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Archive for the ‘ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council’ Category

It was bad enough Friday when Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that career politician and former national chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council Noble Ellington as his legislative director.

But at the same time, he announced the appointment of Marketa Garner Walters as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) at $129,000 per year.

Ellington, besides serving as national chairman of ALEC, was twice named Legislator of the Year. He left the legislature to take a cozy $150,000-a-year job as Chief Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Insurance in 2012 even though he had no background in the insurance industry.

And it was during his tenure as ALEC’s national chairman that Bobby Jindal was presented the organization’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award (you may want to check with the descendants of Sally Heming on that freedom part). http://www.alec.org/press-release/hundreds-of-state-legislators/

It’s beginning to look a lot like business as usual for the new administration. Like pro football and major league baseball, Louisiana’s elected leaders seem to keep recycling the same old familiar faces in and out of various state offices. The problem is, they are the ones who helped create the problems. So what makes anyone think they have the solutions now?

Take Garner Walters, for example, who served as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Community Services within DSS (DCFS) from January 2004 until November 2008, when she went by the name Marketa Garner Gautreau.

“A national leader in the field of children and family services, Marketa Garner Walters has worked for more than 20 years to improve the lives of children,” the governor’s announcement said. “As a public servant, a national consultant, and an advocate with deep roots in her home state of Louisiana, Walters has been able to create meaningful change in the lives of family and children over the years.”

So what’s so wrong with that?

Well, not much. Unless one considers her explanation for an incident in which a 17-year-old mentally challenged boy raped a 12-year-old boy in a group home during the time she served as assistant secretary for the Office of Community Services.

“Retarded people have sex—it’s what they do,” she said, sounding more like a GEICO commercial than someone responsible for children’s welfare. That bit of wisdom was imparted during her testimony before the Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission in 2008.

The Office of Community Services is a sub-office of the Department of Children and Family Services, formerly the Department of Social Services (DSS).

A former employee of the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ), then the Office of Youth Development, witnessed Gautreau’s testimony.

“In late 2008, DSS and OJJ were called before the Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission about a situation at a Baton Rouge group home housing both OJJ and DSS youth (and) where a 17-year-old mentally challenged boy raped a 12-year-old boy,” the former OJJ employee said.

“OJJ removed our youth from the group home at once and put a moratorium on placement there. DSS, the licensing agency for group homes, left their kids there,” she said.

When questioned by JJIC members, including (then) Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and (then) Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Kitty Kimball, Garner Gautreau offered a bizarre explanation. She said it was really not rape because the youths were of similar mental capacity.

When asked why there was not better staff security to keep the children from roaming around and molesting others, she replied, “Retarded people have sex. It’s what they do.”

The former OJJ employee was aghast. “I told my colleagues I’d wring their necks if they ever made statements like that in public hearings.

“We figured that (Gautreau’s testimony) was a career-limiting speech and we were not surprised when Ms. Garner Gautreau was shortly looking for another job,” the former OJJ employee said.

She added that OJJ stopped placing children in the same facilities as DCFS children.

There was “a consistent pattern of DSS failing to properly monitor and supervise group home operations and looking the other way when deficiencies were noted,” the former OJJ employee said. “Group homes were even re-licensed when still deficient and corrective actions plans were not being followed.

“The DSS review committee was a joke – the agency’s monitors looked the other way and ignored problems at the group homes, even when OJJ removed kids and notified DSS of deficiencies,” she said.

The intent is for private group homes to provide a safe, homelike setting for abused and neglected children who have been removed from their families. But the safety factor appears to have come up far short. Four rapes were reported over a 15-month period at two Baton Rouge group homes.

The Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization, released a 41-page REPORT ON GROUP HOMES in early 2008 that described filthy conditions and neglect of children’s education and medical needs at many facilities. Additionally, a 2007 report by the legislative auditor found that 90 percent of the group homes had deficiencies when their licenses were renewed.

Garner Gautreau, however, told the Baton Rouge Advocate that she had “a high level of comfort” in the knowledge that 80 percent of homes scored at an acceptable level.

Its report included problems that staff members observed themselves but also cited violations found in previous inspection reports filed by the state from 2004 to August 2007. Those include failure to assure proper medical care at 53 percent of the facilities and failure to assure proper physical environment in 69 percent of homes.

State inspectors cited 18 facilities for failing to have sufficient staff and found cases where homes failed to provide criminal background checks and in some cases knowingly hired people with criminal records, the Advocacy Center report noted.

“In some cases, we found evidence that the Bureau of Licensing had identified the same problems and cited the same facility over and over again. However, nothing changed,” said Stephanie Patrick, who oversees visits to homes for the Advocacy Center.

“I started following DSS failures when our staff consistently documented problems that DSS ignored,” the former OJJ employee said.

“Louisiana’s licensing statute for these facilities fails to provide an adequate framework for assuring the health, safety, and welfare of children in these facilities,” the Advocate Center report said.

What?!!

The state doesn’t assure the safety and welfare of children it is charged with protecting?

Among the deficiencies of the statute, the report said were:

  • That it grants final authority over residential facility licensing regulations and standards to two committees, none of whose members is required to be an expert in child residential care and treatment, and many of whose members are providers.
  • That it allows the issuance of licenses without full regulatory compliance.
  • That it requires the Department to seek the approval of the relevant committee before denying or revoking a facility’s license, and gives the committee veto power over such action.
  • That it does not permit DSS to assess civil fines and penalties when facilities violate minimum standards.

The Advocacy Center requested DSS’s Bureau of Licensing reports for the years 2004-2006 and up to August 2007. “A review of these reports shows that a shocking number of the facilities had serious violations of minimum licensing standards, including:

  • 38% of the facilities had violations relating to staff criminal background checks;
  • 62% of the facilities were found to violate minimum standards regarding children’s medications;
  • 53% of the facilities failed to assure that children received proper medical and/or dental care;
  • 33% of the facilities were cited for not following proper procedures or violating procedures pertaining to abuse/neglect;
  • 62% of the facilities were cited for not assuring their staff received all required annual training;
  • 69% of the facilities were cited for not assuring that children were living in a proper physical environment;
  • 36% of the facilities were cited for not having appropriate treatment plans or for inappropriate execution of children’s treatment plans;
  • 33% of the facilities were cited for not assuring that sufficient qualified direct service staff was present with the children as necessary to ensure the health, safety and well- being of children.

“Many facilities were found to be in violation of minimum standards on inspection after inspection,” the report added.

LouisianaVoice has been receiving unsettling reports of inadequate inspections of foster homes by unqualified DCFS employees. Those reports are currently being investigated by us and will be reported in future posts should they be substantiated.

Meanwhile, we can take comfort in the knowledge that Marketa Garner Walters nee Gautreau will be watching out for the children as the new secretary of DCFS.

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In a state drowning in consulting contracts, what’s one more?

Bobby Jindal is a lame duck governor who long ago set his sights on bigger and better things. He has abdicated every aspect of his office except the salary, free housing and state police security that go with the title. In reality, he has turned the reins of state government over to subordinates who are equally distracted in exploring their own future employment prospects.

His only concerns in almost eight years in office, besides setting himself up to run for President, have been (a) appointing generous campaign donors to positions on state boards and commissions and (b) privatizing state agencies by handing them over to political supporters.

To that end there has been a proliferation of consulting contracts during the Jindal years. The legislative auditor reported in May that there were 19,000 state contracts totaling more than $21 billion.

So as his term enters its final months and as Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols has less than a month before moving on to do for Ochsner Health System what she’s done for the state, what’s another $500,000?

LouisianaVoice has learned that Nichols signed off on a $497,000 contract with ComPsych Corp. and its affiliate, FMLASource, Inc. of Chicago, to administer the state’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) program. FMLA CONTRACT

It is no small irony that Nichols signed off on the contract on May 19, less than two weeks after the legislative auditor’s report of May 6 which was highly critical of the manner in which contracts are issued with little or no oversight.

The latest contract removes the responsibility for approving FMLA for state employees and hands it over to yet another private contractor.

Apparently FMLA was just one more thing the Jindal administration has determined state employees are incapable of administering—even though they have done so since the act was approved by Congress in 1993.

Because no state employees stand to lose their jobs over this latest move, the contract would seem to simply be another consulting contract doled out by the administration, obligating the state to more unnecessary expenditures.

Whether it’s farming out the Office of Risk Management, Office of Group Benefits, funding voucher and charter schools, or implementing prison or hospital privatization—it’s obvious that Jindal has been following the game plan of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to the letter. That plan calls for privatizing virtually every facet of state government. If you don’t think the repeated cuts to higher education and health care were calculated moves toward ALEC’s goals, think again.

The contract runs from May 17, 2015 through May 16, 2016, and the state agreed to pay FMLAServices $1.45 per state employee per month up to the yearly maximum of $497,222.

Agencies for which FMLAServices will administer FMLA include the:

  • Division of Administration;
  • Department of Economic Development;
  • Department of Corrections;
  • Department of Public Safety;
  • Office of Juvenile Justice;
  • Department of Health and Hospitals;
  • Department of Children and Family Services;
  • Department of Revenue;
  • Department of Transportation and Development.

The legislative auditor’s report noted that there is really no way of accurately tracking the number or amount of state contracts. STATE CONTRACTS AUDIT REPORT

“As of November 2014, Louisiana had at least 14,693 active contracts totaling approximately $21.3 billion in CFMS. However, CFMS, which is used by OCR to track and monitor Executive Branch agency contract information, does not contain every state contract.

“Although CFMS, which is a part of the Integrated Statewide Information System (ISIS), tracks most contracts, primarily Executive Branch agencies use this system. For example, Louisiana State University obtained its own procurement tracking system within the last year, and most state regulatory boards and commissions do not use CFMS (Contract Financial Management System). As a result, there is no centralized database where legislators and other stakeholders can easily determine the actual number and dollar amount of all state contracts. Therefore, the total number and dollar amount of existing state contracts as of November 2014 could be much higher.”

The audit report also said:

  • State law (R.S. 39:1490) requires that OCR (Office of Contractual Review) adopt rules and regulations for the procurement, management, control, and disposition of all professional, personal, consulting, and social services contracts required by state agencies. According to OCR, it reviews these types of contracts for appropriateness of contract terms and language, signature authorities, evidence of funding and compliance with applicable laws, regulations, executive orders, and policies. OCR also reviews agencies’ procurement processes against competitive solicitation requirements of law. The contracting entity is responsible for justifying the need for the contract and conducting a cost-benefit analysis if required.
  • However, state law does not require that a centralized entity approve all state contracts.
  • According to the CFMS User Guide, OCR is only required to approve seven of the 20 possible contract types in CFMS. The remaining 13 types accounted for 8,068 contracts totaling approximately $6.2 billion as of November 2014. Exhibit 2 lists the 20 types of contracts in
  • CFMS and whether or not OCR is required to approve each type, including the total number and dollar amount of these contracts.
  • In fiscal year 2014, 72 agencies approved 4,599 contracts totaling more than $278 million.

The Office of Contractual Review was since been merged with the Office of State Procurement last Jan. 1.

 

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Sometimes you just have to shake your head and wonder what the hell our governor and our legislators are thinking when they make laws and stake out political positions on controversial topics like, say, meaningful legislation that would keep the mentally unstable prone to violence from obtaining weapons.

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in that Lafayette movie theater that left two victims and the gunman dead and seven others wounded, Bobby Jindal opined that it was “not the time” to discuss the “politics” of Louisiana’s gun laws. For Bobby and his ilk (read: right-wing, neo-fascist, stand-your-ground idiots), there is never a right time to discuss such trite matters as Sandy Hook, Columbine, Aurora, Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, or Lafayette’s Grand Theater.

Anything approaching legislation aimed at keeping guns away from the mentally disturbed or hate-consumed racists is anathema to those who cater to the NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and their demented, all-encompassing defense of the sacred Second Amendment.

JINDAL RECEIVING RIFLE FROM NRA

JINDAL RECEIVING GIFT RIFLE FROM NRA

A florist is required to obtain a license to sell flowers in Louisiana—even as the Brady Campaign’s “scorecard” on gun control ranked Louisiana the second-worst state in the U.S. in terms of laws designed to prevent gun violence. And that was in 2013, long before the Lafayette assault.

The Louisiana State Board of Dentistry has carte blanche to harass dentists for such infractions of publishing advertising of prohibited size or font, “violations” that in several cases have resulted in fines of six figures and which have literally put some dentists out of business. Meanwhile, Louisiana has the second highest firearm death rate and the highest gun-related homicide rate in America—even before the Lafayette shootings by John Houser.

Inspectors for the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology are allowed to barge into Vietnamese-owned nail salons, order everyone to freeze and proceed to pull out drawers and open cabinets searching for God knows what and to impose steep fines for vague infractions in much the same manner as the Board of Dentistry, all the while informing the Vietnamese operators that they are subject to “different rules for you guys.” But for some strange reason known only to the NRA and ALEC lapdogs like Jindal, Louisiana does not require private gun sellers (who, by the way, are not licensed dealers) to initiate background checks when transferring a firearm.

JINDAL RECEIVING GUN

JINDAL EXAMINING WEAPON DURING IOWA CAMPAIGN STOP

Police officers from Shreveport to New Orleans, from Lake Providence to Lake Charles, may (and often do) pull you over for the life endangering violation of not having an illuminated license plate (yep, gotta have a working light bulb over your license plate or you could get a ticket). But if you happen to have a gun in your vehicle when you’re pulled over….well, that’s okay provided you have a concealed carry permit.

Bobby Jindal and his NRA buddies in the Louisiana Legislature are all about the freedom to own and carry weapons and in 2010, Jindal even signed into law a bill (HB 1272) by Rep. Henry Burns (R-Haughton) that allows you to pack heat in a church, mosque, synagogue or any other house of worship. At the same time, Jindal has consistently cut funding for mental health care in Louisiana and even closed one mental health facility in New Orleans and privatized Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville. The Florida company chosen to run the facility, Meridian Behavioral Health Systems, was found to have deficiencies serious enough to threaten its eligibility to continue participation in Medicare.

JINDAL AND WIFE WITH GUNS

A FAMILY THAT SHOOTS TOGETHER….

Jindal sent out a Christmas card last December that featured a photo of the entire family clad in cammo and he has attached himself to the gun-totin’ Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame in a way that is almost creepy. State Sen. Neil Riser even authored a bill (SB 178) that would give firearms dealers permission to offer voter registration forms at the point of sale, sending the clear message that voting (Republican, we assume) and the right to own a gun are somehow related and more important than curbing the homicide rate of say, Baton Rouge, which recently had a murder rate higher than that of Chicago. Yet, the Jindal administration rammed through its “deliberative process” catch-all bill in its 2008 “transparency” legislation that makes records of his office off limits to public scrutiny. Moreover, his Division of Administration, as well as other statewide agencies like the LSU Board of Supervisors, continue to throw up barriers to media access of public records.CHRISTMAS CARD

JINDAL FAMILY’S 2014 CHRISTMAS CARD (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

But, Jindal continues to call for prayers and hugs in response to mass killings and to resist any dialogue on such divisive matters as curbing one’s right to defend life and property—no matter that the nation’s murder rate far outpaces the rate of self-defense shootings.

You see, now is just “not the time” to make political points.

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PLEASE MOVE TO THE END OF THE LINE(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

On the eve of Bobby Jindal’s anticipated earth shaking announcement that he is squeezing himself into the clown car of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, I thought we should let our readers know that I am still on the job, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

As we wait with collective bated breath for word that Bobby is not only available but more than willing to do for the nation what he has done for Louisiana (God help us all, Tiny Tim), I remain cloistered in my cluttered home office, working diligently on my book, as yet untitled, in which I intend to fully document precisely what he has done for to Louisiana.

Among the topics to be covered are public education, higher education, health care, the state budget, campaign contributions, political appointments, ethics, privatization, his ALEC connections, the explosion in corporate tax breaks during his two terms, the lack of progress as reflected in myriad state rankings and surveys throughout his eight years as our largely absentee governor, the lack of transparency, his thinly veiled use of foundations and non-profit organizations to advance his political career, his intolerance for dissent (teaguing), his actual performance as compared to campaign promises as candidate Bobby, and his general incompetence.

I was asked on a local radio show if I could be fair to Jindal, given my personal feelings about his abilities as reflected in more than a thousand posts on this site. The short answer is: probably not. The long answer is I can—and will—be as fair to him as he has been to the state I love and call home. Because I do not claim to be objective (as opposed to the paid media who cling to that word as if it were some kind of Holy Grail), I am not bound by any rules that place limits on the expression of my opinions. I see what he has done, I understand the adverse effect his actions have had on this state, and I will offer my take on them for the reader to either accept or reject. If that is not fair, then so be it.

I have written about 60,000 words of an anticipated 100,000-word manuscript thus far. A couple of other writers have volunteered to contribute chapters, which should add another 20,000 words. I have a self-imposed deadline of July 1—give or take a few days—in which to have the rough draft completed. I also have several very capable editors poring over the chapters as they are completed. Their corrections, deletions, additions and suggestions will be incorporated into the final manuscript which is to be submitted to the publisher by late August.

The publisher originally gave me a publication target date of next Spring but recently moved the anticipated publication date up to January, with an e-book to be released possibly as early as this Fall.

That would coincide nicely with Jindal’s second ghost-written book, scheduled out in September.

There will be one major difference in our books: Mine will be based on his record while the source of his claims of balanced budgets and other wild, unsubstantiated assertions are certain to remain a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma (with apologies to Winston Churchill).

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Twenty-four hours of reflection and some well-chosen observations from retired State Budget Director Stephen Winham have us now considering the possibility that the letter from those 11 Republican Louisiana House members seeking advice on the controversial SAVE bill may not have been so much a capitulation to Grover Norquist as it was a set up that left Bobby Jindal looking like the fool he is on the eve of his formal entry into the GOP presidential sweepstakes.

And that classic no-response response by Norquist only adds to the speculation that the whole thing was a devilishly clever trap designed to ensnare Jindal in his own web of deceit and rigid demagoguery.

If that indeed was the purpose of the letter, we at LouisianaVoice have more than a little egg on our faces and an apology to the 11 legislators on our lips because, quite frankly (and there is no spin we can put on this) we were taken in as were most of us who read the letter for the first time.

Unlike traditional media, we do not bury our “clarifications” in some obscure part of our publication with a two- or three-sentence acknowledgement of the error; we put it out there for all to see.

We’re still not certain that the letter was written with the intent of putting Jindal in a box from which there was no graceful exit as opposed to the first blush appearance of pathetic groveling, but it’s sure beginning to look that way. And if that is what it was, we can only add, Touché.

The only thing that gives us pause is the fact that four members of the Ways and Means Committee who signed the letter—Cameron Henry of Metairie, Kirk Talbot of River Ridge, Joe Harrison of Gray, and John Schroder of Covington—also signed Norquist’s “no tax” pledge.

Moreover, five of the 11 (Brett Geymann of Lake Charles, Harrison, Henry, Schroder and Talbot are either current or former members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the national non-profit organization funded by some of America’s largest corporations, including Wal-Mart, major oil, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies and Koch Industries.

But perhaps the biggest indication that the letter was an elaborate ruse, and one we did not initially consider, is simply this: Why would the committee release the letter—and Norquist’s response—to the media unless it was just that: a scheme to back Jindal into a corner? It would be too convenient to say the letter was simply leaked; it’s more likely now, considering the meek response by Norquist, that it was spoon-fed to the media with the express purpose of embarrassing Jindal.

“I have read and re-read the letter,” said Winham in an email to LouisianaVoice, “and I still see it as a direct hit on Norquist and Jindal and that it serves as an official record of opposition  to SAVE and to Grover Norquist and to Bobby Jindal.

“I also agree that, in addition to its (SAVE’s) utter stupidity, it would establish a horrible precedent that (says) pure gimmicks suffice to do anything with taxes,” he said. “I am not anti-tax and (I) believe anybody ought to have sense enough to know which services we need and that they have to be paid for. I am not for using totally idiotic loopholes as a means to pass taxes and then pretend you didn’t.”

Winham said that had he been a legislator, “I would have signed that sucker” with the view of telling Grover where he could stick it and with the admonition to “leave us alone.”

Winham is not alone in concocting his theory, not by a long shot. Sharing his views were superb Baton Rouge Advocate political columnist Stephanie Grace who has recently been taking Jindal to task on his budget proposals and his silly presidential run.

In her Tuesday column, she said the letter makes a lot of sense on a number of levels—mostly because it puts the ball squarely in Norquist’s and Jindal’s corner.

http://theadvocate.com/columnists/12585102-123/stephanie-grace-saving-save-a#comments

Another is a blogger known only as Skydancer. In her most recent post, she pours the metaphorical gasoline on the fire that is quickly bringing to a boil the hot water that Jindal finds himself in only days before his (yawn) announcement that he is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Skydancer notes that Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in the letter that the bill, if enacted, “would successfully and irreparably establish the precedent that future legislatures and governors can raise taxes on a nearly unlimited basis and then claim revenue neutrality solely based on the creation of a purely fictional, procedural phantom paper tax credit.” http://skydancingblog.com/2015/06/08/monday-reads-take-our-governor-please/

But the most important endorsement of Winham’s theory comes from none other than Norquist himself. The leader of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), Norquist initiated the infamous “no tax” pledge that a couple of dozen Louisiana lawmakers signed off on, including those four Ways and Means Committee members.

So, what was the response to the letter by Norquist? He punted. “ATR is agnostic as to whether a credit or deduction is good policy. We merely call balls and strikes regarding whether a change in tax law results in a net tax increase,” he wrote back. “ATR does not support or oppose the SAVE Act. While the SAVE Act does include a credit that can be used to offset other tax increases, there are other ways to achieve revenue neutrality, such as by repealing the corporate franchise tax and/or cutting the state income tax. If you don’t like the SAVE Act, why not find other offsetting tax cuts that are more to your liking?” he added.

Obviously, that response is significant.

First, it gives the Ways and Means Committee all the ammunition it needs to kill the SAVE bill and for the Legislature to move forward in the final week of the 2015 session in passing a budget that will almost certainly be vetoed by Jindal.

Second, it sets up a confrontation that could result in just the third override of a governor’s veto in Louisiana history.

That will look great on Jindal’s resumé when he makes his official announcement in New Orleans on June 24.

 

[TA1]

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