In this section: Legislative Powers | Judicial Powers | Military Commander | Statewide Elected Officials | Officers | Boards & Commissions
The executive branchis responsible for the administration and enforcement of the constitution and laws passed by the legislative branch. The governor is the chief executive officer of the state, although the governor shares control of the state’s executive branch with a large number of other elected officials. The executive officer administers the programs and operations of state government, and therefore most directly serves the people. It provides direct services such as medical care for the poor, regulates activities such as hazardous waste disposal, supervises the provision of services by local government such as education, and promotes the state to attract new businesses. The executive branch provides support functions necessary to fulfill these responsibilities, such as purchasing, personnel, and budgeting.
"The executive branch shall consist of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, commissioner of agriculture, commissioner of insurance, superintendent of education, commissioner of elections, and all other executive offices...of the state."
Article IV, Section 1
John Bel Edwards
The governor is elected for a four-year term and may serve only two consecutive terms. However, a governor who has served two terms is eligible to serve again after being out of office for one term. Serving more than half of a partial term is considered a full term. Elections for governor and other statewide elected officials are held in the year prior to the presidential election, a practice which allows voters to consider national and state issues separately. A vacancy in the governor’s office is filled in the following order of succession: lieutenant governor, Secretary of State, attorney general, Treasurer, Senate president and speaker of the House. The successor serves the remainder of the governor’s term. The same order is followed when someone is needed in an emergency to act as governor if the governor and lieutenant governor are out of state.
The governor is responsible for preparing and submitting to the legislature both a fiscal year operating budget and a five-year capital outlay program. The legislature appropriates funds for these and other purposes. The governor may veto any line item in an appropriation bill, but the legislature by a two-thirds vote may override a gubernatorial veto, but this has occurred only twice in modern times. The governor may call the legislature into special session and specify the subjects to be considered. In addition to the general appropriation bill, the governor often suggests other legislation. These “administration bills” are typically introduced by legislators referred to as the governor’s floor leaders. Administration bills usually receive serious consideration. Proposed constitutional amendments are not subject to the veto.
The governor has the right to grant reprieves, issue pardons, commute sentences, and return fines and forfeitures for crimes against the state. In this role, the governor serves as the court of last resort. Reprieves are delays in the imposition of a sentence. To commute a sentence is to reduce it, while a pardon is a full release from sentence.
The governor is the commander-in-chief of the state’s military forces, except when they are called into federal service. The governor may call up the National Guard in emergencies to preserve law and order, suppress insurrection, or repel invasion. Louisiana’s forces are frequently called up to assist residents in floods and hurricanes.
Executive branch agencies make rules about particular aspects of general policy.
Statewide Elected Officials
Six of the 20 departments are headed by statewide elected officials other than the governor. These include the lieutenant governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture and forestry, and commissioner of insurance. These officials do not run on a party ticket and may represent different parties. This “plural executive” may provide some checks and balances within the executive branch. Departments headed by statewide elected officials have budgets that make up less than two percent of the state’s total spending. Unlike the governor, the six statewide elected officials are not limited to serving only two terms.
Louisiana’s long ballot of elected executive officers was originally intended to weaken the governor’s office and to assure voter control over the individual officials. This practice, dating back to the 1800s, was adopted widely in the southern states. Modern reforms, however, tended toward centralizing administrative authority. The 1974 Louisiana constitution allowed the legislature to make four state-wide elected official positions appointive rather than elective. One of the four positions, the superintendent of education, has been appointed by the State BESE Board of Elementary and Secondary Education since 1988. Another position, the commissioner of elections, has been appointed by the Secretary of State since January, 2004. However, the commissioner of agriculture and forestry and Commissioner of Insurance remain elective positions.
Elections for governor and other statewide elected officials are held in the year prior to the presidential election, a practice which allows voters to consider national and state issues separately. A vacancy in the governor’s office is filled in the following order of succession: lieutenant governor, Secretary of State, attorney general, Treasurer, Senate president and speaker of the House. The successor serves the remainder of the governor’s term. The same order is followed when someone is needed in an emergency to act as governor if the governor and lieutenant governor are out of state.
The lieutenant governor serves as governor in the event of a vacancy in the office of governor or if the governor is unable to act as governor or is out of the state. The lieutenant governor is an ex officio member of any committee or board on which the governor serves. Otherwise, the lieutenant governor has the powers and duties delegated to him or her by the governor or as provided by law.
The lieutenant governor does not run for office on a ticket with the governor. In fact, the two positions can be filled by members of different political parties.
In 1986, the lieutenant governor, by law, also became the commissioner of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. The lieutenant governor was given the power to appoint, with Senate approval, the secretary and other key positions in the department formerly appointed by the governor.
Secretary of State
The Secretary of State heads the Department of State and is the state’s chief election officer. He or she is responsible for preparing and certifying the ballots for all elections, announcing election returns, administering the election laws, administering the voter registration laws and overseeing parish registrars of voters, and purchasing, maintaining, repairing and storing voting machines. In addition, the department prepares the machines for balloting and delivers them to the precincts in time for elections.
In 1956, at the insistence of governor Earl Long, the voting machine and registration functions were moved from the Secretary of State’s office to create a separate elections department. In 2004, the Department of Elections and Registration was abolished and its functions were returned to the Secretary of State’s office. The commissioner of elections is now appointed by, and works for, the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is responsible for publishing and distributing the acts of the legislature, preserving the official archives of the state and keeping the Great Seal and affixing it to official state documents. Articles of incorporation and corporate reports are filed with this office, and trademarks and trade names used in Louisiana are recorded there. The Secretary of State keeps the official registry of all commissions and may administer oaths.
The Attorney General heads the Department of Justice and is the state’s chief legal officer. The responsibility of the Attorney General is to protect the rights and interests of the state. He or she has the authority to intervene in any civil action in which the state has an interest. For example, the Attorney General represented the state in its dispute with the federal government over offshore mineral rights. The Attorney General's office defends Louisiana laws against constitutional challenges in federal court.
The Attorney General has a very limited role in prosecuting criminals and cannot become involved in a criminal case without an invitation from the parish district attorney. As the legal adviser to state agencies, the Attorney General gives written advisory opinions on questions of law to state and local public officials. These opinions carry a great deal of weight but do not have the force of law. When a binding interpretation of a law is required, a suit may be filed to have the courts make a decision.
The Treasurer heads the Department of the Treasury and is the custodian of state funds. The Treasurer disburses (pays out) public money as required by law and keeps a record of the money received and disbursed. The Treasurer serves as the state’s banker and invests funds in the treasury that are not currently needed in the state’s operations. The Treasurer serves as chairperson of the State Bond Commission, and is a member of the Interim Emergency Board and the boards of several public employee retirement systems. These positions can give the Treasurer substantial influence over debt, spending, and investment policies involving billions of dollars.
Commissioner of Agriculture & Forestry
Mike Strain DVM
The commissioner of agriculture and forestry heads the Department of Agriculture and Forestry and is responsible for the promotion, protection, and advancement of agriculture and forestry. However, some related research and educational functions are handled by other state agencies. The department oversees seedling nurseries and fire protection services for the forestry industry. The department issues and enforces regulations that protect the agricultural interests of the state, including companies that process agricultural products. The commissioner also is responsible for assuring accurate weights and measures of all raw and processed foods, for protecting agricultural products from pests and diseases, and for preventing fraudulent practices in agriculture. The commissioner serves on many Boards and Commissions which market and control agricultural products, such as the Crawfish Promotion and Research Board. Traditionally, the commissioner was elected as a representative of farmers; however, as the number of farmers in the state has dwindled, candidates have had to appeal more and more to urban voters and their concerns as consumers of farm products.
Commissioner of Insurance
James J. Donelon
The Commissioner of Insurance heads the Department of Insurance and administers Louisiana’s laws governing the insurance industry. The commissioner is responsible for regulating all phases of insurance and approving insurance rates charged by insurance companies. The Commissioner of Insurance examines and licenses insurance agents and brokers, approves policy forms, examines articles of incorporation of insurance companies doing business in Louisiana, evaluates complaints against insurers, receives financial reports, determines the solvency of the companies, and collects insurance premium taxes and fees. Arguments have been made for making the commissioner an appointive position.
State Officials Selected From Districts
Supervisory and policy boards for two departments are composed entirely or in part of members elected from districts. These are the Public Service Commission and BESE Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Each Louisiana voter is directly represented by a member of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the BESE Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).
The PSC consists of five members elected from single-member districts. The most important function of the PSC is its power to set rates that consumers may be charged by public utilities such as electric, telephone, natural gas, and water companies and by common carriers such as trucking, bus, and taxi companies. The commission determines where these firms may operate and regulates safety and service. The district offices investigate consumer complaints concerning utility rates and services. The Department of Public Service, which is headed by the PSC, is part of the executive branch but acts as a court when hearing rate cases.
BESE consists of eight members elected from single-member districts and three members appointed by the governor from the state at large, with the consent of the Senate. BESE supervises and controls the public schools and certain special schools. However, BESE has no control over the business affairs of a parish or city school board, nor the selection or removal of its officers and employees. BESE appoints a superintendent of education to head the state Department of Education that carries out the board’s policies. The department certifies persons as teachers and administrators, approves textbooks, sets curricula standards, collects enrollment and other data from the schools, and distributes state funding to local schools through the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), among its other responsibilities. Before 1988, the superintendent was separately elected by the voters, and this sometimes resulted in conflict between the board and the department. Many, but not all, states have elected state education boards. Two basic reasons given for electing education boards are (1) education is too important to allow a governor to control it and (2) placing it under an independent board removes education from politics. Some, however, argue that this simply results in different political pressures and that the governor should appoint all BESE members and be held responsible for education results.
The recruitment, pay, training, and promotion of public employees are important issues for any government. Historically, these issues were dealt with through the patronage system. Under this system, elected officials rewarded friends and supporters with state jobs. Little importance was attached to qualifications, and there were few systematic procedures for hiring, promoting, and dealing with other personnel issues.
Widespread abuses under the patronage system, combined with the growing complexity of government, led to Louisiana’s first civil service system in 1934. In 1940 the present Department of Civil Service was established by constitutional amendment. Under the department’s guidance, merit selection of job applicants was instituted; a uniform system of pay schedules was established; and promotion became dependent upon objective factors, such as length of service, qualifications and test results. These and other measures increased the professionalism of the civil service and reduced the influence of politics on personnel decisions. Critics of the civil service system, in Louisiana and elsewhere, argue that the elaborate rules and procedures developed to insulate it from political pressures also limit the flexibility and initiative of executive branch agencies. To address these criticisms, the Department of Civil Service has been working to give state agencies more flexibility in hiring and in setting pay. Other efforts include speeding up discipline and employee appeals procedures, expanding employee training, and allowing the use of temporary private staffing services.
The twelve so-called “cabinet” departments, those which are under the direct control of the governor, are each under the direction of a secretary, who is the executive head and chief administrative officer of that department. Each secretary has the option of appointing a deputy secretary, subject to Senate confirmation; however, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections is required to appoint a deputy secretary for public safety services and a deputy secretary for corrections services, subject to Senate confirmation. Each cabinet department in the executive branch has an office of management and finance (OMF). This office is under the direction and control of an undersecretary, who is the chief fiscal and accounting officer of the entire department. However, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections has an office of management and finance for public safety services and an office of management and finance for correction services, each headed by an undersecretary. Generally each department has several statutorily created offices which are the organizational units through which programs are administered. (No such program offices are specified for the Department of Veterans Affairs.) An assistant secretary is the head of an office. Certain assistant secretaries bear other titles as well as the title of assistant secretary, such as the state librarian, the director of the Louisiana State Museum, and the commissioner of conservation.
(These officers are the assistant secretaries of the office of the state library and the office of the state museum of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, and the office of conservation of the Department of Natural Resources, respectively.) Secretaries, undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries of cabinet departments are generally appointed by the governor, with consent of the Senate, and serve at his pleasure. The Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (DCRT) is a significant exception to this rule, as 1986 legislation placed that department in the office of the lieutenant governor who was made the department commissioner. The DCRT officers are appointed by the lieutenant governor and the secretary performs his functions under the general direction of the lieutenant governor. (However, the deputy secretary of DCRT is appointed by the secretary.) Other exceptions relative to appointment of officers of the various departments are indicated on the organization chart on the main page. The other eight departments include the Department of State Civil Service, which is under the jurisdiction of the State Civil Service Commission and seven departments under the jurisdiction of elected state officials. (These include five statewide elected officials, the Public Service Commission, and the superintendent of education who formerly was elected but now is appointed by the partially elected BESE Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.) The structure of these eight departments is much like that of the cabinet departments, although department officers often have different titles such as “commissioner” or “superintendent”. In some of these departments– the smaller ones – functions are consolidated in the department’s chief executive officer and his office. In these cases, structure is not detailed in the law so as not to over structure a small department. Officers of departments under elected state officials are generally appointed by the official heading that department, with consent of the Senate, and serve at that official’s pleasure.
The executive branch includes over 500 Boards and Commissions. New boards are created every year. Boards and Commissions are sometimes referred to as the “fourth branch of government.” Most fall into the following major categories: occupational licensing, policy and advisory, higher education management, regional or local special purpose (levees, ports), marketing and promotion (strawberries, tourism), special clientele programs (deaf, aged), quasi-judicial (tax commission), and independent boards that were created to remove them from politics (lottery, casino, public employee ethics, civil service).
The state’s numerous Boards and Commissions have been given responsibility for a great number of programs. Some are purely advisory boards while some are management boards. Still others are quite independent. Some boards make rules and then investigate and decide whether the rules are being properly followed. These quasi-judicial agencies combine legislative, executive, and judicial functions. Several independent corporations or authorities have been created to allow them to operate their programs like businesses, free of some of the restrictions on other state agencies such as having to hire employees through civil service or follow state purchasing laws. The state’s lottery program is operated by such an authority.
The Twenty Departments of the Executive Branch and their duties
Source: Title 36 of the Revised Statutes (as amended through the 2003 Regular Session)
Functions of departments directly under the governor and Civil Service.
- Social services programs
- Child welfare
- Public assistance programs
- Food stamp program
- Day care
- Foster care
- Enforcement of support
- Paternity establishment
- Eligibility determinations
- State parks and recreation
- Tourism development
- The arts, historical and archaeological preservation, and cultural programs
- State museums
- State library and depository for state public documents
- Overall improvement of state’s economy
- Industrial and commercial development
- Industrial tax exemptions
- Research to support economic development
- Encourage diversification
- Technology-driven economic development strategies
- Services to small and medium sized businesses
- Job training assistance
- Develop export markets
- Administration and enforcement of environmental laws to ensure a healthful and
- Air quality
- Water quality
- Regulation of solid and hazardous waste
- Regulation of radiation
- Health and medical services for disease prevention
- Health and medical services for uninsured and medically indigent persons
- Coordination of services with LSU HealthSciences Center, local health departments, and federally qualified centers, including mental health, addictive disorders, and public health services, supports and services for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and Medicaid services
- Conservation, regulation, and development of state natural
resources (except timber, fish, and wildlife)
- Coastal restoration and management
- State Police
- State property security
- Gaming Control
- Public safety
- Fire prevention and protection
- Motor vehicle registration
- Drivers’ licenses
- Correctional institutions
- Care, custody, and treatment of children adjudicated delinquent or needing supervision
Probation and parole of adults
- Custody, evaluation, and rehabilitation of inmates and adjudicated juveniles
- Enforcement of criminal and traffic laws
- Weights and standards
- Assessment, evaluation, and collection of state taxes
- Alcoholic beverage control
- Regulation of charitable gaming
- Highways and bridges
- Railroads and waterways
- Intermodal transportation
- Public transportation and mass transit
- Public works
- Flood and drainage control
- Functions of veterans service offices
- Agent orange directory
- Domiciliary facilities for war veterans
- Programs related to wildlife and fish, including research and replenishment
- Scenic rivers
- Regulation of hunting and fishing
- Game and fish preserves and wildlife areas
Functions of Departments under Elected State Officials and the Department of Education:
- Commissioner of Agriculture
- Development and growth of markets for La. agricultural products
- Agricultural and environmental services
- Pesticide waste control
- Agro-consumer services
- Animal health services
- Forestry programs
- Promotion, protection, and advancement of agriculture, except research and educational functions expressly allocated to other departments
- Superintendent of Education (appointed) and BESE Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
- Elementary and secondary education
School and community programs, including student, school and community health and nutrition programs, transportation, community adult programs, and postsecondary and workforce development programs
- Student and school performance, including student and school standards, assessment, accountability, and assistance (including exceptional children)
- Functions relating to teachers and administrators, including assessment and evaluation, certification, and staff
- Financial assistance and scholarship programs
- Regulation of insurance rates
- Administration of state insurance code
- Health insurance research and development
- Public protection (consumer, environmental, and insurance protection, anti-trust, securities, family violence prevention)
- Civil legal services for state and its agencies (protection and assertion of rights of state, debt collection, public works litigation, legal protection of state lands, water bottoms, and natural resources)
- Criminal law investigation and prosecution as permitted by constitution (criminal appeals, amicus curiae briefs, habeas corpus defense, assistance to D.A.’s, public corruption, institutional and insurance fraud, extraditions)
- Legal representation of state and its agencies
- Legal services for state gaming regulatory bodies
- Issuance of legal opinions
Department of Public Service
- Secretary of State
- Chief election officer of state
- Administration of state corporation and trademark laws
- Keeper of Great Seal
- Administration and preservation of official state archives
- Keeper of official registry of commissions
- Old State Capitol
- Certain museums
- Uniform Commercial Code, certain functions
- Custody of voting machines
- Voter registration
- State Treasurer
- Custody and disbursement of state funds
- Accounting, depository control, and investment of state funds
- Functions relating to the management, analysis, and control of state debt
- Issuance of bonds
- Assistance to certain retirement boards
- Administration of unemployment insurance and workers' compensation systems
- Enhancement of the state's workforce
- Administration of community services block grants
- Facilitation of training incumbent workers
- Rehabilitation of persons with disabilities and barriers to gainful employment
- Organization and analysis of labor market and occupational information