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Archive for the ‘House, Senate’ Category

Because The Hayride political blog that tilts slightly to the right of Attila the Hun appears to be fixated on Edwin Edwards and those who contribute to his congressional campaign, we thought it only fair to offer the identities of a few contributors to the U.S. senatorial campaign of Congressman Bill Cassidy, the man Edwards is trying to succeed.

Cassidy, meanwhile, is attempting to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Unlike The Hayride, we opted not to concentrate on individual contributors (though we are reserving that as an option) but rather to peel the cover back on contributions of political action committees, or PACs.

The reason for this is simple: Small donors make good press but big donors get you reelected and PACs tend to be far more generous than individual donors.

There are three types of PACs:

  • Connected PACs are established by businesses, labor unions, trade groups or health organizations. They receive and raise money from a “restricted class,” usually sharing a common interest. Of the 4,600 connected PACs, 1,598 are registered corporate PACs, 995 are trade organizations and 272 are related to labor unions.
  • Non-connected PACs consist of groups with an ideological mission, single-issue groups and members of Congress and other political leaders. These organizations may accept funds from any individual, connected PAC, or organization.
  • Leadership PACs are set up by elected officials and political parties and may make independent expenditures, provided the expenditure is not coordinated with the other candidate. Unlike the other types, spending by leadership PACs is not limited. A leadership PAC may not use funds to support the official’s own campaign but can fund travel, administrative expenses, consultants, polling and other non-campaign expenses.

Cassidy has received $77,500 from 11 of those leadership PACs, including $5,000 from U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s Louisiana Reform PAC. Vitter, who apparently was able to find some spare change that was not be used for social contacts in Washington or New Orleans, is a candidate for governor in 2015.

Of the 11, only two, Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee have exhibited any willingness to work with Democrats on legislation, records show.

He also receive about half a million dollars from a cluster of connected PACs, mostly medical professional groups, according to campaign finance records.

In all, Cassidy has received more than $4.7 million through Aug. 2, about 40 percent of which came from PACs, records show.

Other contributions from leadership PACs include:

  • $5,000 from the 21st Century Majority Fund of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia). Besides voting in favor of the war on Iraq as a member of the U.S. House, he even gave a speech on the House floor in which he said he had personally considered the facts and felt it essential that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction be destroyed. A 1990 supporter of abortion rights, he soon swerved to the right, becoming a pro-life candidate a decade later.
  • $10,000 from the Alamo PAC of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of “Big Oil’s 10 favorite members of Congress,” according to MSN Money. Cornyn has received more money from the oil and gas industry than all but six other members of Congress. Cornyn once compared the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear arguments for sustaining Terri Schiavo’s life with the murders of two judges, a statement that received widespread condemnation and for which he later apologized.
  • $5,000 from the Bluegrass Committee of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). McConnell, among other things, voted against a bill that would help women earn equal pay for performing the same job as men, opposed a Senate bill that would have limited the practice of corporate inversion by U.S. corporations seeking to limit U.S. tax liability, attempted twice to get federal grants for Alltech, whose president made subsequent campaign contributions to McConnell, to build a plant in Kentucky for producing ethanol from algae, corncobs and switchgrass, only to criticize President Obama in 2012 for twice mentioning biofuel production from algae, and requested earmarks for defense contractor BAE Systems while the company was under investigation for alleged bribery of foreign officials.
  • $5,000 from U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby’s Defend America PAC. Shelby (R-Alabama), who in 2000, took a hard line on leaks of classified information, in 2002, revealed classified information related to the 9-11 attacks to Fox News.
  • $5,000 from the Freedom Fund PAC of U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). Crapo, who claimed to be a Mormon who abstained from using alcohol, pled guilty to DWI in 2013, was fined $250 and received a one-year suspension of his driver’s license. That same year, he voted against passage of a bill that would have expanded background checks for all gun buyers.
  • $2,500 from Lindsey Graham’s Fund for America’s Future. The South Carolina Republican described himself in 1998 as a veteran of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm when in reality, he never left South Carolina. He did, however, serve in Iraq for a few weeks in 2007 and during the Senate’s August recess in 2009. In 2010, he alleged that “half the children born in hospitals on our borders are the children of illegal immigrants.” A Pew Foundation study, however, gave that number as only 8 percent. In 2009, he supported a climate change bill, calling for a green economy. A year later, he flipped, saying, “The science about global warming has changed. I think they’ve oversold this stuff.” He added that he would vote against the climate bill that he had originally sponsored.
  • $10,000 from the Heartland Values PAC of U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota). A name to watch, Thune was considered as John McCain’s running mate in 2008 but lost out to Sarah Palin (ouch!). He was also considered a possible candidate for president in 2012 (because he “looked presidential”) but opted out. He also was considered to be on the short list for Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 but lost out again, to Paul Ryan.
  • $10,000 from Next Century Fund PAC of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina). Burr voted against the financial reform bill of 2010 which regulates credit default swaps and other derivatives, saying, “I fear we’re headed down a path that will be too over burdensome, too duplicative, it will raise the cost of credit….The balance that we’ve got to have is more focus on the products that we didn’t regulate….more so than government playing a bigger role with a stronger hand.” During the financial crisis of 2008, he told his wife he wasn’t coming home for that weekend and instructed her to withdraw as much as the ATM would allow. “And I want you to go tomorrow, and I want you to go Sunday (and do the same thing).” He said he was convinced “that if you put a plastic card in an ATM machine (sic) the last thing you were going to get was cash.” Apparently he now keeps his money in his PAC.
  • $5,000 from Responsibility and Freedom Work, the leadership PAC of U.S. Sen. Roger S. Wicker (R-Mississippi). Wicker appears to be one of the few in Congress willing—and able—to work across the aisle with Democrats. He served as a member of the Helsinki Commission monitoring human rights and helped to pass a bill imposing tough penalties on Russians accused of violating human rights and he also supported the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 aimed at improving the public’s ability to enjoy the outdoors. In July of 2013, a letter addressed to Wicker tested positive for the poison ricin.
  • $10,000 from Tenn PAC operated by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee). Considered one of the most bipartisan members of Congress, Alexander received a letter a year ago from 20 Tennessee tea-party groups calling on him to retire in 2014 because “our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous.” Among his bipartisan votes were two to confirm Harold Koh as legal adviser to the State Department and for President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor.

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Call it coincidence, but the Baton Rouge Advocate today had an interesting lead editorial thanking State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and Gov. Bobby Jindal for assigning 100 state troopers to patrol the city of New Orleans through Labor Day in response to a Bourbon Street shooting spree on June 29 that left one dead and nine others injured. http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/9965586-123/our-views-thanks-to-state

Certainly the timing of the editorial had nothing to do with the controversy swirling around the secretive passage of an obscure Senate bill during the last day of the recent legislative session that proved financially beneficial to Edmonson.

And certainly it had nothing to do with the fact that Advocate publisher John Georges wants to keep Edmonson happy because Georges holds a majority ownership in seven firms which provide video gambling machines and other services to gambling establishments—and because Edmonson oversees gaming through the State Gaming Control Board chaired by Ronnie Jones who served as Edmonson’s confidential assistant prior to his appointment to the Gaming Control Board. He is still listed as Edmonson’s confidential assistant on the State Police web page even though Jones says he resigned from that position last August. http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/02/john_georges_gets_back_into_ga.html

Jones denies any knowledge of Georges’ video poker interests and says Edmonson is not his boss. “I wouldn’t know John Georges if he walked in the room right now and the fact that he has gaming interests doesn’t impress me,” he said, adding that Edmonson “has no control or influence over my board or its decisions.”

Jones’s denials notwithstanding, it appears we can dismiss any chance that the Advocate might delve into the murky political machinations behind the amendment especially tailored for Edmonson (though it did catch one other state trooper up in its generous net).

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley refused to open an investigation into the infamous Edmonson Amendment because he said the amendment was part of a bill that originated in the Senate. But one would expect no action from Kleckley. Otherwise, Jindal might remove his hand from his butt and Kleckley would then be rendered unable to speak—not that he’s ever said anything profound anyway.

The amendment, of course, tacked on an additional $55,000 per year to Edmonson’s retirement benefits and though Edmonson has since said he will not accept the extra income, he apparently overlooked the fact that the bill is now law, thanks to Executive Counsel Tom Enright’s stamp of approval and Jindal’s signing it as Act 859, which makes it impossible for him to arbitrarily refuse the financial windfall.

And it’s true enough that, Senate Bill 294 by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) did originate in the upper chamber and we now know that the amendment was added by Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) but Kleckley conveniently overlooked the fact that three members of the Conference Committee which tacked on the amendment were members of the House.

But what about Senate President John Alario, Jr. (R-Westwego)? Certainly the esteemed Senate President would never let such a furtive move stain the stellar reputation of the Louisiana upper chamber. Surely he will launch a thorough investigation of the amendment since the bill and the ensuing amendment were the works of members of the Senate.

Don’t count on it. It’s rare that an elected official will bite the hand that feeds him—or a family member.

In this case, we’re speaking of one Dionne Alario, also of Westwego, who just happens to hold the title of Administrative Program Manager 3 for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety at $56,300 per year. She was hired last November and somehow manages to pull off the unlikely logistics of supervising DPS employees in Baton Rouge while working from her home in Westwego.

Oh, did we mention that she also just happens to be Sen. John Alario’s daughter-in-law?

We attempted to contact her at the Baton Rouge headquarters through the DPS Human Resources Department but we were given a cell phone number with a 504 (New Orleans) area code.

So if you expect Alario to conduct an investigation into the Edmonson Amendment, you can fuggedaboutit. It ain’t happening. His nest has been sufficiently feathered as to guarantee there will be no questions on his part.

It’s beginning to look more and more like the ol’ Louisiana political science professor C.B. Forgotston is correct: This entire Edmonson Amendment affair is quickly being swept under a very big rug.

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“Know this: we will support and protect the other retirees, surviving spouses and orphans as well as the citizens of this state, as we once took an oath to do, by any legal means at our disposal.”

—Excerpt from letter to State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson by retired state police officers objecting to the so-called Edmonson Amendment.

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A group of retired state troopers has sent a letter to State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson pointing out inconsistencies in Edmonson’s version of events surrounding the amendment to a Senate bill that bumped his retirement income up by $55,000 per year while at the same time, calling on Edmonson to demand that the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) board take “immediate action to legally enjoin Act 859 and further seek a ruling on this unconstitutional law.”

In their letter, the retired troopers even dropped a thinly-veiled hint that they would file legal action to have the new law declared unconstitutional in the event that Edmonson and the LSPRS board do not take it upon themselves to have the new law stricken.

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has obtained records which reveal that four state police officers closely affiliated with Edmonson have enjoyed rapid advancement through the ranks and have been rewarded with combined pay raises totaling more than $115,000 (an average of $28,750 each) in the 6 ½ years since Edmonson was appointed superintendent on Jan. 14, 2007, the same day Bobby Jindal was sworn in as governor.

Those increases came during a time that covered a five-year span in which merit pay increases were suspended and state civil service employees had their salaries frozen.

The four state troopers’ pay raises, it should be pointed out, were for promotions and not merit increases and do not include the $42 million appropriated this year by the legislature for pay raises for all state troopers.

Senate Bill 294, which became Act 859 when Jindal signed the bill into law, was authored by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) and dealt specifically with disciplinary procedures to be taken in cases in which law enforcement officers came under investigation. The bill was never properly advertised as a retirement bill as required by the State Constitution.

That’s because the bill in its original form did not address retirement issues but when it was referred to a conference committee of three senators and three representatives, conference committee member Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) inserted what has come to be known as the “Edmonson Amendment” because it allowed Edmonson and one other trooper to rescind their decisions to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which had frozen Edmonson’s retirement at 100 percent of his captain’s pay grade of $79,000 and instead allows him to retire at 100 percent of his current colonel’s salary of $134,000.

All other troopers, teachers, and state employees who entered DROP years ago and subsequently received promotions or pay raises do not have that option available to them and still have their retirements frozen at the pay level at the time they entered DROP.

LouisianaVoice recently received a series of emails from State Police headquarters through a public records request that revealed that Capt. Jason Starnes, while questioning the motives of LouisianaVoice reporter Robert Burns in attending last month’s LSTRS board meeting, also issued a laundry list of talking points as a response to the controversy arising from the Edmonson Amendment.

Starnes was a state police sergeant in 2007 but on Feb. 3, 2009, he was promoted to lieutenant. Less than four years later, on Oct. 19, 2012, he was again promoted, this time to captain. Over that period of time, his salary has gone from $59,800 to $81,250, an increase of nearly 36 percent.

And then there is Paul Edmonson, Mike Edmonson’s brother. He has done even better than Starnes.

A state police sergeant when his brother was named superintendent, Paul Edmonson was promoted to lieutenant on July 25, 2008, just six months after his brother was appointed superintendent by Jindal. He was promoted again on Sept. 7, 2011, to captain and again just two years later, on Oct. 9, 2013, to major.

During his brother’s tenure as superintendent, Paul Edmonson has seen his salary jump from $63,500 per year to $93,000, an increase of 46 percent.

But even that pales in comparison to Edmonson’s Chief of Staff, Assistant Superintendent Charles Dupuy.

Dupuy was already a captain when Mike Edmonson was appointed superintendent and was promoted to major on Jan. 28, 2010—two years after Edmonson’s appointment. But less than a year later, on Jan. 10, 2011, Edmonson moved him up to Deputy Superintendent for Operations Planning and Training.

Edmonson kept Dupuy on the career fast track, promoting him again on April 9, 2012, to Assistant Superintendent and Chief of Staff.

Over that span, Dupuy’s salary went from $80,000 to $122,000, an increase of 52.5 percent.

Dupuy’s wife, Kelly Dupuy, even has gone along for the ride. A state police sergeant making $59,800 a year when Mike Edmonson was appointed superintendent, her acceleration through the ranks in a relative short time has been equally impressive. She was promoted to lieutenant on Oct. 27, 2009, just three months before her husband was promoted to major. She made captain last Oct. 25 and now earns $80,500, an overall salary increase of nearly 35 percent.

Moreover, the current positions held by Paul Edmonson and Kelly Dupuy did not exist before their respective promotions. The positions were created especially for them to be promoted into—which should go a long way in explaining why the state has nepotism regulations in place to govern such favoritism in the workplace.

Charles Dupuy, it should be noted, represents his boss on the LSPRS board and might seem predisposed to look the other way on the Edmonson Amendment issue. Others who might be expected to take a similar “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” approach to the amendment are Andrea Hubbard who represents Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee. State Rep. Kevin Pearson is chairman of the House Retirement Committee but has expressed surprise at the content of the Edmonson Amendment. Other unknown qualities on the board are board Chairman Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, Kevin Marcel, vice chairman, and Thurman Miller of the Central State Troopers Coalition.

The retired troopers, in their letter to Edmonson said the perceived reluctance on the part of the LSPRS board to act on the amendment is “seriously eroding the public’s confidence in the integrity of the state police.”

“That is unfortunate because Louisiana state police troopers are dedicated and professional men and women who risk their lives every day in service to the citizens. They deserve better than this and we demand better on their behalf,” the letter said.

“We look to you (Edmonson) to resolve this but make no mistake, we will not allow this unconstitutional and damaging law to stand until we have availed ourselves of all options and all avenues have been pursued. We feel it does no good to the long history of honor and integrity of the Louisiana state police for us to have to resolve this instead of the legislature, the LSPRS board, or you. But know this: we will support and protect the other retirees, surviving spouses and orphans as well as the citizens of this state, as we once took an oath to do, by any legal means at our disposal.”

Here is the complete text of the retired troopers’ letter to Edmonson:

Colonel:

There is much attention on and discussion of anticipated action by the LSPRS regarding legislation passed during the recent (2014) session of the Louisiana Legislature. We specifically refer to Senate Bill 294, now Act 859. While there are still unanswered questions regarding when and how the amendment evolved, and who the participants were, what is clear is this bill as amended provides for you and one other Trooper to now revoke a previously irrevocable decision to enter the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP). The effect of this change increases substantially your retirement benefits, and most disturbing, the funding for it is from the same fund that provides cost of living adjustments (COLA) to state police retirees, surviving spouses, and orphans.

You have been quoted in various reports as saying you “didn’t ask for the change to state law” and you “didn’t know who initiated it.” Later that same day you revised your statement to say you “did not request the change”, but your “staff” told you there was legislation available that would ‘fix not only you but other members,” (We would find out two weeks later from State Senator Neil Riser, who had mounting pressure from media investigations that he “was asked by Louisiana State Police Deputy Superintendent Charlie Dupuy to offer the amendment, which became part of a bill to address rights of law enforcement officers. It was presented to me as addressing broad retirement issues”.) If, as you and Senator Riser have publicly stated, Dupuy provided false information, what he has done is at best unethical and possibly illegal.

You have also said, “Let’s let the board review it and make sure things are the way they should be, if not, let’s correct it.” A little over a week after your initial comments you issued a statement, “…regardless of what comes back from the review by the attorneys for the retirement committee, I’m going to follow my heart and not accept it…” noting that you want to let the legislature review it next session based on any proper protocol.” Contrary to erroneous briefing points provided to you by Captain Jason Starnes, as reported in the media, this bill was not advertised as a retirement bill. It does not meet constitutional requirements; the same Constitution you have sworn to uphold, therefore things ARE NOT “as they should be.”

Every legislator that has commented on this issue has said they were unaware of what they had voted for and expressed concern and outrage that the true facts and impacts of the bill were hidden from them. Some have vowed to introduce changes to ensure in the future, this process is transparent. Additionally, several attorneys familiar with federal and state retirement laws and court rulings have agreed this is blatantly unconstitutional and suggested that the unintended consequences of this bill as it remains today could likely lead to a class action suit by all other state retirees who had the same decision as you regarding DROP, under federal equal protection guidelines.

If they should prevail, the results would be catastrophic for all state retirement systems and detrimental to the state’s credit rating. This would in turn ensure significant impact on the citizens of Louisiana with most likely drastic cuts in public services and higher education along with tax increases. In the face of all this, Colonel, it is being reported, and we have been told that the LSPRS may not be planning to conduct a meeting to hear the results of the investigation and take action.

Other reports concern us in that board members who work for or contract with the department are purportedly being pressured by your “staff” to be loyal to you at all costs. In your statements, you encouraged an investigation, and further declared you would not accept the benefits provided for in this legislation. Therefore we don’t understand why action by the board would be of concern to you or your staff unless your intent is other than you’ve stated. In fact based on your previous statements it would appear that board action to challenge and enjoin legally this unconstitutional, ill-conceived and poorly thought out law is consistent with what you have said publicly and is in the best interests of the other state police retirees and all citizens of Louisiana.

This matter and the subsequent actions surrounding this law are seriously eroding the public’s confidence in the integrity of state police. This affects not only department trust from the legislators, essential to the future success of state police, but also the trust of the public that reflects on every trooper who puts on that uniform and badge each day. That is unfortunate because Louisiana state police troopers are dedicated and professional men and women who risk their lives every day in service to the citizens. They deserve better than this and we demand better on their behalf.

Colonel Edmonson, you have said this is a distraction to our troopers. We agree and therefore call on you to openly and publicly demand the Louisiana State Police Retirement System Board take immediate action to legally enjoin Act 859 and further seek a ruling on this unconstitutional law.

If your intent is to pursue this openly next year in the legislature, this action will clear the air for that to occur in an open forum without the hint of impropriety. You know that should Act 859 remain as law, the legislature could simply not act next year, or should some change occur (even not of your own making) to require you to retire before you plan, the law as passed is binding on the LSPRS and on you. To ignore this subjects the state to liability.

We look to you to resolve this but make no mistake, we will not allow this unconstitutional and damaging law to stand until we have availed ourselves of all options and all avenues have been pursued. We feel it does no good to the long history of honor and integrity of the Louisiana state police for us to have to resolve this instead of the legislature, the LSPRS board, or you. But know this: we will support and protect the other retirees, surviving spouses and orphans as well as the citizens of this state, as we once took an oath to do, by any legal means at our disposal.

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State Sen. Neil Riser wants it to go away. Boy, does he want it to go away!

Gov. Bobby Jindal and State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson just went away—to Texas, ostensibly to join the Texas National Guard to protect our borders from pre-teen Guatemalan children but perhaps in reality to get away. (But of course with Jindal, it’s difficult to tell; he’s always gone.)

But State Treasurer John Kennedy and blogger C.B. Forgotston won’t let the issue go away and now retired State Police have weighed in on the now infamous Senate Bill 294 amendment, aka the Edmonson Amendment that gave their boss a whopping $55,000 raise in retirement income.

Some observers feel the controversy is dying—as people like Riser and Jindal and Edmonson certainly wish it would—but as long as Forgotston, Kennedy, LouisianaVoice and now the retired state troopers have a voice, there’s no chance the issue will fade away.

It is particularly galling that our governor has left to defend the Texas border from children without ever once opening his mouth to address the bill. It was, after all, Jindal who signed the bill supposedly after his legal counsel Thomas Enright read it, understood the potential long-range impact on the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) and recommended it for signing.

Just as offensive is the continuing silence from members of the LSPRS board, Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles). Kleckley, Jindal’s personal puppet in the House, has already declined to investigate the matter on the premise that the amendment was inserted by a senator (Riser). Never mind that three of the six-member Conference Committee that approved the amendment were members of the House. Other than Executive Director Irwin Felps who said the board’s legal counsel is considering its options, not a single member of the board has uttered so much as a single word about the Edmonson Amendment.

Perhaps that’s because the board is dominated by Jindal appointees and Edmonson subordinates. That’s not a conflict of interests, that’s a slam dunk for Edmonson and no one, not one person, has challenged Riser’s integrity on this sleazy attempt at legislative chicanery.

And make no mistake about it; there is no other word for it but chicanery. Otherwise, why was the amendment attached to a bill completely unrelated to retirement (despite those state police talking points LouisianaVoice got through a public records request that claimed the amendment was “germane to the original bill.” We don’t know what parallel universe the author of those talking points resides in, but that claim is pure B.S.

Jindal and Edmonson are preparing to shove eight-year-old Guatemalan children back across the Rio Grande to protect us from the horde of refugees (and there is a distinction between illegal immigrants and refugees; these are refugees from child trafficking and Jindal and his pal Texas Gov. Rick Perry want to send them back to prostitution). Jindal whines the TEA Party mantra that they will overload our public school system.

First of all, when did Jindal suddenly give a damn about our public schools? It was he who told LABI that public school teachers have jobs only by virtue of their being able to breathe. Second, Louisiana currently has a little less than 1,100 of these refugees who have been taken in by Louisiana residents. That’s 17 per parish (approximately 1.5 per grade if they are all old enough to enter first grade). That’s overload? Perhaps only because Jindal has raped the public school systems’ budgets for his precious voucher schools like New Living Word in Ruston. No one complained of overload when the Vietnamese came here to escape war ravaged Vietnam. Nor did anyone protest when Cubans poured onto our shores to get away from Castro half-a-century ago. Indeed, we welcomed them with open arms as we should have.

But we digress.

The retired state troopers have fired off two letters. The first is to the LSPRS board and the second is to you, the citizens of Louisiana who, if you can pull yourselves away from Bachelor in Paradise and LSU preseason reports long enough, can put the kibosh on this irresponsible waste of your taxpayer dollars to benefit Edmonson and, by default, one other trooper. We will take the second letter first:

TO ALL LOUISIANA CITIZENS (Special Attention to Louisiana State Police Retirees)

            SB 294 was originally a bill dealing with Investigation Standards in Law Enforcement, more specifically guidelines for dealing with complaints on officers. It was sent to Conference Committee on the next to last day of the 2014 Legislative Session. The next day, when it came out of Conference Committee, a stealth amendment had been added that provided a large increase (reported from $30,000 to $55,000 additional per year) in the Retirement benefit of State Police Colonel Mike Edmonson. This was accomplished by allowing him to revoke his previously irrevocable decision to enter DROP. This permits him to retire at his current salary of $135,000.00 per year and reportedly collect three years of his current salary upon his retirement.

While the circumstances surrounding the submission and passage of the bill are concerning and somewhat a mystery, what is clear is that the bill is funded from the same funds that provide Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) to State Police Retirees, Surviving Spouses, and Children.

            State Treasurer John Kennedy, a member of the Retirement Board additionally has warned that this Legislation potentially jeopardizes the State’s Bond Rating. The amendment and subsequent law was passed in violation of The State Constitution, Article X, Section 29 which specifies Retirement Legislation has to be advertised before the session, which it wasn’t. The amendment dealing with another matter altogether subjects it to additional Constitutional challenge. Kennedy has called for an investigation and the Retirement Board has hired an outside attorney to review and make recommendations to the Board. The Board is preparing to meet on this, but indications are that they won’t take any action.

            Please let the Board Members know how you feel about this unconstitutional attack on the State Police Retirement System. Also, please call or share with your Legislators, those on your email lists and through Social Media such as Facebook so we may all let the Board Members know we won’t accept this. They need to hear not only from Retirees who will be adversely affected by this, but also by all citizens, who will bear the cost and suffer the negative effects from possible weakening of the Credit Rating of the State. It is important to encourage as many people as possible to contact them to let them know you are watching and expect them to defend the system and members. The State Police Retirees and the People of Louisiana deserve better.

If you’d like to correspond with us, we are at lsp_retirees@cox.net. If you prefer, your communications with us will remain anonymous. LSPRS BOARD OF TRUSTEES Irwin Felps: ifelps@lsprs.org Executive Director Frank Besson: frank.besson@dps.la.gov Chairman Kevin Marcel: kevin.marcel@dps.la.gov Vice Chairman Shirley Bourg: No email available Mike Edmonson: mike.edmonson@dps.la.gov Designee: Charlie Dupuy: charlie.dupuy@dps.la.gov Elbert Guillory: guillorye@legis.la.gov John Kennedy: jkennedy@treasury.state.la.us Designee: Amy Mathews: AMathews@treasury.state.la.us Stephen Lafargue: slafargue1214@gmail.com Kristy Nichols: kristy.nichols@la.gov Designee: Andrea Hubbard: andrea.hubbard@la.gov Thurman Miller: thurman.miller@.la.gov Kevin Pearson: pearsonk@legis.la.gov Bobby Smith: bobby.smith@dps.la.gov

Here is the letter the retired troopers wrote to the LSPRS board:

Open Letter to Louisiana State Police Retirement System Board Members

Re: Emergency Board Meeting to deal with SB 294

Soon, you will be meeting to decide what action is appropriate to deal with the negative impacts to the retirement system and the state bond ratings of SB 294. Although the meeting will be short, the effects of your decisions will be felt for a long time. SB294 was amended in Conference Committee on June 2, 2014, from a bill dealing with investigation standards in law enforcement complaints to a bill making changes to existing retirement law.

The State Constitution, Article X, Section 29 (C) states:

(C) Retirement Systems; Change; Notice. No proposal to effect any change in existing laws or constitutional provisions relating to any retirement system for public employees shall be introduced in the legislature unless notice of intention to introduce the proposal has been published, without cost to the state, in the official state journal on two separate days. The last day of publication shall be at least sixty days before introduction of the bill. The notice shall state the substance of the contemplated law or proposal, and the bill shall contain a recital that the notice has been given.

The final version signed into law had the effect of enabling Colonel Edmonson and one other Trooper to revoke what was heretofore an irrevocable decision for them and many other troopers who retired under those guidelines. Regardless of intent, this law was narrowly written to only apply to two individuals and does not address any others who had already retired within the same original guidelines. Signed by the Governor on June 2, 2014 it became Act 859 of the 2014 regular session.

We call your attention to some things that should guide you in your decision.

For commissioned officers, you took an oath as a Louisiana State Trooper to support the Louisiana Constitution, and to faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all duties according to the best of your ability and understanding.

For all trustees, your oath as trustees on the board binds you to fiduciary responsibility and the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics. Here is an excerpt from your handbook:

II. ETHICS

The Louisiana State Police Retirement System trustees shall conform to the standard of ethics as established under the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics (R.S. 42:1101 et seq), and perform all their duties and obligations in accordance with their fiduciary obligations as established under Louisiana law and the standard of conduct for business relations which each trustee shall sign upon taking office.

Be aware, the ethics laws are binding on you personally and your decisions and conduct must conform to these statutes and your fiduciary responsibility. Failure to adhere to these subjects you as an individual to possible civil and/or criminal penalties. We recommend each board member, if you haven’t already; familiarize yourself with these statutes, as they are your protection as long as you abide by them. And lastly, your decision should be based on what is best for the retirement system and those retirees and surviving spouses and children who depend on this board to protect their future. The funding for SB 294/ Act 859 comes from the account used for cost of living adjustments (COLAs) which has a direct negative impact on those retirees, widows/widowers, and children who most need and deserve these increases.

Administrations and people come and go. What we are left with is our Integrity and our Honor. No one can forcibly take those from you; you have to choose to give them up. How you handle this situation will define and follow you. Regardless of all the other issues related to this, your responsibility is to defend the Integrity of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System with fairness and impartiality.

The only course of action that protects the system, its participants, the state, and you as a trustee is to immediately initiate legal action. You must seek to enjoin this unconstitutional and damaging law and further pursue a permanent ruling by the courts to strike this law down on constitutional and dual object grounds.

We request this be provided to each Board Member at the meeting dealing with this issue and that the Board Members affirmatively add this into the regular record and minutes.

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Results from a public records request submitted to the Louisiana State Police by LouisianaVoice for emails related to the now notorious amendment to Senate Bill 294 did not produce any communications between legislators and Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson or his staff but a couple of the emails we got did reveal a rather defensive mode on the part of the powers that be at state police headquarters.

Not that we really expected full disclosure in releasing any damning emails in light of the response to a similar public records request by both the House and Senate that public business conducted by the legislature via emails and text messages is none of the public’s business.

Considering the brand of “transparency and openness” exhibited by the Jindal administration and the legislature’s willingness eagerness to roll over and play dead at the governor’s command, we should not have been surprised.

Typical of the attitude of this administration from top to bottom, including the Department of Public Safety and state police, is one particular email from Capt. Jason Starnes of the State Police Operational Development Section to several administrative types, including Edmonson, Ronnie Jones and Edmonson’s Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy on Wednesday, July 16.

The subject line of the email said, “RE: Advocate news story,” but Starnes’s message focused instead to the presence of our reporter Robert Burns at the meeting of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) board which met on Tuesday, July 15, to discuss the ramifications of the SB 294 amendment which was quickly signed into law as Act 859 by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Burns videotaped that meeting as well as an interview with board member State Treasurer John Kennedy following the meeting and posted both clips online.

“Here is the link to the video footage taken by Mr. Burns (whoever he is, wherever he came from and why he is so concerned about the LSP (Louisiana State Police) retirement system I have no idea),” Starnes wrote (emphasis ours).

So, if we read this correctly, Louisiana taxpayers have no business attending public meetings and have no right to concern themselves with such matters of infinite financial exposure created by subterfuge perpetrated by Edmonson’s staff (so Edmonson claims), a cooperative legislator in the person of Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), and most likely, a conspiratorial governor whose brilliant idea it was to bump Edmonson’s retirement pay by a cool $55,000 or so a year.

On Tuesday, the day before Starnes expressed his apparent antipathy toward Burns, he authored an earlier email to Dupuy, Jones and State Police Public Affairs Commander Capt. Doug Cain in which he offered suggested talking points regarding the amendment controversy which was beginning to attract widespread media attention.

“Here is a draft of talking points and other legislative precedent,” he said, apparently setting the stage for an intricate misdirection campaign by citing other legislative acts dealing with state police retirement but which were not related to the amendment to SB 294.

“Please let me know if there or (sic) any other points that I failed to include,” he added.

Starnes then proceeded to list his proposed “talking points” which he grouped under specific headings, the first of which was:

What does ACT 859 do?

  • ACT No. 859 provides active members of LSP who entered DROP (before it was repealed in 2009) with an actuarially adjusted longevity retirement benefit when they retire.
  • The member must have been continuously employed since completing the DROP program.
  • The total retirement benefit will be equal to the benefit that such member would have received had he not entered DROP (the key element of the amendment) and cannot exceed 100 percent of the member’s final average annual salary (this corrects an earlier incorrect report that Edmonson would receive 100 percent of his salary plus $30,000 per year).
  • The actuarial cost associated with SB 294 (Act 859; Starnes uses the bill number and act number interchangeably, which could be confusing to some) will be paid from the balance in the Experience Account (Notice there is no mention that the Experience Account is intended to provide cost of living increases for retired troopers and their widows and children.).
  • The legislation does not rescind the DROP decision by the member and does not alter that benefit. This legislation provides for an actuarial adjustment to account for member that has continued to make contributions into the retirement system since completing the DROP program and would otherwise be eligible for full retirement benefit based on their actual years of service (This is where the financial exposure puts the LSPRS—and other state retirement systems—at risk by opening the door for others to sue for the same consideration.).

Legislative precedents

  • 2001—ACT No. 1160 was passed that increased the accrual rate from 2.5 percent to 3.33 percent for all active members of (LSPRS). This legislation was retroactive to date of hire and resulted in numerous members becoming instantly eligible for full retirement benefits. The estimated cost for this benefit was approximately $9.4 million. The ACT (we don’t know why Starnes capitalized “ACT” throughout his email) included those members that (sic) had entered DROP prior to June 30, 2001. This provision provided those members with an adjustment increase to their retirement benefit after entering DROP. (This simply means that instead of computing retirement benefits by multiplying the average salary for a members top three years of earnings by the number of years of service by 2.5 percent—$100,000 X 40 years X 2.5 percent would equal an annual retirement benefit of $100,000 or 100 percent of his/her salary—the years of service would now be multiplied by years of service by 3,33 percent, thus allowing one making $100,000 to retire at 100 percent in 30 years instead of 40—$100,000 X 30 X 3.33 percent. All other state employees’ retirements remain computed at 2.5 percent.).
  • 2003—ACT No. 748 was passed to provide a longevity adjustment to members that had previously entered the DROP program. This adjustment was the greater of a new calculated benefit (per statute) or 20 percent. All members affected by this legislation received a minimum of a 20 percent increase to their retirement benefit. The estimated cost for this benefit was approximately $1.03 million.
  • 2009—ACT No. 480 was passed that eliminated the DROP program and instituted the “Back-DROP” program. This was passed to improve benefits to active members who were required to make retirement decisions prior to necessarily completing their careers with the department. (Note: Edmonson said on the Jim Engster Show that he was forced into DROP. That is incorrect. While members were required to make a decision whether or not to enter DROP, no one was forced to enter the program.). This eliminated members being forced to make retirement decisions that adversely impacted their benefits. Both ACT 1160 and ACT 748 addressed those members in adverse retirement situations.

Notes

  • Act No. 859 simply follows other legislative precedents to address retirement adjustments for members remaining employed with the department following completion of the DROP program. (Well, maybe, but why was it done so surreptitiously? That would seem to be the key question that should be addressed here.).
  • This is an actuarial adjustment that will provide the same benefit as those who received full retirement benefits following the requisite number of years of service (Again, and not to beat a dead horse, Edmonson made a decision that no other employee throughout state government is allowed to revoke, a special benefit extended to him and one other trooper only.).
  • The members affected by the legislation have continued to pay into the retirement system since completed (sic) DROP.
  • Members will not receive more than 100 percent of their final average salary.
  • This legislation will not negatively impact the benefits of any retiree (other than drawing down the Experience Account).
  • There has been clear legislative precedent set to protect and adjust the retirement benefits for those members that (sic) have been negatively impacted by the DROP program (But again, that legislation was done openly, not sneaked in as an amendment to an unrelated bill during the final hectic hours of the legislative session.).
  • Public notice regarding the retirement legislation was published in The Advocate on Jan. 2-3, 2014 (Once again, we have unanswered the question of why then, did it become necessary to do this as a furtive amendment on the last day of the session?).
  • The conference committee report is deemed to be germane to the original bill in that it deals with rights of law enforcement officers which include the rights to retirement benefits per statute (This is the biggest stretch lie of all; the original bill dealt with disciplinary procedures to be used when law enforcement officers are accused of wrongdoing. That’s all. How can a pension amendment affecting only two officers possibly be germane to that?).

There also were copies of a series of email sent back and forth between Edmonson and the governor’s office in an attempt to schedule a last-minute attendance at a Sunday bill signing by Jindal that turned in something of a comedy sketch with Edmonson seeming to lose his patience in the final email.

The five bills all dealt with retirement and were to be signed on Sunday, June 1, that had everyone scrambling to round up warm bodies to attend the signing ceremony.

On Saturday, May 31, at 6:34 p.m., Shannon Bates, deputy communications director for the governor’s office, wrote, “Tomorrow we are having a bill signing ceremony for the retirement reform bill by

(Rep. Joel) Robideaux (R-Lafayette) and the 4 (Sen. Elbert) Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas) COLA bills,” Bates wrote. “I know that is a Sunday but a lot of stakeholders are able to attend since the lege is in session anyway. Do you know if someone from the State Police system could attend or at least send us a quote for the release? (Nothing like waiting until the last minute to throw things together). We are having problems getting into (sic) touch with them…”

Nine minutes later, Edmonson responded: “Yes we will get somebody there.”

Three minutes following Edmonson’s reply, Shannon wrote, “Thank you – if you could let me know who it is that would be great!”

At 6:52 p.m. Edmonson Chief of Staff Dupuy wrote that he felt TFC Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, should accompany Edmonson to the event.

Edmonson, at 7:03 wrote to Dupuy, “He (Besson) needs to call Shannon for a quote.”

“Ok,” replied Dupuy 10 minutes later.

At 7:52, an apparent nervous Edmonson wrote to Besson: “Frank, have you handled?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Besson at 8:14 p.m. “I just spoke with Natalie (no last name available) to get the time, which will be 1:30.”

Edmonson, at 8:20 p.m., wrote to Besson: “Shannon is the contact. Make sure she gets a quote. I will be with you.”

“I’ll send her something tonight,” Besson answered.

At 8:25, Edmonson, apparently by now a little agitated, wrote Besson: “Get with Doug (Cain) and handle now. It should not have taken six emails.”

(Actually, including the emails from Bates, there were 11—eight between Edmonson and his subordinates—but who’s counting?)

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State Treasurer John Kennedy has sent a second letter to the executive director of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) to emphasize his wish that a thorough investigation be conducted into the last second amendment to Senate Bill 294 which gave State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and one other state trooper huge increases in their state police pensions.

Kennedy wrote to Irwin Felps on Tuesday (July 29), saying, “I strongly oppose any delay or discontinuation of the system’s investigation of Act 859.”

SB 294 became Act 859 when Gov. Bobby signed the bill into law soon after it was adopted by the legislature on the last day of the session last month.

At first blush, it would appear that Kennedy might be responding to push back or resistance to a continued investigation but he assured LouisianaVoice that was not the case. “To my knowledge, no one has suggested that we terminate the investigation,” he said. “I just wanted to make certain that the board (the LSPRS board) understands that we still have this law on the books and we need to see what our options are in order to carry out our fiduciary responsibility to protect the system.”

Cynic-in-Chief C.B. Forgotston isn’t convinced. Observing that a majority of the LSPRS board is comprised of those who work directly for or are allied with Edmonson or Jindal, he says that a legal challenge is the only way in which to dispose of the issue once and for all.

Kennedy, in his capacity as state treasurer, is a member of the board and in his letter to Felps, he listed several reasons why he feels the board should continue its investigation to find a solution to the situation that benefits just two state troopers—Superintendent Mike Edmonson and Master Trooper Louis Bourquet of Houma.

Felps, contacted by LouisianaVoice, also said the board plans to move forward with its investigation. “We (the board) will be meeting in a couple of weeks,” he said. “Meanwhile, our legal counsel is considering options open to us in order to determine a course of action.”

Felps also said that attorney Bob Klausner of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, has been retained to serve in an “of counsel” capacity (a term usually applied to an attorney who has been employed to aid in a particular case but who is not the lead attorney).

“He is one of the pre-eminent authorities on pensions and has worked with us in the past,” Felps said.

While the increases to the retirements for the two law enforcement officers are substantial (as much as an additional $55,000 a year in Edmonson’s case before he finally said he would not accept the increased benefits), there may be retired state troopers who, like Edmonson and Bourquet, may have entered the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), thus freezing their retirement benefits only to receive substantial promotions or pay increases which would otherwise have increased their retirements.

Kennedy listed several concerns in his letter:

  • Because the act requires that funding for the benefits would be paid from the LSPRS Experience Account, apparently to avoid increasing our unfunded accrued liability (UAL), it would appear to adversely affect the system’s ability to provide cost of living adjustments for retired members and their families. “This must not be permitted to happen to our current and future retirees and their families,” he said.
  • Should the board delay or terminate the investigation, there is no guarantee that the legislature would adequately repeal the act or even consider it and even if it did, there would be no certainty that the governor would not veto any new legislation enacted to remedy what Kennedy calls a “bad law.”
  • Assuming that Bourquet, like Edmonson, rejects the increase, either or both could change their minds, die or become disabled, either of which would trigger the benefits at such time.
  • It is unclear how a recipient of the increased benefits could effective declare that he will not accept them, which would raise other complicated procedural questions.
  • There are several questions concerning the legality and constitutionality of the amendment to SB 294 which was originally authored by Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) to deal only with disciplinary procedures when officers are accused of wrongdoing.

The unanimous passage of the amendment has caused a furor over the propriety of such tactics on the last day of the session when both houses are working feverishly to wrap up business before adjournment. As one member who voted for the bill said, “We’re all running around during those final hours trying to get our own bills through conference committee and these things can slip through.”

Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) was a member of the conference committee comprised of three senators and three representatives that recommended passage of the bill. After first denying any knowledge of the amendment, he finally admitted last Friday that he was the one who had the amendment drafted and inserted into the bill.

Because Edmonson appears to be a constant companion of Jindal (he appears in the background in virtually all of the governor’s in-state photo-ops which, granted, are becoming more and more rare because of Jindal’s near constant travels out of state in pursuit of his vanishing presidential aspirations) many legislative observers remain convinced that Riser took the action at the direction of the governor’s office.

That is precisely the kind of back-door deal that Jindal swore he would never tolerate and indeed, would make state government more transparent and accountable. In truth, his every action as governor reveals the lie in that empty promise by Jindal the candidate.

But, after more than six years of his brand of transparency, the real surprise would have been if anyone had been surprised.

And that’s precisely why Forgotston remains unconvinced that anything will get done without a legal challenge to the new law.

“The only issue remaining is who will file the lawsuit,” he said. “The board of LSPRS has the primary fiduciary responsibility to do so. The legislators, especially Senator Neil Riser, have an obligation to the taxpayers to fix the fiscal mess they created.

“The only interest being neglected in this matter is that of us taxpayers.

“It is time for the legislature to join Kennedy and others in calling for LSPRS to litigate SB 294 or to do so themselves.  The taxpayers should not be left holding the bag.”

Even Clancy DuBos, a columnist for New Orleans’ Gambit magazine and WWL-TV has joined the chorus of those demanding a lawsuit to challenge the “Edmonson Amendment.”

http://www.wwltv.com/news/DuBos-Legislature-must-challenge-state-police-chiefs-secret-raise-269100661.html?ref=prev

To read the entire text of Kennedy’s letter, go here:

Treasurer Kennedy Letter to State Police Retirement 07 29 2014

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By Stephen Winham

I was among a distinct minority of people in state government who thought adding DROP to our state retirement systems was a bad idea for the state from the outset. It clearly provided a good benefit for employees at a time when state salaries were not nearly so generous as today, but I was concerned about the real costs, not just to retirement systems, but to agencies’ active payrolls. I was also concerned about real and perceived inequities resulting from employees making decisions they would later regret. In my opinion, the existence of DROP in state retirement systems has generally failed to benefit the state financially or otherwise – And I find the whole concept of “Back DROP”, the State Police Retirement System option recently publicized in conjunction with the controversy over SB 294 of 2014, ridiculous on its face.

DROP for our state retirement systems seemed to at least have sensible goals when originally implemented and estimating the fiscal impact seemed relatively easy for an actuary. Simply put, an employee, who would otherwise be entitled to retire, continued working and drawing a pay check. The amount that would have been paid the retired employee in monthly retirement checks was frozen at that level and went into a DROP account each month while the employee continued to draw a salary. The employee did not have to make contributions to his/her retirement system while in DROP, so s/he got an immediate increase in net pay and could continue to get raises, though they would not increase the retirement benefit amount. When the employee actually retired s/he could get the balance in the DROP account and begin to receive monthly retirement checks.

DROP was sold as a way to retain experienced employees for a period of time beyond when they might otherwise actually retire by providing them with an additional incentive. It was also supposed to accomplish the almost contradictory goal of encouraging higher paid employees to actually retire at the end of DROP participation. This would reduce the amount of money necessary for salaries overall and/or create additional promotional opportunities and openings for other employees.

So, DROP was viewed by most as a simple, predictable benefit for both the state and its employees. But, guess what?   It has rarely worked that way and the reality of the way it does work begs the following questions:

  • How many people who participate in DROP would have really retired, when eligible, in its absence? Based on experience, the answer is very few. Therefore, the major ostensible advantage of DROP to the state, retention of experienced employees, would not seem to have actually been a state issue.
  • How many state employees with retirement eligibility are indispensable? Again, my answer would be very few. A significant percentage of indispensable employees would indicate gross understaffing, poor management planning, or both.
  • How many people who enter DROP actually retire at the end of DROP participation? My guess, again based on experience, would be significantly fewer than originally projected.

Because employees can come out of DROP and continue to work without skipping a beat, any expected salaries savings can evaporate quickly. In fact, high salaried people not already eligible for the absolute maximum in retirement benefits often continue to work an additional minimum of 3 years so they can start to accrue additional benefits to be paid as supplements to their “frozen” regular retirement checks. So, ultimate liabilities of the retirement systems are harder to project and salaries on the active payroll are often higher than they would have been otherwise.

The new option Colonel Mike Edmonson apparently wanted to take advantage of via SB 294 only exists in the State Police Retirement System and is called “Back DROP”. I had never heard of this before and still find it hard to believe it exists and was actually recommended by an actuary. It does absolutely nothing DROP was intended to do except encourage some people to simply work longer.

If I understand it correctly, under “Back DROP” the employee starts thinking about retiring and how to game the retirement system to his/her best financial advantage. As retirement eligibility approaches, s/he gets the system to run numbers so s/he can make the best choice when s/he actually retires between the following:

1. Pretending s/he entered DROP up to 3 years ago (going back to the future, in other words); or

2. Getting a lifetime benefit based on the highest average salary

Does that sound anything like DROP to you? Me, neither. It sounds like having your cake and eating it, too. Those eligible can’t possibly make the wrong decision – for them – and no pesky actuarial reductions in benefits like the Initial Benefit Option (IBO) that is available to all retirees.

Go to the following link, scroll down to “BACK DROP Plan – Only for Members Eligible for DROP after 10/01/2009” and see how you interpret the option: http://lsprs.org/retirement/options/

Now, think about it. How is it possible to get in the ballpark of figuring out how to adequately fund a benefit that doesn’t actually defer anything and lets those eligible choose the best option for them at the last possible moment?   How must the thousands of people who retired under regular DROP plans in all state retirement systems feel about the ability of anybody else to have this open-ended option?

Our retirement systems have total unfunded accrued liabilities of some $19 Billion. These liabilities did not crop up overnight but must, under existing law, be liquidated by 2029. How can any legislative action that extends state retirement benefits to those not previously eligible for them possibly do anything to help address this problem?

As Everett Dirksen said, “A million here, a million there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.” In Louisiana, we don’t seem to get the simple truth of that, and not just in our retirement policies.

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(Editor’s note: this is our 1,000th post since we started LouisianaVoice a little more than three years ago. We have also surpassed the one million-word milestone. That’s roughly the equivalent of 10 full-length novels.)

 

Were two separate announcements made late Friday by State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) designed to neutralize State Treasurer John Kennedy’s calls for an investigation into the amendment to Senate Bill 294 that increased Edmonson’s retirement by $55,000 a year?

If so, Kennedy said, the tactic won’t work.

Without going through all the details of the amendment, there is one additional development that has gone unreported to this point (until it was pointed out to us first by reader Stephen Winham and then Kennedy):

Funding to pay Edmonson’s extra retirement income, which could cost the state more than $1 million over Edmonson’s lifetime, would come from the state’s Employee Experience Account (R.S. 11:1332) http://law.justia.com/codes/louisiana/2013/code-revisedstatutes/title-11/rs-11-1332 which set aside funds to provide cost of living raises for retired state troopers and survivors of slain troopers.

In other words, he would be taking from retirees, widows and orphans in order to increase his retirement from the $79,000 per year, or 100 percent of his salary, at the time he entered the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), to 100 percent of his current $134,000 a year salary.

In those two announcements, issued separately, Edmonson reversed his field and said he will not accept the increased pension benefits because “It’s been too much of a distraction.”

Riser, one of six members of the Legislative Conference Committee that brought the amended bill back to the House floor on the last day of the session, meanwhile, did an even bigger flip flop in admitting that he did indeed instruct a Senate staffer to add the key amendment to the bill authored by Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans).

On July 17, Riser emailed blogger C.B. Forgotston who had sent Riser an email asking what he knew about the origin of the amendment. Incredibly, Riser said in that email, “I first saw the amendment when I read the conference committee report drafted by staff. As the language was explained to me, I believed it fixed a retirement problem for the law enforcement community.”

Basically, it was a denial without his actually denying he knew about the amendment.

But on Friday, Riser fessed up that he did indeed instruct staff (in this case, Laura Gail Sullivan, legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee which Riser chairs) to add the amendment. He still, however, stuck to his story that he saw the amendment on the “last hectic day of the session” and did not know the amendment would benefit just two people—Edmonson and a Houma trooper.

No wonder he was recently named Legislator of the Year by the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association—for the third consecutive year.

RISER AND EDMONSON

Supt. of State Police Mike Edmonson, left, and State Sen. Neil Riser (BFF)

Taken together, the Friday statements by Edmonson and Riser appear suspiciously coordinated to neutralize Kennedy’s letter of one day earlier to the executive director of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) in which he posed 13 questions he said needed answers.

Riser’s belated admission of his part in the amendment addressed only one of those questions and Kennedy said Friday that the investigation “must go forward” because “we still have a bad law on the books that we have to deal with.”

That’s because Gov. Bobby Jindal put his frequent flyer miles in abeyance long enough to sign the bill into law as ACT 859, prompting some to speculate that Riser’s actions may have been dictated by the governor’s office.

Kennedy said the LSPRS board has already retained outside legal counsel to determine what legal action is available to the board which is required by law to protect the fiduciary interests of the system.

“The board will meet in August to discuss our options,” he said. “We will invite Col. Edmonson to attend to present his side of the issue. We will also invite Sen. Riser and Thomas Enright, the governor’s executive counsel.”

He said that Enright, as the governor’s legal counsel, reads every bill and makes recommendations to Jindal as to whether the bills meet legal standards and if they should be signed or vetoed.

Without waiting for that August meeting, LouisianaVoice has a few questions of our own:

  • Why did Riser first deny his culpability and appear willing to throw his legal counsel under the bus?
  • What happened to compel him to cleanse his conscience?
  • Does he feel his constituents should trust him when he comes up for re-election after this despicable lapse of moral principles?
  • Who made the decision to fund this questionable (and most likely unconstitutional) appropriation from money intended to pay for retirees’ and survivors’ cost of living adjustments…and why?
  • Did Jindal direct that this amendment be inserted on the last day of the session?
  • If not, why did Enright not catch one of several possible constitutional violations contained in the amendment?

We’re glad that Riser, even belatedly, admitted his part in this farce of legislative procedure and we feel that Edmonson did the right thing in deciding to refuse the additional retirement money.

Suspicious by nature, however, we can’t help wondering about their motivations.

 

 

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State Treasurer John Kennedy has forwarded a two-page letter to the executive director of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) that itemizes 13 questions Kennedy said need to be addressed concerning the $55,000 per year pension increase awarded State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson in the closing minutes of the recent legislative session.

An amendment to Senate Bill 294, quickly signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 859, allowed Edmonson and one other state trooper to revoke their decision made at lower ranks to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP). In Edmonson’s case, he entered DROP as a captain, which effectively froze his retirement calculated on his salary at that time.

He was subsequently promoted to Superintendent of State Police which carried with it a substantial pay increase that made the DROP decision a bad one—like many other state employees who made similar moves and were later promoted.

The amendment was inserted into an unrelated bill dealing with disciplinary actions to be taken with law enforcement officers under investigation by a six-member conference committee, none of whom will claim credit—or blame—for the action.

Even worse than the furtive action, most probably taken at the direction of Gov. Bobby Jindal, five of the six conference committee members appear to be unwilling to man up and discuss their actions.

Kennedy, who by virtue of his office is a member of LSPRS, wrote to Executive Director Irwin Felps:

“In furtherance of our board meeting, other discussions regarding this matter and our fiduciary obligations to all of the people the system serves, I wanted to set forth in writing, as a board member and the State Treasurer, the issues that I think must be fully investigated and answered by you, our counsel and other staff, for the board so that it can make the necessary decisions and take appropriate actions, if any, to meet its fiduciary duties. This list is not meant to be exclusive, and there may be others to be included from other members, you, counsel and others, which should be answered too and which I welcome.”

Kennedy then listed the following 13 questions which he said needed answers:

  • How many people does the act benefit?
  • Who are the people it benefits, so that they can be invited to address these issues and their involvement with our board?
  • What are all of the costs of the act to the system and its members?
  • Is it true the actuarial note setting forth the cost of the act was added three days after the bill passed and, if so, why?
  • What would be the costs to give the same retirement benefit increase resulting from the act to all troopers and their dependents that are similarly situated?
  • What is the opinion of the act of the Governor’s Executive Counsel who reviewed the bill before the Governor’s signature approving it?
  • Who sponsored the benefits-boosting conference committee amendment, so that they can be invited to address why it was offered with our board?
  • Does the amendment in question satisfy the legal requirement of proper notice for a retirement benefits bill?
  • Does the amendment in question meet the legal requirement of “germaneness” (relevance) to the amended bill?
  • Does the amendment in question violate the state constitutional prohibition against the Legislature passing a law that impairs the obligations of contracts?
  • Does the amendment in question satisfy the state constitutional requirement of equal protection of the law?
  • Does the process by which the amendment in question was adopted violate the Legislature’s internal rules or procedures?
  • What are the board’s legal options?

Copies of Kennedy’s letter were sent to State Treasury Executive Counsel Jim Napper and board members of LSPRS, Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System (LASERS), Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL), and the Louisiana School Employees’ Retirement System (LSERS).

Records denied LouisianaVoice by House, Senate

The six conference committee members who met to iron out differences in the House and Senate versions of SB 294, to which the controversial amendment was added, include Sens. Jean-Paul Morrell (who authored the original bill), 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).

We attempted to obtain records of emails between conference committee members, Edmonson, the governor’s office and the Division of Administration but the wagons were quickly circled and we got the standard runaround from both the House and Senate.

It seems by some convoluted logic that communications of legislators about legislative business that affects taxpayers is not public record.

This is the response we received from both the House and Senate:

“You request: ‘all emails, text messages and/or any other communications between Col. Mike Edmonson and members of his staff, State Sen. Neil Riser and/or any of his staff members, any other legislator and/or members of their staff, specifically Reps. Jeff Arnold, Walt Leger and Bryan Adams (and Morrell, Riser and Walsworth) and between either of these (six) members and Gov. Bobby Jindal and/or any of his staff members, including but not limited to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and/or any members of her staff, concerning, pertaining to or relevant to any discussion of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), retirement benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson and discussion of any retirement legislation that might affect Col. Mike Edmonson and/or any other member of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System.’

“Any communication by or with or on behalf of a Legislator ‘concerning, pertaining to or relevant to any discussion of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), retirement benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson and discussion of any retirement legislation that might affect Col. Mike Edmonson and/or any other member of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System’ falls under the ‘speech’ protected by LA con. art. III, § 8, clause 2: ‘No member shall be questioned elsewhere for any speech in either house.’ Our appellate courts have held that ‘the speech privilege extends to freedom of speech in the legislative forum; when members are acting within the “legitimate legislative sphere,’ the privilege is an absolute bar to interference. The courts have further held that conduct which falls within this ‘sphere’ of privilege is ‘anything generally done in a session of the House by one of its members in relation to the business before it.’ Copsey v. Baer, No. CA 91 0912, 593 So.2d 685, 688 (1st Cir. Dec. 27, 1991), Writ Denied 594 So.2d 876, (La., Feb. 14, 1992).

“Your request to review records concerning retirement legislation falls directly within the ‘sphere’ protected against disclosure by the Louisiana constitution. All of the records you request to review are privileged from your examination.”

So there you go, folks. You have no right to pry into the business of the State of Louisiana if it’s discussed by a legislator. How’s that for the gold standard of ethics and for accountable and transparent government?

Only Walsworth responds to LouisianaVoice email

LouisianaVoice also sent each of the six an identical email on Wednesday that said:

“Because there has been nothing but deafening silence from the six members of the conference committee that approved the egregious retirement increase for Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson, I thought I would contact each of you individually to give you the opportunity to explain your thought process in enacting this legislation to benefit only two people to the exclusion of all the others who opted for DROP but would now like to revoke that decision.

“To that end, I have several questions that I respectfully ask you as honorable men with nothing to hide to answer. Your continued silence will leave me no alternative but to believe you are not honorable men and that this action was taken in the session’s dying hours in a deliberate attempt to do an end around the public’s right to know what transpires in Baton Rouge.”

Here are the questions I posed to each man:

  • Did you introduce, or do you know who introduced, the amendment to SB 294? (If each of you denies any knowledge of this, the implication is simple: you take issue with State Treasurer John Kennedy’s contention that the amendment did not “fall from the heavens.”)
  • Did you have any contact with Mike Edmonson or any member of his staff prior to the amendment’s being added to SB 294?
  • At what point during the session just ended did the matter of Col. Edmonson’s retirements first arise?
  • Why was the full House and Senate not made aware of the wording of the amendment to SB 294?
  • Was it your intent that no one should know the real intent of amendment to SB 294?
  • Edmonson, on Jim Engster’s radio show, indicated it came up several weeks before the end of the session. If that is true, why was there a delay until the last day of the session to tack the amendment onto SB 294?
  • Did you have any contact relative to the amendment from Gov. Jindal’s office or the office of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols?
  • If you did have contact with Mike Edmonson and/or any of his staff members, the governor’s office or Kristy Nichol’s office, would you willingly release the contents of those communications?
  • Finally, do you think it fair to do this for only two people while excluding hundreds, perhaps thousands of retirees who made similar decisions to enter DROP only to regret their decisions?

With the exception of Walsworth who responded on Thursday, the response has been a continued embarrassing silence.

Here is Walsworth’s response:

“I did not introduce the amendment.  I can only answer for myself, not others.

“I had no contact with Mike Edmonson or any member of his staff concerning this amendment.

“I believe I heard about the problems with the amendment like everyone else, through the media a couple of weeks ago.

“The last day of the session is usually very hectic.  My recollection of the events of that day was that the report came to my desk by a staffer.  I saw the amendment and asked if it effected (sic) more than one more person.

“The staffer said yes. I knew that in the past we had given this provision to several retirement systems. So I signed the report. Sen. Jody Amedee’s child was in the hospital and as Vice Chair of Senate Gov. Affairs Committee, I was in charge of the Senate going into Executive Session to handle appointments. To be honest, I do not recall what the author said when he presented SB 294 on the floor.

“I had no contact from anyone in Gov. Jindal’s office or Kristy Nichols’ office.

“It has been many years since I was on the retirement committee.  I have always been an advocate that retirees should have more choices. They should have more control of their retirement. I am sorry that this effected (sic) just these 2 individuals. I thought it would effect (sic) more.”

But the sorriest, most pathetic, most despicable thing about this entire sordid mess is that members of that conference committee are perfectly willing to throw a female staff attorney under the bus to protect their own pitiful hides.

Laura Gail Sullivan is the legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee her name is at the top of the page of the conference committee report.

Given the fact that Sen. Neil Riser was on that conference committee and, as Chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, it doesn’t take a genius to come up with a pretty good guess as to who instructed Sullivan to insert the amendment.

But the fact is that with the exception of Walsworth—if he is to be believed—not one of the committee members came to Sullivan’s defense. They choose instead to let a subordinate who was following orders take the heat.

Their action, or more accurately, inaction, is the very definition of hiding behind a skirt.

These are men who will run for cover and let a staff member take the heat for their actions. And the fact that not one of them has the backbone to come forward, makes them, in our opinion, the lowest form of humanity to dare call themselves public servants.

It is our fervent hope that in 2015 they will draw formidable opponents who will be more than happy to let voters know the gutless wonders these cowards turned out to be and who will rat them out for the rodents they are.

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