BATON ROUGE, La. | Louisiana lawmakers Wednesday edged closer to inserting themselves into the decision-making of high school sports, a response to parents’ criticism about the state athletic association’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Sen. Stewart Cathey’s proposal would add two lawmakers to the governing board of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, a private institution that regulates two dozen sports such as volleyball, track, swimming, wrestling, golf, tennis and basketball.
But the impetus for the bill was mainly high school football.
Lawmakers say they were inundated with complaints from disgruntled parents about the athletic association’s delays in starting Louisiana’s football season because of the pandemic, while neighboring Southern states resumed practices and games. Amid the pressure, football season began earlier this month.
“My district, during the regular session (earlier this year), they didn’t really get active when we talked about tort reform, taxes, things like that. But when we started talking about impacts to high school football, that’s when my phone really started lighting up,” said Cathey, a Monroe Republican.
The House Education Committee advanced the measure to the full House without objection Wednesday, after decreasing legislative representation on the governing board from four members to two. The Senate already has voted 30-4 for the proposal.
Lawmakers meeting in the monthlong special session are trying to assert more authority across the pandemic. Republican lawmakers are trying to lessen Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ emergency authority, give the Legislature more say in what emergency decisions are made and revoke some of Edwards’ current coronavirus restrictions.
Though he did not oppose the bill to give lawmakers more input into high school sports management, Rep. Chuck Owen suggested it was unnecessary government meddling.
“I think we have a lot bigger things to worry about in Louisiana than sports,” said Owen, a Republican from Rosepine and former high school coach.
He said the athletic association is often “impugned where they ought not to be” because people don’t understand how they work.
“I think it has been strong because it has been separate and apart and self-governed. I think we’re stepping over a line here,” Owen said.
Cathey said the 26-member executive committee governing high school sports does not have a specific student or parent representative, and he suggested lawmakers could serve in that role. He said when parents post on Facebook, they’re not urging people to call their athletic association representative, but their lawmaker. He said adding two members would be a modest adjustment.
“We’re not going to be able to walk in and block any vote or take anything over,” Cathey said.
The high school athletic association did not testify about the bill Wednesday, though a representative attended the meeting.
The legislation represents a back-door approach to forcing the organization to accept two lawmakers for its board. The bill would ban schools that receive public funds from participating in any sports event overseen or sponsored by an association that does not include two lawmakers with voting rights on its governing board.
The bill is filed as Senate Bill 11.