LSU Journalism coverage of the State Legislature

A bill that would establish requirements for members of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board, and that may have sparked the fist fight between two legislators this week, failed 65-18 in a House vote Friday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, said an argument surrounding the bill led to a physical altercation between Bishop and Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, at a Baton Rouge bar Tuesday night.

Chabert said that the incident did not concern a specific bill, but rather dealt with ongoing arguments on coastal issues between the two legislators. Chabert serves as chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, and Bishop is the chairman for the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

A proposed bill authored by Chabert would alter the makeup of the coastal-protection board. The Senate unanimously approved the bill earlier this month.

Senate floor amendments added the lieutenant governor, or his designee, as a member of the board that would be authorized to vote. Another amendment also granted voting power to the either the Senate President, the House Speaker, or their designee.

Chabert stated in a House committee earlier this month that he would be the Lieutenant Governor’s appointee and serve as a member on the board if the bill passed.

Bishop attached an amendment during the committee hearing to remove the voting powers of the two legislative members on the board.

“I firmly believe and will always believe that the Legislature should enact as much power as it can in its branch,” Chabert testified before Bishop attached the amendment.

Bishop, in an interview with The Advocate earlier this week, said that the amendment “was about that we were going to do something that I deemed unethical in letting the legislative process step over the executive process, and I was not ever going to put my committee members in that position.”

The board represents the state’s position in policy and develops a master plan for the protection, conservation, enhancement and restoration of the coastal area of the state. It also oversees the Coastal Protection and Restoration Trust Fund.

Current law establishes a board of 20 members.

An amendment added to the bill Friday on the House floor forbade two members from the same parish to be appointed by executive branch members of the board. Another amendment would require a department head serving on the board to appoint an individual within their department.

In regard to the legislators’ altercation, a report from The News Star said that police were called, but Bishop stated that he and Chabert had already left the bar and no arrests were made.

Both members publicly apologized to their fellow legislators the next morning, both describing the quarrel as a “gentleman’s disagreement.”

Originally published on May 18.