When lawmakers in Baton Rouge are debating matters of public concern, they must always remember that they are representing their constituents – officially, with their votes, and unofficially, with their behavior.

Two recent incidents have reminded the voters that they should remain vigilant and make sure that their public servants give their own offices the respect they deserve.

Last week, during a debate about a potential rules change for female prisoners, the discussion devolved into an ugly argument about sex roles and equality.

Those are serious matters that always deserve discussion, but they also deserve to be treated seriously by the people’s representatives.

The state House was discussing a proposal that would have required prisons to provide feminine hygiene products to prisoners for free. The bill was a response to allegations that some women have been forced to pay prisons for these products – reports that, if they are true, bring up the unconscionable possibility that some prisoners might not be able to afford them.

The bill also would have outlines rules for how male guards can pat down or body-search female prisoners and how they can interact with prisoners in areas where they are likely to be undressed.

Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, proposed an amendment that would have applied the same restrictions on female guards when they deal with male prisoners. Under the guise of a quest for equality, Havard essentially argued that the treatment of women prisoners is unimportant, said several female lawmakers.

In a separate – and much more serious – issue, state Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, was involved earlier this week in a fistfight with a legislative colleague, Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette.

Both lawmakers apologized for their parts in the bar fight, which they said was an escalation of an earlier disagreement over legislation.

They both obviously know better. They apologized for the fight, promised to work together and said they are actually good friends.

That may be, but there is more at stake here than the two men themselves. Their fistfight, and the earlier incident between Havard and his female colleagues, should remind all our lawmakers that they are in Baton Rouge on the people’s business.

They aren’t there to belittle one another or to scuffle in bars. They should be treating the public’s issues – and one another, for that matter – with the urgency and respect they deserve.

 

Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.