Money & Career
A Day in the Life of a Louisiana Senator
7/1/2019 1:00:00 PM

US Senator

As the sun comes up in Baton Rouge, Senator Ronnie Johns has already had his first cup of coffee, logged into the legislative website and reviewed the calendar for the day to see what bills will be heard on the Senate floor and in the various committees on which he serves. By 7:30 a.m., he leaves the small townhouse he calls home while working in Baton Rouge and arrives at the State Capitol to start a 12 – 15 hour day of work. 

Originally from Bunkie, Louisiana, Johns has called Southwest Louisiana home since 1982. A well-respected businessman and active community volunteer, he was elected without opposition to the open Senate in District 27 eight years ago. He previously served as a State Representative for three terms, the maximum allowed by the state, from 1995 – 2007. 

Johns says he is often asked, "What does a State Senator do?” He says this is an understandable question, but one that is challenging to answer in a way that accurately reflects the work done on a day-to-day basis, simply because every day is different.

In Louisiana, legislative sessions run for 60 days in even-numbered years and for 45 days in odd-numbered years. During session, a typical week for Johns is six or seven days of work, starting at the Capitol by 8:00 a.m. and usually continuing until 9:00 p.m. or later. "There really are no typical days,” he says. "There are many different important issues competing for my attention, as well the long-term work that needs to be done to ensure progress in our state.” 

Early mornings at the legislature are filled with meetings. Johns says the President of the Senate, John Alario, meets with the chairman and vice-chairman of each committee at least once each week to discuss their workload and to ensure they are moving their pieces of legislation forward. Other morning meetings are with groups or individuals who have an interest in pending legislation. These meetings take place in Johns’s office at the Capitol and several are typically completed by mid-morning. 

Committee meetings come next. Johns serves on four committees, which is more than most senators sit on. He is the Vice-Chairman of the Judiciary B Committee which hears criminal code and gaming issues. He sits on the Insurance Committee, Labor Committee, and what he says is the most time-consuming, the Finance Committee, which is responsible for constructing the state’s annual $30 billion dollar budget. Committee hearings begin mid-morning and can last until late afternoon, depending on the workload. 

Adding to the daily schedule is the work required to draft, present and debate legislation of his own. Once Johns’s sponsored legislation has cleared Senate committees, he then has to attend House committees to present and debate his bills there. "The schedule each day is quite a juggling act, but my staff and the Senate staff do an incredible job of keeping the schedule running smoothly.” 

Lunch is not usually part of the schedule. In fact, Johns says he rarely leaves the Capitol building most days. Meetings run through lunch and there is too much to do to go out.

In the afternoons, Johns says he moves to the Senate floor, depending on the workload and where they are in session. Once on the floor, bills are debated and votes are held. Most days, Johns says they are able to adjourn from the floor by 6:00 p.m., but by the end of the session, this is often much later in the evening. 

After adjournment of the full senate, the 11 members of the Finance Committee reconvene to continue their work on the budget. "It’s not uncommon for us to work through 9:00 or 10:00 at night, reviewing any legislation that has what is called a ‘fiscal note’ on it. This means any proposed legislation that costs money, comes to this committee for our review and debate about whether or not we can fit it in the budget. When you consider that a session can have 2500 – 3000 pieces of legislation, you can see where the work of this committee is extensive.” 

In between regularly scheduled meetings, Johns carves out any available time – often in short increments – to respond to calls and emails. "It’s important to me to be responsive, but it can be difficult to have a large block of time do this during session. I may return a call from the Senate floor during a break in debate, or I may respond to emails late at night.” 

The goal is to end each workweek at the Capitol on Thursdays, allowing legislators to work in their home offices on Friday and have the weekend with their families. But Johns says there are often committee meetings scheduled over the weekend, especially for the Finance Committee. "This gets more intense as the session progresses. This year, I was only able to come home once during the last six weeks of the session.”

Once the session ends, Johns says his work as a Senator does not stop. "This is not a part-time job. I spend at least 90 percent of every workday on Senate business – in meetings, on the phone, online and attending events throughout the community. In addition, I still go to Baton Rouge at least one day a week to attend meetings related to state business.”

Johns says although most days aren’t easy, many are very rewarding. "I have the unique opportunity – and responsibility – to address issues of specific concern to the community I serve, as well as other state-wide issues as they arise. However, working to help individuals I represent is what is most rewarding. I work very hard to understand and represent the best interests of our community, and that can certainly lead to long days, but I love this job and am honored to have it.” 

Posted by: Kristy Armand | Submit comment | Tell a friend


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