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Someone (and we are not pointing fingers at anyone—yet) has attempted to plant a computer virus on the LouisianaVoice web page which, once you log onto our site, first gives you a virus message, locks you out of the site and then gives you a message that the site cannot be found whenever you attempt to log back on.

We first got the warning from one of our readers earlier today and when we tried to log on a couple of hours later, we got a virus warning. Once we closed the page, we found that we were unable to log back on and we received the “site not found” message.

We solved the problem by re-booting (logging off our computer and then logging back on) and found that the problem was solved.

Should you experience the same problem, simply re-boot your computer and you should be able to access LouisianaVoice without any further problems.

As we said, we are not pointing fingers at anyone, but we will say this much:

Last year, when we were writing a series of stories about the shenanigans of Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Director Troy Hebert, we were told by one of his agents that Hebert had boasted that it would be a simple matter for him to have his IT people to hack into our computer.

We made a direct email inquiry of Hebert as to the veracity of that report. More than a year later, we are still awaiting his response.

Again, we’re not point fingers. We’re just saying….

“Hopefully the board can—or someone will—challenge the constitutionality of the rogue amendment.”

—State Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell), chairman of the House Retirement Committee, commenting on the amendment to SB 294 which added $30,000 per year to the retirement income of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) Saturday told LouisianaVoice he will ask House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) on Monday for a full investigation of the 11th hour amendment to an obscure Senate bill that resulted in an additional $30,000 per year income for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson upon his retirement.

The amendment, which was quickly signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal, allows Edmonson to revoke his decision made years ago to enter into the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) when he was a captain. That decision, which is considered irrevocable, locked in his retirement at a rate based on his captain’s pay while netting him a higher salary but now he will be allowed to compute his retirement based upon his rank as colonel.

At the same time, blogger C.B. Forgotston revealed that the probable source of the amendment may not have been one of the six members of the Legislative Conference Committee, but a Senate staff attorney.

“I am embarrassed by this entire thing,” Edwards said in an interview with LouisianaVoice. “I voted for the bill without reading it with the amendment attached.

So did 89 other House members and 37 senators.

“I know this is not an excuse, and I would never rationalize my vote this way but the truth is in the final hours most members, including myself, probably were not even at their desks. We were all running around trying to take care of conference committee action on our own bills.”

Edwards, who is an announced candidate for governor in 2015, said he will ask Kleckley to initiate an investigation to determine the origin of the amendment. “Somebody asked for this amendment,” he said. “It didn’t just happen.”

His observation echoed State Treasurer John Kennedy who on Wednesday said at a board meeting of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System, “This amendment didn’t just fall from heaven.”

Edwards said the real irony of the overwhelming vote in favor of the amendment is that similar requests have all been rejected in the past. “I know that in my seven years in the legislature, I’ve had at least 20 constituents ask me to help them revoke their DROP decisions and I had to tell every single one of them that there was nothing we could do for them. And now I end up voting for just such a provision because it was hidden away in an obscure bill that we were told had nothing to do with retirement. I’m embarrassed.”

The bill, Senate Bill 294 by Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans), dealt specifically with disciplinary procedures for law enforcement officers who are under investigation and had nothing to do with retirement in its original form. And conference committee member Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans) did little to shed any light on the true intent of the amendment.

Jindal must share blame

And while much has been said about legislators’ failure to closely examine the last-minute glut of amendments and Conference Committee reports, little has been said about Jindal’s willingness to sign such a fiscally irresponsible bill.

Though legislators may have been pressed for time in the closing hours of the session, Jindal most certainly was not. He and his staff had ample time to examine all bills passed by the legislature and to consider their fiscal impact.

Bottom line is the governor simply does not get a pass on this. He is the same governor who attempted unsuccessfully to gut the retirements of tens of thousands of state rank and file civil service employees two years ago and now he signs a bill sneaked in on the last day of the session to give a raise that exceeds the total annual retirement income for thousands of individual state employees.

Moreover, it was a bill his staff should have informed him, as Pearson, Forgotston and a state attorney told us, is unconstitutional on several levels.

The reality is that Jindal checked out as governor long ago in favor of chasing the presidential brass ring that will never be his—and that makes his signing this bill even more unforgiveable.

It also raises the question of what his role in this debacle may have been.

Senate legal counsel culpable?

Reports surfaced on Saturday that Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee legal counsel Laura Gail Sullivan was the person who tacked on the amendment without bothering to inform either of the six members of the Legislative Conference Committee—if they are to be believed.

The Conference Committee report that includes the amendment, dated June 2, the final day of the 2014 legislative session, contains the name “Sullivan” in the upper left corner of the report’s first page. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=911551&n

The Conference Committee is made up of three members of the Senate and three from the House. For a bill to be reported out of Conference Committee, two senators and two representatives must vote in favor.

Conference Committee members included Sens. Morrell (the bill’s author), Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), and Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans), Walt Leger, III (D-New Orleans) and Bryan Adams (R-Gretna).

Riser is Sullivan’s Senate committee boss

Riser, besides serving on the Conference Committee to consider the bill, also is chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee for whom Sullivan works as legal counsel. As such, she takes her marching orders from him. That being the case, what are the odds that Riser was carrying the water for Jindal? If so, did Edmonson request the favor from the governor? As both Edwards and Kennedy pointed out, the amendment didn’t drop from the sky.

A lot of questions that someone should answer—and soon.

Perhaps we will get some clarification from Edmonson (wink, wink) when he appears on Louisiana Public Radio’s Jim Engster show Monday at 9 a.m. http://wrkf.org/

LouisianaVoice sent separate emails to Riser, Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell), chairman of the House Retirement Committee; Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee, and Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego). Our email posed three questions:

  • Do you plan to conduct/request an investigation into how the amendment giving the $30,000 a year raise to Col. Edmonson got added to SB 294—particularly now that our sources are saying it was done by a Senate counsel for the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee?
  • Do you believe, if true, she was acting on instructions from someone further up the food chain and if so, who?
  • Were you aware the amendment was being added?

Pearson was the only one who responded

“I’m planning to look into this next week, as I have already done somewhat,” he said. “As you know the Senate staff is a different body than the House staff, different bosses that I am not as familiar with. But yes, I plan to find what actually happened.”

To the second question on whether or not he thought the Senate counsel was acting on instructions from higher up, he said he was unable to answer. “I really do not know,” he said. “I guess it is possible. I’ve never seen them go directly to my (retirement) staff without my being aware.”

As to whether or not he was aware of the contents of the amendment, Pearson said, “I had no clue the amendment was being added. I’m also fairly confident my (House) retirement attorney was unaware, especially since it was not a retirement bill. I did not vote (on) the Conference Committee report (he was one of 14 who did not vote) and I didn’t even know this happened until your article came out. I wasn’t avoiding the vote since I was unaware of these actions. I can’t even say where I was, possibly working on another Conference Committee report. I just don’t recall.

“I do appreciate you bringing this to our attention,” he said. “Hopefully the board can—or someone will—challenge the constitutionality of the rogue amendment.”

To probably no one’s surprise except a clueless Gov. Bobby Jindal, the takeover of the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits (OGB) by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana 18 months ago has failed to produce the $20 million per year in savings to the state.

Quite the contrary, in fact. The OGB fund balance, which was a robust $500 million when BCBS took over as third party administrators (TPA) of the Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) in January of 2013, only 18 months later stands at slightly less than half that amount and could plummet as low as an anemic $5 million a year from now, according to figures provided by the Legislative Fiscal Office.

OGB is one of the main topics to be taken up at today’s meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) when it convenes at 9 a.m. at the State Capitol.

OGB is currently spending about $16 million per month more than it is collecting in revenue, said Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter.

The drastic turnaround is predicated on two factors which LouisianaVoice warned about two years ago when the privatization plan was being considered by the administration:

  • Jindal lowered premiums for state employees and retirees. That move was nothing more than a smokescreen, we said at the time, to ease the state’s share of the premium burden as a method to help Jindal balance the state budget. Because the state pays a percentage of the employee/retiree premiums, a rate reduction would also reduce the amount owed by the state, thus freeing up the savings to patch gaping holes in the budget.
  • Because BCBS is a private company, it must return a profit whereas when OGB claims were processed by state employees, profits were not a factor. To realize that profit, premiums must increase or benefits decrease. Since Jindal had already decreased premiums, BCBS necessarily found it necessary to reduce benefits.

That, however, still was not enough and the negative income eroded the fund balance to its present level and now legislators are facing a severe fiscal crisis at OGB.

And make no mistake: this is a man-made crisis and the man is Bobby Jindal.

In a span of only 18 months we have watched his grandiose plans for OGB and the agency’s fund balance dissolve into a sea of red ink like those $250 million sand berms washing away in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the disastrous BP spill.

There is no tactful way to say it. This Jindal’s baby; he’s married to it. He was hell bent on privatizing OGB and putting 144 employees on the street for the sake of some hair-brained scheme that managed to go south before he could leave town for whatever future he has planned for himself that almost surely does not, thank goodness, include Louisiana.

So ill-advised and so uninformed was Jindal that he rushed into his privatization plan and now has found it necessary to have the consulting firm Alvarez and Marcel, as part of their $5 million contract to find state savings, to poke around OGB to try and pull the governor’s hand out of the fiscal fire. We can only speculate as to why that was necessary; Jindal, after all, had assured us up front that the privatization would save $20 million a year but now cannot make good on that promise.

In the real world, the elected officials are supposed to be the pros who know that they’re talking about while those of us on the sidelines are mere amateurs who can only complain and criticize. Well, we may be the political novices here, but the results at OGB pretty much speak for themselves and we can rightfully say, “We told you so.”

Are we happy or smug? Hell, no. We have to continue to live here and raise our children here while Jindal will be taking a job with some conservative think tank somewhere inside the D.C. Beltway (he certainly will not be the Republican candidate for president; he isn’t even a blip on the radar and one former state official now residing in Colorado recently said, “No one out here has ever even heard of him.”)

In a five-page letter to JLCB Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro), Carpenter illustrated the rate history of OGB going back to Fiscal Year 2008 when premiums were increased by 6 percent. The increase the following year was 3.7 percent and the remained flat in FY-10. In FY-11, premiums increased 5.6 percent, then 8.1 percent in FY-12 when the system switched from a fiscal year to calendar year. but in FY-13, the year BCBS assumed administrative duties, premiums dropped 7 percent as Jindal attempted to save money from the state’s contributions to plug budget holes. For the current year, premiums decreased 1.8 percent and in FY-15 are scheduled to increase by 5 percent.

OGB Report_July 2014 FOR JLCB

Carpenter said that since FY 13, when BCBS took over the administration of OGB PPO claims, OGB’s administrative costs began to shift to more third party administrator (TPA) costs as the state began paying BCBS $23.50 per OGB member per month. That rate today is $24.50 and will increase to $25.50 in January of 2015, the last year of the BCBS contract.

That computes to more than $60 million per year that the state is paying BCBS to run the agency more efficiently than state employees who were largely responsible for the half-billion-dollar fund balance.

 

Pick your cliché:

Collective amnesia.

Circling the wagons.

Covering your backside.

Plausible deniability.

We’re all in this together.

Lying through your teeth.

The six members of the Legislative Conference Committee to a man have disavowed any knowledge as to which of them it was who introduced the amendment to Senate Bill 294 that gave State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson that $30,000 per year retirement increase that experts say may have been unconstitutional on six separate fronts.

Short version? Someone’s lying.

Remember the Seven Dwarfs of Big Tobacco? They’re the executives of the seven different tobacco companies who figurative locked arms as they formed a united front behind Philip Morris USA President and CEO William Campbell when he told a congressional committee back in 1994, “I believe nicotine is not addictive.”

Now you have the Six Mental Midgets (and yes, we are fully aware that is not politically correct) of the Louisiana House and Senate who individually, have each denied to C.B. Forgotston any culpability in adding the amendment to Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell’s bill that was intended to address disciplinary procedures against police officers under investigation and, Morrell says, was in no way intended to address pensions.

Forgotston refers to the amendment as the “bastard amendment” because “nobody claims to be the father. Some have suggested that the amendment came about through artificial insemination (while) others said Immaculate Conception,” he said. (We choose not to print Forgotston’s notion, though we have to admit he may well be closer to the truth than any of the other theory.)

State Treasurer John Kennedy, following a meeting of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) on Wednesday, said simply, “This amendment didn’t just fall from heaven.”

But if you accept the word of Sens. Morrell, Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), and Reps. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans), Walt Leger, III (D-New Orleans) and Bryan Adams (R-Gretna) at face value, you are left with few alternative explanations other than Forgotston’s R-rated suggestion.

The amendment, which Gov. Jindal quickly signed into law as Act 859, allows Edmonson to revoke his “irrevocable” decision made when he was a captain to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which allowed him to take more in salary but froze his retirement at the captain’s pay scale rate. By revoking that decision, he would allow his retirement benefits to be calculated at the higher rank of his current colonel’s pay, plus he would be allowed to add years of service and longevity pay. With 34 years of service, he would be qualified to retired at 100 percent of his $134,000 salary, an increase of $30,000 per year.

While each of the six Conference Committee members denies having offered up the amendment, Arnold would appear to be a prime suspect. It was he who spent all of 15 seconds explaining the amendment to the full House before its final passage. To hear his award-winning performance, click here: www.auctioneer-la.org/edmondson.mp3

But let’s not rule out the possibility that this amendment came straight from the Fourth Floor of the State Capitol. If Jindal wanted this (and it’s looking more and more as if that might be the case), it would be a simple matter of having one of his subordinates to insert the necessary language into the amendment for the governor, who can nevertheless maintain that “plausible deniability” as he scoots back to Iowa or D.C. (Think of the old TV thriller Mission Impossible and agent Phelps receiving his assignment on the self-destructing tape with his assignment ending with the disclaimer that the I.M. team will “disavow any knowledge” of his existence if he is captured.)

And let’s not forget Edmonson’s creative explanation. First, he says the amendment simply allows him to receive benefits to which he is fully entitled and then he denies asking for the special treatment. Ol’ Earl Long had a term for that kind doublespeak: “Catfish Mouth,” for the ability to “speak outta both sides of his mouth and whistle in the middle.”

First of all, we fail to comprehend how he feels he is “entitled” to the benefits considering the indisputable fact that he made the decision as a captain to enter DROP. There are scores of retired state troopers and thousands of retired state employees who would line up at the Capitol steps for the opportunity to change their minds on their DROP decisions of years ago. In fact, there have been several in recent years to attempt just that. Each one was rejected by the House and Senate retirement committees but that does make them one scintilla less deserving than Jindal’s shadow and former bodyguard for the LSU football coach.

And none of them—nay, not one—resides in a luxurious home with cooks, butlers and housekeepers—all provided at taxpayer expense.

“As someone who once worked for the legislature,” says Forgotston, “I find this entire episode very sad. It’s especially pathetic since the current legislators consider themselves as ‘reformers.’ If they want to see why Louisiana has a reputation for corruption, they should look into the mirror.”

He said all six members of the Conference Committee “claimed to be waiting on someone else to do something about the rip-off. The fact that none of the conferees claim the amendment serves to further destroy the integrity of the legislative process.  If the legislators want to attempt to mitigate the damage to the legislative process, there needs to be an internal investigation to determine how an amendment can get into legislation without any legislator offering it.”

He said that Arnold wrote him in an email that both he and Morrell had requested an attorney general’s opinion on the constitutionality of the amendment.

“I told Arnold the AG cannot render an opinion on the constitutionality of any legislation. The reason (is because) the AG is required by the Constitution to defend all acts of the legislature, regardless of constitutionality or how dumb the legislation is,” Forgotston said. “Therefore, it is a conflict of interest for (the attorney general) to rule on a matter in which he may be called on to defend in court.”

He said the retirement system’s board has a fiduciary obligation to protect its assets. “It’s time for them to do so,” he said.

“The only way to make sure this rip-off doesn’t go forward is for the (LSPRS) board to litigate the constitutionality of Act 859 of the 2014 Regular Session,” Forgotston said. “A first-year law student could win the case. Maybe the AG will hire Jimmy Faircloth to defend the state. That would make it the closest thing to sure winner as it gets in the courts.

“If you know any State Troopers please forward this information to them; they are obviously better at getting people to confess than I am. That said, I have to admit getting that the truth from legislators is no job for rookies.”

No wonder James Gill calls Forgotston the “King of the Subversive Bloggers.”

“The amendment impedes an existing contract. Col. Edmonson entered into a binding contract when he entered DROP and that is irrevocable. We have had a constant parade of state employees who wanted out of DROP and every single one has been denied.”

—State official, commenting on the 11th hour amendment to SB 294 which would give State Police Commander Mike Edmonson a $30,000 per year increase.

State Treasurer John Kennedy told fellow members of the State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) Wednesday that he wants answers to a laundry list of questions pertaining to legislative passage of an amendment to an otherwise minor senate bill that increased State Police Commander Mike Edmonson’s retirement benefits by $30,000 per year.

http://www.auctioneer-la.org/Kennedy_LSP.htm

In asking for a thorough investigation of the amendment that was slipped on Senate Bill 294 on the final day of the legislative session, Kennedy said his main concern was with New York bond rating agencies, though he also questioned the fairness of the amendment’s applying only to Edmonson and one other Master Trooper from Houma.

“I was in New York when this story first broke (LouisianaVoice ran the first story about the amendment last Friday) and we had discussions about the $19 billion unfunded accrued liability (UAL) of the state’s four retirement systems,” he said. “These rating agencies read our newspapers and our blogs and they know more about Louisiana than we do.”

As State Treasurer, Kennedy sits on some 30 different state boards, including the State Police Retirement System Board but he said his interest in attending Wednesday’s meeting was in protecting the state’s bond rating. “If our rating goes down, our interest rates go up,” he said. “I spent 12 or 13 hours with them and they are worried about our Medicaid situation, our use of non-recurring revenue and our retirement systems’ UAL.”

Another state official, an attorney, told LouisianaVoice that he had another constitutional violation to add to C.B. Forgotston’s list of five constitutional violations of the amendment: “The amendment impedes an existing contract,” he said. Col. Edmonson entered into a binding contract when he entered DROP and that is irrevocable. We have had a constant parade of state employees who wanted out of DROP and every single one has been denied.”

Kennedy said there are two sides to every story. “I’d like to talk to Charles Hall (of Hall Actuaries, which did a study for the legislature earlier this year). I’d like Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) who authored the original bill to come speak to us.”

Kennedy said the two men benefitting from the amendment also have a right to address the board. “They have every right to due process,” he said.

Other answers he said he would like include:

  • How many people are impacted by this amendment?
  • Who are they? (The identities of the beneficiaries of the amendment);
  • Who sponsored the amendment in committee? (so they might come before the board and explain their motives);
  • What is the total cost of the amendment? (so he can report back to the rating agencies);
  • What are the remedies, litigation or legislative relief, allege the bill is illegal or simply refuse to comply?
  • What are the legalities of the bill? (Can an amendment be done dealing with retirement issues that is supposed to be advertised?);
  • Has special treatment been given?

“Years ago, we had anywhere from 10 to 15 bills introduced each year to give special treatment to one, two or three individuals without appropriating any money,” he said. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

“Gov. (Mike) Foster finally said ‘Enough, we will do this no more.’ And now here we are again. The rating agencies are appalled at that.”

Kennedy, in a private interview after the meeting, said he was concerned with everyone being treated equally. “I don’t believe in special treatment for those who have the political power or (who) know the right people. I think it’s stupid economically and it is what has contributed to the UAL. This amendment has implications far beyond the two men affected. I want to see how much it would cost to give everyone the same treatment.

“We have the sixth worst-funded retirement systems in America and the rating agencies have told us over the past two years to get our business straight or they will downgrade us. If that happens, we’ll be paying higher interest on our bonded indebtedness.”

Kennedy saved his harshest criticism for the legislature when he said, “Someone didn’t read this bill or they’re not being candid. They should be doing these amendments in a more transparent way. These last minute amendments are done and no one know what they’re adding and suddenly, it’s an up or down vote.

Kennedy asked LSPRS Executive Director Irwin Felps, Jr. if the board could meet before the next scheduled meeting on the third Wednesday of September. “It’s important that we address this issue,” he said.

“There’s no excuse for this. This amendment didn’t just fall from heaven. Somebody has a lot of explaining to do and if I find preferential treatment, I will vote to rescind the amendment.”

Kennedy’s claim of a lack of transparency and the sudden “up or down vote” was illustrated when Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans) explained the amendment on the floor of the House during the final hectic hours when lawmakers were hurrying to wrap up business:

“The new language to the bill applies to those paying more into the system since 2009 for benefits they cannot use,” he said. “It makes people whole but does not give them a larger benefit.”

Don’t believe us? Watch and listen for yourself as Arnold explains the new legislation in all of 15 seconds.

Then you can decide for yourself if the amendment’s sponsors were being completely up front with their colleagues—and with Louisiana taxpayers.

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