Did the Jindal administration get the cart ahead of the horse when it announced the layoff of more than 100 state employees at a state hospital in central Louisiana?
As if Gov. Bobby Jindal did not have enough on his plate with his attempts to gain approval form the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for his hospital privatization plan, now the battle over the closure of one hospital has moved into the courts.
Brad Ott of New Orleans and Ed Parker of East Feliciana Parish have named the Louisiana State Senate, the State of Louisiana and the LSU Board of Supervisors in their lawsuit filed in 19th Judicial Court in Baton Rouge.
Their petition claims that the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare violated the state’s open meetings law in approving the closure of Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville.
Moreover, the petition says that while more than 100 classified employees are due to receive layoff notices effective June 30, the State Civil Service Commission is not scheduled to consider the LSU layoff plan until early July.
Did the LSU Board of Stuporvisors really notify 100-plus employees that they no longer had jobs—before getting formal approval of the layoff plan from Civil Service?
The Rules of Order of the Senate, Rule 13.73, entitled “Notice of committee meetings during session,” provides in part: “Such notices shall be posted for each meeting as soon as practicable, but not later than 1 p.m. of the day preceding the meeting day.”
Rule 13.75, entitled “Meetings prohibited without notice,” provides in part: “No meeting of a committee, regularly scheduled or otherwise, shall be held unless there is full compliance with the requirements of Louisiana Senate Rule 13.73…”
The lawsuit says the notice for the April 2, 2014, meeting of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare was revised on April 1 at 4:04 p.m. to add the consideration of SCR 48 by Sen. Gerald Long (R-Natchitoches).
SCR 48 was the Senate Concurrent Resolution that called for the closure of Huey P. Long. The resolution passed in the House Health and Welfare Committee by a 10-8 vote after nearly three hours of debate. By contrast, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee took only 10 minutes for unanimous passage.
Both petitioners say they had planned to testify in opposition to the resolution before the committee but that they were not notified that the committee would be taking up SCR 48 on April 2 because of the last minute revision to the notice of the meeting. “Consequently, both of the petitioners were effectively prevented from observing the deliberations…and expressing their concerns,” the petition said.
Would a Louisiana Senate committee really do an end run around opponents to a controversial resolution in violation of the open meetings law in order to slip the resolution through?
But with the administration desperate to ram its hospital privatization through despite questionable funding methods, anything is possible. Jindal, in fact, has clearly demonstrated that he will go to any length to move his agenda along.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys J. Arthur Smith and Adrienne Rachel are seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief subject to the state’s open meetings law, an injunction prohibiting the state from implementing provision of SCR 48, monetary damages for violations of the state’s open meetings law, and attorney’s fees.
Smith is a relative newcomer in litigation against the state but he has sent out notice that the old ways of doing business may be changing. He has already won one battle with the Department of Education over the department’s reluctance to comply with the state’s public records laws and currently has other suits pending against the Department of Agriculture and the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.