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Archive for the ‘Attorney General’ Category

Thank goodness for late-inning rallies Thursday and Friday nights by LSU’s No. 1-ranked baseball team to beat No. 2 Texas A&M 4-3  and 9-6, respectively. Otherwise, the news just keeps getting worse for Louisiana.

That’s right; we had to flip all the way back to the sports section to find anything good to write.

That’s because even as the legislature grapples with that $1.6 billion budgetary shortfall, things were becoming unraveled elsewhere as the administration was hit this week not with a double- but a triple-whammy that could end up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars and could conceivably end up costing another LSU president his job.

We will try to take the events in chronological order.

On Tuesday, the administration received word from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services that CMS AGAIN REJECTS the administration’s Cooperative Endeavor Agreements (CEAs) in connection with the controversial state hospital privatization plan pushed by Bobby Jindal “because the state has not met its burden of documenting the allowability of its claims for Federal Financial Participation (FFP).”

The decision apparently will cost the state $190 million, according to a letter to State Medicaid Director Ruth Kennedy from Acting CMS Director Nikki Wachino.

On the heels of that letter, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols received notification from Attorney General Buddy Caldwell on Thursday that the state had been OVERPAID BY $17 MILLION in tobacco settlement money and would have to repay that amount to the tobacco companies who then will redistribute it to states that were underpaid.

And on Friday, State Treasurer John Kennedy announced that national investors had pulled out of a large portion of a major bond deal for LSU after concerns were raised on Wall Street by LSU President F. King Alexander who announced on Thursday that he was preparing paperwork for the state’s flagship university to file for financial exigency, or academic bankruptcy. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/04/lsu_academic_bankruptcy.html

Kennedy, in a Friday news release, said his office was “trying to sort out the facts,” but essentially, a $114 million bond issue that was in the works appeared to fall flat when investors pulled out on about $80 million in commitments. The bond sale was to have funded a Family Housing Complex, residence halls and a Student Health Center and also would have saved interest on existing debt. http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=e9da20fd-7c07-4e6d-9d75-82afa4fb05a9&c=cdce75a0-62fb-11e3-959d-d4ae52a459cd&ch=ce38f740-62fb-11e3-95d9-d4ae52a459cd

A BloombergBusiness report said that while investors who bought the $114 million of debt sold by LSU they were not told the school was considering filing for exigency. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-23/louisiana-state-bond-buyers-greeted-by-insolvency-plan-next-day

A declaration of exigency by LSU and other colleges and universities across the state would open the way for the schools to fire tenured professors. http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-04-23/louisiana-state-to-draft-insolvency-plan-as-jindal-plans-cuts

One state official confided in LouisianaVoice that Alexander, in his attempts to underscore the severity of the financial crisis in Louisiana higher education, currently facing still more deep budgetary cuts, may have overplayed his hand in making a “premature” announcement of such magnitude.

Meanwhile, word leaked out of a Board of Regents committee meeting Friday afternoon that as many as one-half to 75 percent of Louisiana colleges and universities may be unable to meet payroll by June unless some solution is found quickly to the fiscal crisis that has spread a mood of imminent doom across state campuses. That source said he does not believe a solution will be found until the last week of the session—if then.

With a vengeful governor like Bobby Jindal, anything perceived by him to place him in a bad light is met with severe repercussions, namely teaguing, and Alexander’s pronouncements have certainly reflected poorly on the administration.

For new readers who may not be familiar with the term, teaguing refers to Jindal’s firing of Melody Teague because of her testimony before the state government streamlining committee and the similar firing of her husband, Tommy Teague, only six months later from his job as Director of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) when he failed to go along with the ill-fated privatization of that agency. Dozens of other state employees and legislators have been either fired or demoted from committee assignments by Jindal for lesser sins. LouisianaVoice learned today that Melody Teague, who was suffering from ALS, died in March. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/theadvocate/obituary.aspx?pid=174404543

For his part, Jindal, after more than seven years in office, has finally admitted there is a problem with “corporate welfare” in Louisiana, i.e. corporations that do not pay any taxes to the state.

One classic example cited by Steve Spires of the Louisiana Budget Project was Wal-Mart, which is a Delaware-based corporation. Spires, speaking at a State of (Dis)Repair conference in Hammond on Thursday, noted that Louisiana Wal-Mart stores are leased by local entities who pay exorbitant rent to the corporate parent in Delaware, a state with no state income tax, thus avoiding income tax in Louisiana while reaping the benefits of other incentives such as Enterprise Zone designation and 10-year property tax exemptions.

Jindal has only in the past couple of weeks so much as acknowledged the state has a problem with its generous tax breaks for corporations which cost the state billions of dollars per year.

Thus, as the budget crisis grows progressively worse with each passing year, Jindal has resorted to more and more sleight of hand in patching over budget holes with one-money.

Caldwell, in his letter to Nichols and Kennedy, said a number of states had been underpaid in tobacco fund settlement money by the tobacco companies because of accounting errors, and that a corresponding number, including Louisiana, had been overpaid.

Louisiana, he said, was overpaid by about $17 million which will have to be repaid so the money can be redistributed to the proper states.

The CMS rejection has been a problem for the administration since the privatization deals with several private hospitals were signed, though DHH Secretary Kathy Kleibert has attempted to see the world through rose-colored glasses, always expressing optimism that the state’s plan would be approved.

Not so.

In her three-page letter to Ruth Kennedy, Wachino said, “After careful consideration, CMS cannot accept the arguments advanced by the State in its Request for Reconsideration. While CMS recognizes the State’s efforts at corrective action, such measures do not address the State’s noncompliance for the period in question (Jan. 1, 2013 through May 23, 2014). For the reasons stated above, as well as in CMS’s Dec. 23, 2014, disallowance letter, the…disallowance is affirmed.”

All in all, the state has seen better weeks.

Go LSU! We need a sweep badly!

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By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)

LouisianaVoice readers may recall a December 15, 2014 post outlining state defense attorneys desperately fighting to block a deposition of Stephen Russo,  Secretary of the State Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), to be conducted by Lewis Unglesby, lead plaintiff attorney in the Client Network Services Inc. (CNSI) civil lawsuit against the state.  CNSI alleges that Gov. Jindal’s office, in “consultation” with AG Caldwell’s Office, unjustly cancelled its contract to provide Medicaid processing services to DHH after news of a federal grand jury having convened to consider potential improprieties in the awarding of the contract broke.  The federal grand jury probe went nowhere, but Caldwell nevertheless continued a probe with a state grand jury.  Ultimately, that state grand jury indicted former DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein for nine counts of alleged perjury entailing testimony to that grand jury or statements made at his senate confirmation hearing.

At that December hearing, Judge Kelley ruled that Russo could be deposed and that any attorney-client privilege had clearly been waived.  The AG’s Office filed an immediate appeal writ with the First Circuit (notwithstanding the fact Judge Kelley stated, “There’s nothing to appeal because this matter is clear,”).  The First Circuit upheld Judge Kelley’s ruling and denied the appeal.  During that December hearing, Unglesby stated AG Caldwell’s Office had “quite likely acted illegally” in publicly releasing Greenstein’s grand jury testimony.  A hearing to quash that testimony transpired in Greenstein’s criminal trial on March 20, 2015.

At that hearing, Greenstein criminal defense attorney, John McLindon, argued for protection of the grand jury “body” not only for the Greenstein case but for all future criminal trials.  He stated that denying his motion to quash the grand jury testimony would send a horrible signal that grand jury secrecy was a “sham” in Louisiana.  He also stated that AG Caldwell’s Office essentially engaged in an ex-parte maneuver in that the AG’s motion to file the grand jury transcript into the public record was “buried” at the end of the order.  McLindon also argued that David Caldwell had been deceptive in describing the motion in court on the day it was presented as a “routine procedure” to enable McLindon to obtain a copy of the testimony, which McLindon indicated he was entitled to anyway.  Judge Daniel ruled that the AG’s office acted properly in filing the transcript into the public record, but McLindon indicated he may likely appeal Judge Daniel’s ruling.

Louisiana Voice has now reviewed extensive court filings in the civil case in which CNSI attorneys lodge even more allegations of serious wrongdoing on the part of Caldwell’s Office.  Those allegations entail the testimony of CNSI whistleblower Stephen Smith.

Smith is the CNSI employee who sent an anonymous email to Jeffrey Branch with the Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) under the alias of “Kunego.”  The email was sent sometime after a meeting which Smith had with Norm Nichols, President of Molina Medicaid Services, and the company which has managed Louisiana’s Medicaid processing for decades and which filed a protest after CNSI won the contract.  Smith testified that Nichols indicated that, although Molina lost the protest, “there were still things in the process that were questionable.”    Smith has moved on to Orlando, Florida where he serves as Vice President for Sellers Dorsey, LLC, which is a health policy consulting company.

On May 1, 2014, CNSI attorneys conducted a video deposition of Smith in Orlando.  During the deposition, Unglesby presented Smith with a copy of what the AG had supplied as the “Kunego report.”  That report, which was filed under seal soon after CNSI’s lawsuit was initiated, contained notations of AG investigator Scott Bailey’s interview of Smith (but identified as “Kunego”) on May 10th and May 11th of 2012.  Unglesby then asked Smith to take a pen and underline those portions of the interview notes for which he wished to claim were his words and recollections of the interview and to refrain from underlining those items for which he did not wish to assess as having originated from him.  As readers can readily tell from reading the 7-page report, Smith was only willing to claim responsibility for between 50-60% of it as evidenced by what is underlined.  Nevertheless, the report contains some rather intriguing allegations, not the least of which is contained on page five.  On that page, the report states:  “Bobby Jindal has what Kunego calls an India to India ancestor driven background and network of connections that brought CNSI and Jindal together.”

The deposition continued for an extended period, so the parties agreed to recess and reconvene on a later date, which turned out to be July 8, 2014.  Upon reconvening the deposition, Unglesby made an inquiry of Smith regarding whether he’d had any communication with anyone from the AG’s Office.  Smith responded that Scott Bailey, the AG investigator who had interviewed him for the Kunego report, had telephoned him twice and had flown to Orlando to meet with him on June 28, 2014.  Smith indicated that Bailey stated that he needed to clarify the timeframe of the meeting with Nichols and also to inform him that the AG’s office had provided CNSI attorneys with the “wrong version” of the Kunego report.  Smith testified that Bailey informed him that, on May 1, 2014, he’d been provided with the “unedited” Kunego report when he should have been provided with the “edited” report, which is the report the AG’s Office intended to supply to CNSI attorneys.

Smith then explained that the unedited report, which CNSI attorneys provided at the May 1, 2014 deposition, was what had confused him so much because it had statements in the report which he knew he hadn’t made and therefore caused confusion as to how such statements were in a report of an interview of him.  When Unglesby pressed Smith on whether he asked Bailey how such allegations, including that of Jindal’s “India to India ancestor driven background” and that being responsible for bringing CNSI and Jindal together, got in his interview report, Smith indicated that he did not press Bailey for any explanation.

CNSI attorneys, upon learning of these phone conversations between Bailey and Smith, the in-person meeting between the two on June 28, 2014, and the fact that two reports of Smith’s interview responses even exist, prompted strong accusations of witness tampering on the part of AG Caldwell’s Office.  CNSI attorney Michael McKay of the law firm Stone Pigman, in a Motion to Conduct Discovery Regarding Certain Activities of the AG’s Investigator, accuses AG investigator Scott Bailey of “outrageous witness tampering,” and seeks to depose Bailey about his conduct and actions and also have the AG surrender documents, including the “edited” Kunego report, which were shared between Bailey and Smith, along with documents and dates of correspondence between Smith and Nichols.

CNSI attorneys allege that the AG’s Office filed the “unedited” version of the “Kunego report” under seal with the full knowledge that it contained material not attributable to Smith as a means to “influence the public” and to justify a six-month stay being sought by the AG’s Office for all proceedings.  Although the motion to stay was denied (and the First Circuit upheld the denial on June 7, 2013), the AG’s Office filed a motion to limit discovery and a motion for Judge Kelley to recuse himself on the basis Unglesby had previously represented him.  Judge Caldwell denied the recusal motion on July 1, 2013; however, Judge Kelley granted a motion to stay all proceedings on July 30, 2013.  CNSI attorneys asserted that Kelley’s decision was based largely on the “unedited” Kunego report which they contended the AG’s Office knew full well contained material not supplied by Smith and for which the foundation is unknown.  CNSI attorneys also expressed frustration that, as of the date of their filing, August 22, 2014, they still had not been provided with the “edited” Kunego report.

The hearing on CNSI’s motion to depose Bailey was argued before Judge Kelley on October 7, 2014, and he granted the motion.  At a bare minimum, CNSI attorneys have already exposed a high level of ineptitude on the part of AG Caldwell’s Office in that it provided the wrong “version” of the Kunego report given how critical that report is to both the civil and criminal trials.  It is mind boggling that a document that critical wouldn’t be triple checked as being the one the AG’s Office wanted to ensure CNSI attorneys received.  The mere fact they would later have to admit to Smith that “we gave the CNSI attorneys the wrong version” speaks volumes as to the AG Office’s ineptitude.  Of course, as CNSI attorneys argued in their support memorandum, it begs the question as to why two versions of the report even exist at all.

It remains to be seen how successful CNSI’s attorneys may be in exploiting their allegation of witness tampering by the AG’s Office.  Obviously, their ultimate goal is to have Smith’s testimony at trial declared inadmissible based on inconsistency and the actions of AG Caldwell’s Office.  If they succeed, a huge defense to CNSI’s alleged wrongful contract termination may go by the wayside and expose Louisiana taxpayers to a substantial monetary award.  Further, if Smith’s testimony is ruled inadmissible, a spillover benefit to Greenstein’s criminal trial may also arise.

When combined with the recent scathing WWL investigative report on AG Caldwell, one can only question if the biggest beneficiary of all of the extensive focus of the ineptitude and controversies of Gov. Jindal has been AG Caldwell himself.  It certainly appears that for an extended period, he was able to fly below radar on his office’s ineptitude and potential serious wrongdoing.  Perhaps recent revelations of his actions may provide an excellent source of campaign fodder for the October election for Louisiana’s next attorney general.

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There’s blood in the water and the sharks are starting to circle.

To clarify the analogy somewhat, the blood is $750 million in tobacco settlement money and the sharks would be 144 state legislators and the guy masquerading as Louisiana’s governor.

Bobby Jindal, the same guy who as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) in 1996, opposed the state’s participation in the 46-state litigation against the nation’s four largest tobacco companies, now wants to sell off the remaining portion of the 1998 settlement of that suit to generate $750 million for the state treasury.

That’s the same Bobby Jindal who as DHH secretary, was well aware that the state was spending millions of dollars per year in treatment of indigent patients for tobacco-related illnesses at the state’s charity hospitals, but nevertheless signed affidavits along with his boss, then-Gov. Mike Foster, that argued that Attorney General Richard Ieyoub did not have the authority to sue on behalf of the state and DHH.

That’s also the same Bobby Jindal who as governor in absentia, successfully opposed the lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) against 97 oil and gas companies in an effort to hold them accountable for damages to Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, claiming that SLFPA-E did not have authority to file suit on behalf of the state.

No matter. The tobacco litigation was settled for $365.5 billion in 1998 and the state was in line to receive $4.6 billion, or $141.2 million per year for 25 years and continued payments as long as tobacco products are sold within the state as its share of the settlement. http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/tobacco-settlement-payments/

But in 2001, the state, with the support of State Treasurer John Kennedy, sold 60 percent of its settlement income as a hedge against the possibility of bankruptcy by the tobacco companies. That money was placed in a trust fund that generates revenue for health care, education and the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), the program that provides college scholarships to Louisiana high school students to meet curriculum and grade criteria.

Now, though, Jindal is proposing selling off the remaining 40 percent, a move that Kennedy opposes, saying it represents the same disastrous fiscal policy that is responsible for the current $1.6 billion structural deficit in the state budget.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, in her usual condescending manner, said Kennedy does not understand what the administration is trying to do.

“The only way we will consider this is if it creates recurring revenue for TOPS,” she said, adding that the money would not be spent all at one time.

But Nichols and Jindal only have a few months left in office and have no way of guaranteeing how the money will be used and Kennedy is more than a little skeptical of Jindal’s motives. “It’s just another gimmick to generate one-time money,” he said. “It’s just not a good idea to sell the family silver.”

He said the administration does not have the authority to dictate how the money is spent. “That will be the decision of the legislature and with the history of the legislature being what it is, you know they can’t wait to get their hands on this money,” he said.

Kennedy said the proposed sale is much like the manner in which the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) saw its reserve fund reduced from $500 million to only about $100 million and still dwindling.

“The administration reduced premiums for OGB members which on the surface, looked like a great thing for the members.” What the administration didn’t say is that the move also reduced the state’s corresponding obligation to match premiums, thus freeing up money the state would have paid into OGB for helping Jindal patch his budget holes. Meanwhile, because of reduction in income from premiums, OGB found itself paying out about $14 million more in benefits each month than it was taking in, thus creating a continuous drawdown on the reserve fund.

Kennedy said the revenue from the sale of the tobacco settlement cannot be used to plug budget holes because it would have to be used for TOPS and higher education. But by dedicating the money for TOPS, it would allow the administration to take the money it would normally use for those two purposes and redirect it to the state budget.

Kennedy said the administration has taken on all the characteristics of a junkie in search of a fix.

He said Jindal’s chronic use of one-time money to fill budget holes has included selling state property, raiding the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly, indirectly taking funds from the OGB reserve fund. “When you get hooked badly enough, you will sell your shoes for a fix,” Kennedy said. “Any farmer knows it’s a bad idea to sell your seed corn because then you don’t have anything to plant next year’s crop.”

Noting that Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s bond rating agencies have already put Louisiana on negative credit watch, he said the rating agencies will take a dim view of the state’s selloff of the remainder of the tobacco settlement which is currently generating about $50 million a year for the state.

Nichols said the proposal to sell the remaining 40 percent of the settlement would have to be approved by the Tobacco Settlement Financing Corp. Board, the Legislature and the State Bond Commission. The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in House Committee Room 1 in the State Capitol.

Approval by the board is expected to be a mere formality since the board members are Jindal appointees.

“My fear is that all $750 million of this money will be spent,” Kennedy said. “Everyone will want a piece of the pie. That will only add to our structural deficit and what will we do next once the money is gone? We’ve got to stop thinking about the next election and begin thinking about the next generation. Don’t hold this fire sale.”

If the board does approve it and it goes before the Legislature, “we are going to do everything we can to oppose the sale,” Kennedy said.

The practice of Bobby Jindal’s selling off everything in sight to raise money is reminiscent of a 2011 comment by former State Sen. Butch Gautreaux (D-Morgan City) who, in criticizing Jindal’s practice of selling state property, suggested acerbically that perhaps the administration should consider selling the 24-story State Capitol building because “it would make a great waterslide.” http://louisianavoice.com/2011/04/29/of-water-slides-and-comparisons-between-2-state-health-plans/

 

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The Oct. 11 primary election for governor is still seven months off but it’s never too early for conducting polls to see the early seeding of candidates and an early poll has shown a surprisingly strong showing by Democratic State Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite. MARCH 6 POLL

The poll, dated March 6, was conducted on March 5 by Triumph Campaigns. A survey of 1,655 participants, it was the first public poll completed since two of the gubernatorial candidates launched paid media buys or since several public debates were held in that race.

The poll also measured voter preferences for lieutenant governor, attorney general and commissioner of insurance.

With a margin or error of 2.4 percent, Edwards trailed U.S. Sen. David Vitter by only two percentage points, 35 percent to 33 percent. A further breakdown shows Vitter with 23 percent “definitely” favoring him and 12 percent as “probable.” Edwards had 16 percent “definite” and 17 percent “probable,” the poll shows.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is running third with 15 percent (8 percent definite and 7 percent probable), while Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle trails with 7 percent (3 percent definite and 4 percent probable). The remaining 11 percent were undecided.

Breaking the race down by political party preference, 53 percent favored a Republican candidate and 47 percent preferred a Democrat. The percentages were nearly identical on the question of which party best represents respondents’ point of view with 54 percent saying Republican and 46 percent leaning toward Republican.

The poll also reflects that 69 percent of respondents do not feel the state is headed in the right direction while less a third, 31 percent, feel the state is on track.

To the question of approval of the job being done by Gov. Bobby Jindal, 63 percent disapproved, 27 percent approved and 10 percent were undecided. The 27 percent approval rating represents a new low approval rating for the state’s mostly absentee governor who was out of the state a full 45 percent of the time in 2014, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Of the respondents polled 54 percent were female and 46 male; 48 percent were registered Democrats, 35 percent Republican and 17 percent independent. 69 percent were white, 27 percent black, 1 percent Hispanic and 3 percent “other.”

For lieutenant governor, Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden leads with 33 percent, followed by Billy Nungesser at 23 percent and John Young at 20 percent. State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas) had 4 percent.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell appears to be in trouble early on, locked in a dead heat with Democrat Jacque Roy at 30 percent with Republican Jeff Landry at 20 percent and the remaining 20 percent undecided.

State Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, with 45 percent, appears to have a solid lead for re-election over challenger Matt Parker at 13 percent. The remaining 41 percent were undecided. Those numbers could be skewed considerably should State Treasurer John Kennedy opt to run for attorney general but he is as yet unannounced.

Indeed, the numbers are expected to shift considerably in all races once the full-fledged media blitz is launched by the various candidates and as PAC money flows into the coffers of candidates favored by business, oil and other special interests.

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Senator Daniel R. Martiny's Picture

STATE SEN. DAN MARTINY

C.B. Forgotston may have opened a can of worms…with the unwitting help of State Sen. Dan Martiny (R-Metairie)—and much to Martiny’s chagrin.

Forgotston, you see, is an independent old cuss who used to work for the legislature and he has been serving for a number of years now as an unofficial overseer of all things state government and few events escape his skeptical critique of the actions and motives of elected officials, particularly legislators, or as he calls them, leges.

Called “King of Subversive Bloggers” by no less an expert on cynicism than Baton Rouge Advocate columnist James Gill, Forgotston is beholden to no one and any leges who crosses swords with him does so at his own peril.

Martiny may have found out the hard way when he sent this email to Forgotston Sunday around 4:16 p.m. informing C.B. that his emails to the good senator were no longer welcomed:

From: “Martiny, Sen. (Chamber Laptop)” <dmartiny@legis.la.gov>

To: “C.B. Forgotston” Date: Sun, 15 Feb 2015 16:16:34 -0600 Subject:

Re: Where’s Buddy?

Take me off your list until u do something positive about anyone.

Martiny was responding to Forgotston’s “Where’s Buddy” post in which he took Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to task for the AG’s reluctance to do his job in telling the Caddo Parish Commissioners they are in violation of the Louisiana State Constitution by virtue of their illegal participation in the Caddo Parish retirement system.

Forgotston noted that Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has done his job in saying commissioners’ participation in the retirement system is illegal but Caldwell, as has been his M.O. since taking office, has been strangely quiet on public corruption.

And while there is certainly nothing wrong in going after free-lance pharmaceutical salesmen (drug dealers), child pornographers and the like, Caldwell has displayed an obvious dislike for making waves in the political waters and has steadfastly run from public corruption cases.

And we know that while the 1974 State Constitution took much of the prosecutorial duties from the attorney general, the AG is still the legal adviser for all state agencies and if nothing else, Caldwell should step forward and whisper in officials’ ears when they are seen skirting the edge of the law. (Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols’ open violation of the state’s public records law comes immediately to mind. So does Auctioneer Board attorney Larry Bankston’s advice to the board to actually refuse to release public records.)

But we digress.

If you notice, Martiny’s message for C.B. to delete future mailings to him was written on his Senate chamber laptop, which some might interpret as an unwillingness on his part to hear from citizens on matters that concern them.

“My periodic mailings address issues of concern to me primarily about state and local government,” Forgotston said on Monday.

“The mailings are sent to each lege via a public server owned by taxpayers. The address to which it is sent is also provided by the taxpayers.”

Forgotston said that after a “gentle reminder,” Martiny, an attorney, relented and acknowledged the provisions of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Other leges may not be as familiar with the First Amendment as is Martiny,” he said. “As a public service, here is some background on the First Amendment which leges might find useful in dealing with members of the public.

“The First Amendment states, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’” (Emphasis Forgotston’s)

The right to freedom of speech, he says, “allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. (Emphasis Forgotston’s)

“The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances guarantees people the right to ask the government to provide relief for a wrong through the courts (litigation) or other governmental action. (Emphasis Forgotston’s)

“Not only do we have a right to contact the leges regarding matters of government, they are prohibited from interfering with our exercise of that right,” Forgotston said. “That includes the blocking of emails as some leges have done in the past.

“Any lege not wishing to receive my communications, please forward me a copy of your letter of resignation from the lege and you will be promptly removed from all future mailings.”

Now, just to give you a little background on Sen. Martiny, who:

  • Fought a bill by State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) which would have prevent legislators from leaving the House or Senate and taking six-figure jobs in order to boost their state retirement. It’s worth noting that several legislators had been appointed to cushy state jobs by the Gov. Bobby administration. Noble Ellington of Winnsboro was named second in command at the Louisiana State Department of Insurance at $150,000 per year; Jane Smith of Bossier City was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Department of Revenue ($107,500), though she admitted she knew nothing about taxes or revenue; Troy Hebert of Jeanerette was named Commissioner of the Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board ($107,500); Kay Katz of Monroe, named to the Louisiana Tax Commission ($56,000); former St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis named Director of Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness ($165,000), and former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro was appointed Director of Hazard Mitigation and Recovery ($150,000).
  • Pushed through an amendment that gutted Senate Bill 84 by Sen. Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa), a bill originally designed to protect vulnerable borrowers from predatory payday lenders. Nevers sought to cap payday loan annual interest rates at 36 percent which was an effective way to rein in those lenders who were charging annual percentage rates of up to 700 percent. Martiny’s amendment removed the APR cap and instead simply limited borrowers to 10 short-term loans each year.
  • Pushed through a bill that was subsequently signed by Gov. Bobby which prohibited state contractors from entering into agreements with labor unions, prohibited public entities from remaining neutral toward any labor organization, and prohibited the payment of predetermined or prevailing wages.
  • Introduced a bill that was subsequently signed by Gov. Bobby which re-created 17 state boards, offices and commissions. Louisiana already has far more boards and commissions than any other state but apparently no one saw a need for reducing the number.
  • Introduced a bill subsequently signed into law by Gov. Bobby that gave judges on state district courts, courts of appeal and the Louisiana Supreme court pay raises ranging from 3.7 percent to 5.5 percent—even as Louisiana civil service employees were forced to go without a pay raise for the third straight year.
  • Introduced but later withdrew a bill that would have allowed the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (DED) the authority to offer air carriers a rebate of up to $500 annually for each incremental international passenger flying to or from a state airport for a period of up to five years.
  • Introduced a bill allowing DED to offer tax credits refundable against corporate income and corporate franchise taxes for businesses agreeing to undertake activities to increase the number of visitors to the state by at least 100,000 per year. (We’re beginning to see the problem with the state’s economic incentive tax breaks here).
  • Introduced a bill to provide tax credits for solar energy systems of up to 50 percent of all costs.
  • Introduced a bill that would have allowed the Commissioner of Insurance to fire the Deputy Commissioner of Consumer Advocacy without cause.

Let’s examine that very last one again. Louisiana law provides for the appointment of a deputy commissioner of consumer advocacy by the Commissioner of Insurance.

This is important, provided that person is wholly independent of Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon who gets the bulk of his campaign finances from insurance companies he is supposed to regulate.

Donelon, obviously, cannot be expected to ride herd over his benefactors. That’s just not the way politics works in Louisiana. So a consumer advocate in the department is critical—especially after all those stories about Allstate and State Farm denying legitimate claims from Hurricane Katrina and other tactics such as the Delay, Deny, Defend strategy as taught the insurance companies by Gov. Bobby’s former employer, McKinsey & Co.

The law provides that the consumer advocate may be terminated only for cause.

But Martiny wanted to change that and though the bill did not pass, one has to wonder about his motives.

To learn that, you’d probably have to email him at dmartiny@legis.la.gov

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