If you work as a legislative assistant, Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, wants you to get a raise. He's been trying, in fact, for three years. His argument has been that $21,000 a year isn't enough to hire and keep experienced aides. That's especially true now, he told the House and Governmental Affairs Committee in the final days of the session. In the wake of cuts lawmakers made this year and last, and then the BP oil debacle, Harrison says his district office has never been busier. "We're fielding 1,500 to 1,600 calls a day because of the oil spill and seafood industry," he says. "I've already lost two assistants and I'm trying to hang on to this one by paying them through my business."
Harrison's House Resolution 154 would authorize lawmakers to use a portion of their unvouchered expense allowances to supplement the salaries of legislative assistants. In addition to their $16,800 annual salary and $143-a-day stipend during sessions and year-round committee meetings, lawmakers are given $6,000 a year to pay for office expenses. It's a far cry from what Harrison originally proposed — an extra $5.7 million over the next five years for lawmakers to make the proposed staffing changes.
Before the committee gave Harrison's revised resolution unanimous approval (the full House was expected to follow suit), Rep. Rosalind Jones, D-Monroe, attached an amendment to allow representatives to conduct performance reviews of House staffers. Under current law, only supervisors conduct such evaluations, and lawmakers have no say in the process. "We have over 100 staff members of the House that work for us and there's no way for us to evaluate their performance," Jones says. The amendment directs the Personnel Subcommittee of the House Executive Committee to devise a review process by Nov. 1. Harrison has no objection to the change. "I wish I would have thought of it myself," he says. — Jeremy Alford