specific constitutional limitations. The appropriation of funds to finance programs and functions of state government is a power vested solely in the legislature. Another major legislative power is oversight of implementation and administration of state programs by executive branch agencies.

The distribution of representation in both houses is based on population in accordance with state constitutional mandate and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The constitution (Const. Art. III, §1) requires single-member legislative districts; that is, each of the 39 senators and each of the 105 members of the House of Representatives represents a separate district.

Each house chooses its own officers: President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives. The legislature also chooses clerical officers, the Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Secretary of the Senate, each of whom may administer oaths.

Legislative office is a public trust, and every effort to realize personal gain through official conduct is a violation of that trust. The legislature has a code of ethics prohibiting conflict between public duty and private interests.

The legislature enacts laws only by introducing them in a legislative session for debate and passage by vote. They propose constitutional amendments by a joint resolution introduced during a legislative session. Constitutional amendments are processed through the houses similar to a bill. Action on any proposed law is taken only in an open, public meeting.

A simple majority of the members elected to each house of the legislature successfully passes a bill from the legislature onto the desk of the governor. A vote can also be taken on any other matter within the legislature upon the request of one-fifth of the elected members of one house. No bill rejected by the legislature in a particular session may be re-introduced during the same session without a majority vote of the members elected to that house which previously voted against it.

All laws enacted during a regular session of the legislature take effect on August fifteenth of the year in which the regular session is held.

One of the legislature's main functions is in determining how and where the state spends its tax dollars, known as appropriation. The legislature must compose and agree upon a new budget yearly.

Except as otherwise provided by the constitution, no money is withdrawn from the state treasury unless specific appropriation in legislative bills has been made. No appropriation may be made for longer than one year, or as a contingency.

A bill passed by both houses of the legislature is signed by the presiding officers and then delivered to the governor within three days after passage. However, joint, concurrent, or other legislative resolutions do not require the action or approval of the governor to become effective.

If the governor does not approve a bill, he may veto it. A bill, except a joint resolution, becomes law if the governor signs it or if he fails to sign or veto it within a certain amount of time. If the governor vetoes a bill, he returns it to the legislature within twelve days after delivery to him if the legislature is in session. If the governor returns a vetoed bill after the legislature adjourns, it is returned to the legislature before its next session (or special session).

A vetoed bill can become law if, after its return to the legislature, it is approved by two-thirds of the elected members of each house. The legislature may meet in veto session in the state capital 40 days following final adjournment of the most recent session, to consider all bills vetoed by the governor. No veto session may be held if a majority of the elected members of either house declare in writing that a veto session is unnecessary.

By the end of the year following the year in which the population of this state has been reported for the federal census (happening every 10 years), the legislature will reapportion the representation in each house on the basis of population shown by the census. If the legislature fails to reapportion as required, the state supreme court, upon petition of any legislator, will reapportion the representation in each house.

More at Louisiana.gov.


The State Courts 

The judicial branch is responsible for administering the laws of the state and resolving legal conflicts. It includes the court system, comprising of Family and Juvenile Courts, the Clerk of Court, District Courts, District Attorneys, the Sheriff's office, coroners, Circuit Courts, Courts of Appeal, and the Louisiana Supreme Court.

A judge may, among other court orders, issue writs of habeas corpus (the power to call any prisoner before the court to test the legality of his detention). Exercise of authority by a judge of the Supreme Court or of a court of appeal is subject to review by the whole court. The power of judges to punish for contempt of court is limited by law.

All judges are elected. Elections are performed at times of a regular congressional election.

The Supreme Court is composed of a chief justice and six associate justices, four of whom must agree in order to render a judgment. The state is divided into seven Supreme Court districts, and at least one judge is elected from each.

The Supreme Court has general supervisory jurisdiction over all other courts. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in civil cases re-considers both the law and the facts when hearing appeals. In criminal matters, its jurisdiction extends only to questions of the proper interpretation of laws.

Besides the reasons listed above, a case may be appealed to the Supreme Court if (a) a law under which a person was convicted has been declared unconstitutional or (b) the defendant has been convicted of a capital offense and a death penalty has been imposed.

The state currently has five circuit courts, with one court of appeal in each. Each court has panels of at least three judges. A majority of the judges sitting in a case must concur to render judgment. Each circuit is divided into at least three districts, and at least one judge is elected from each.

With exceptions, a defendant has a right of appeal or review of her case if she does not agree with a circuit court's ruling.

A court of appeal has jurisdiction of (1) all civil matters, and, (2) all matters appealed from family and juvenile courts, (3) most criminal cases that are triable by a jury. A court of appeal also has the jurisdiction to review and supervise cases which are heard within its circuit courts.

The state is currently divided into 40 judicial districts, each composed of at least one parish and served by at least one district judge. Each district elects a chief judge.

A district court has original jurisdiction of all civil and criminal matters. It is the exclusive original jurisdiction of felony cases and of most cases involving property.

These types of cases are not ruled over by district courts: the right to run for office or other public position; civil or political right; and most issues of probate and succession.

Additionally in exception, a family court may have jurisdiction of cases involving property when those cases relate to disputes over community property like the settlement of claims arising from divorce or annulment of a marriage.

Criminal cases against those younger than age seventeen are referred to juvenile courts. However the legislature may provide laws for exceptions to this rule for serious cases such as murder, rape, kidnapping, drug dealing, and armed robbery.

Other Judicial Branch organizations are: Mayors' Courts, Justice of the Peace Courts, Parish Courts, City Courts, Magistrate Courts.

More at Louisiana.gov.


Louisiana's Governor 

The executive branch is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the constitution and laws passed by the legislative branch. The governor is the chief executive officer of the state, although the governor shares control of the state's executive branch with a large number of other elected officials. The executive officer administers the programs and operations of state government, and therefore most directly serves the people. It provides direct services such as medical care for the poor, regulates activities such as hazardous waste disposal, supervises the provision of services by local government such as education, and promotes the state to attract new businesses. The executive branch provides support functions necessary to fulfill these responsibilities, such as purchasing, personnel, and budgeting.

The governor is elected for a four-year term and may serve only two consecutive terms. However, a governor who has served two terms is eligible to serve again after being out of office for one term. Elections for governor and other statewide elected officials are held in the year prior to the presidential election, a practice which allows voters to consider national and state issues separately.

The governor is responsible for preparing and submitting to the legislature both a fiscal year operating budget and a five-year capital outlay program. The legislature appropriates funds for these and other purposes. The governor may veto any line item in an appropriation bill, but the legislature by a two-thirds vote may override a gubernatorial veto, but this has occurred only twice in modern times. The governor may call the legislature into special session and specify the subjects to be considered. In addition to the general appropriation bill, the governor often suggests other legislation. These "administration bills" are typically introduced by legislators referred to as the governor's floor leaders. Administration bills usually receive serious consideration. Proposed constitutional amendments are not subject to the veto.

The governor has the right to grant reprieves, issue pardons, commute sentences, and return fines and forfeitures for crimes against the state. In this role, the governor serves as the court of last resort. Reprieves are delays in the imposition of a sentence. To commute a sentence is to reduce it, while a pardon is a full release from sentence.

The governor is the commander-in-chief of the state's military forces, except when they are called into federal service. The governor may call up the National Guard in emergencies to preserve law and order, suppress insurrection, or repel invasion. Louisiana's forces are frequently called up to assist residents in floods and hurricanes.

Executive branch agencies make rules about particular aspects of general policy.

The executive branch includes over 500 Boards and Commissions. New boards are created every year. Boards and Commissions are sometimes referred to as the "fourth branch of government." Most fall into the following major categories: occupational licensing, policy and advisory, higher education management, regional or local special purpose (levees, ports), marketing and promotion (strawberries, tourism), special clientele programs (deaf, aged), quasi-judicial (tax commission), and independent boards that were created to remove them from politics (lottery, casino, public employee ethics, civil service).

The state's numerous Boards and Commissions have been given responsibility for a great number of programs. Some are purely advisory boards while some are management boards. Still others are quite independent. Some boards make rules and then investigate and decide whether the rules are being properly followed. These quasi-judicial agencies combine legislative, executive, and judicial functions. Several independent corporations or authorities have been created to allow them to operate their programs like businesses, free of some of the restrictions on other state agencies such as having to hire employees through civil service or follow state purchasing laws. The state's lottery program is operated by such an authority.

More at Louisiana.gov.


Local and Parish Government

The management of many of the public affairs of Louisiana citizens is handled by local government. The governing authorities of parishes, municipalities, and special districts assume a tremendous amount of responsibility for governance in important areas such as public safety, the use, development, and ownership of immovable property, and roads and other transportation matters.

Primary units of local government in Louisiana are parishes and municipalities. The constitution uses the term "local governmental subdivision" to refer to them collectively. Another term that is important to a discussion of local government is "political subdivision" which is a parish, a municipality, or any other unit of local government, including a special district, authorized by law to perform governmental functions.

For Louisiana parishes and municipalities, there exists a traditional form of government which remains the most common form: the police jury system for parishes and the mayor-board of alderman form for municipalities. Additionally, the constitution grants any parish or municipality the option of adopting a home rule charter. These forms of government will be discussed in this part, followed by a discussion of special districts and some recurring issues involving local government.