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Archive for the ‘House, Senate’ Category

The fecal matter is poised to strike the Westinghouse oscillating air manipulation device (the crap is about to hit the fan) and the citizens of Louisiana have no one to blame but Bobby Jindal (sorry, but I still can’t bring myself to call him governor) and the brain-dead legislators who, like so many sheep, for eight years obediently allowed him to lead the state off the fiscal cliff into the abyss.

In an LouisianaVoice exclusive, we have received a copy of a two-page letter from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) which, by comparison, is to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ warning Thursday as Black Sabbath is to Pat Boone. SACSCOC LETTER

The letter, dated Feb. 11 (Thursday) was addressed to Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne with copies to Edwards, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Eric LaFleur, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Cameron Henry, Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph C. Rallo, Ph.D., the Louisiana institutional members of SACSCOC, and SACSCOC Board of Trustees Chairman Mark E. Keenum, Ph.D.

At least one source told LouisianaVoice that Edwards possessed the letter at the time of his televised statewide address on Thursday but chose to attempt to soften the impact of the letter’s contents as much as possible while still sending a clear message to the legislature and the citizens of Louisiana.

SACSCOC is the regional accrediting body for 800 public, private and for-profit institutions of higher education in 11 southern states, including Louisiana. It is one of seven regional accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to assure quality in higher education and to serve as the gatekeeper to federal financial aid (Title IV) for students in the region (emphasis ours). http://www.sacscoc.org/

The letter was signed by SACSCOC President Belle S. Wheelan, Ph.D.

“SACSCOC has become aware of the fact that because of the lack of financial resources from the state, the institutions the commission accredits may have to cease operation prior to the end of the current semester,” she wrote. “This would mean (1) students would not be able to complete classes and, subsequently, earn no credit for courses taken this semester, potentially impacting their financial and eligibility, and (2) payroll will not be met and bills would not be paid placing employees in an untenable financial situation as well as negatively impacting the credit ratings of the institutions.”

She said federal regulations dictate that any institution suspending operations or closure in the next several months must provide SACSCOC with a plan for how students can continue at another college or university. The commission, she said, would have to approve such a plan and could send students to another state. “This would create a tremendous hardship on students who might be unable to get a job because the completion of their degree is needed or, worst case scenario, they might drop out of college all together (sic).”

She said if the schools are unable to demonstrate continued financial stability or continue to enroll students, “the board of SACSCOC would have to consider a public sanction of the institutions or a withdrawal of their accreditation. Public sanctions have a chilling effect on the enrollment of potential students and withdrawal of accreditation results in the loss of federal financial aid.”

Wheelan served as president of two institutions and as Secretary of Education for the State of Virginia. As such, she said, “I am painfully aware of the difficulty state leadership has in making budgetary decisions but the lack of state funding is putting Louisiana colleges and universities in serious risk and placing students’ academic careers in jeopardy. I know the challenges are many but I believe it is important for you to know the impact your decisions will have before you finalize your plans.”

Here is the response to the letter which Gov. Edwards gave LouisianaVoice on Friday:

“The previous administration’s choice to make the largest disinvestment in higher education in the nation over the past seven years was a choice that would inevitably lead to devastating results. It is time to turn that around. If the legislature chooses to raise no new revenue in the special session starting Sunday, universities and colleges across our state together will face more than $200 million in cuts this fiscal year—and will have to implement those cuts over the next four months. Even if the legislature chooses to raise the revenue I am proposing, higher education still faces $42 million in cuts and a $28 million TOPS funding shortage this year. This is unsustainable. I am working with our legislature to develop solutions to stabilize Louisiana’s budget this year and going forward. These responsible steps can only help us maintain accreditation for our higher education institutions, as our students deserve.”

Edwards, in his address Thursday, said that the TOPS scholarship program had suspended payments because of the state’s pending $870 million budget deficit and the looming $2 billion budget hole facing legislators for the next fiscal year which begins on July 1.

In order to awaken anyone who might have been dozing off or who were ticked off for missing Family Feud or Wheel of Fortune (one Baton Rouge TV station opted for Wheel instead of carrying the governor’s speech, choosing instead to stream the speech on its Web site), Edwards also threw in the biggest threat of all: the possible necessity of (gasp!) cancelling collegiate football in 2016.

Well, if losing TOPS didn’t do the trick, you can bet your school jersey that got the attention of Louisiana’s masses. I mean, how could we possibly survive without watching a bunch of oversized, tutored adolescents strut around on the field after pile-driving an opposing quarterback head first into the turf at Tiger Stadium to the delight of 100,000 screaming maniacs?

Why, it would be downright unamurican!

Sure enough, Internet news pages predictably latched onto the football hook in covering Louisiana’s fiscal implosion. http://www.msn.com/en-au/sport/golf/lsu-football-in-danger/vp-BBpqNEV

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/ncaaf-dr-saturday/louisiana-budget-crisis-could-threaten-lsu-football-183232215.html

At least we now know what’s really important in this state (like we didn’t before?). Certainly it’s not the deplorable condition of the academic buildings falling down around LSU students that Bob Mann has been documenting in recent weeks on his outstanding blog post Something Like the Truth. http://bobmannblog.com/2016/01/24/sinking-flagship-a-new-look-at-lsus-middleton-library/

The disgraceful windows of LSU’s Hatcher and Johnston halls

LSU library’s decay is symbolic of Louisiana’s misplaced priorities

Mired in mediocrity, has Louisiana higher education lost the battle?

But hey, who ever paid admission to watch a physics professor teach—other than students faced with ever-rising tuition costs?

And just how is all this legislators’ and Bobby Jindal’s fault?

The explosion of corporate tax breaks that were handed out during his administration, for openers.

Generous corporate tax incentives bleed revenue from state treasury, provide little other than political bragging rights

And there is the excellent series on corporate tax breaks published by the Baton Rouge Advocate: http://blogs.theadvocate.com/specialreports/

Along with the handouts to his corporate friends and supporters, Jindal also cut higher education more than any other state, another issue covered in depth albeit somewhat belatedly by The Advocate. State support to colleges and universities was cut by 55 percent during Jindal’s eight years with cuts having to be made up by painful tuition increases.

http://blueprintlouisiana.org/index.cfm/newsroom/detail/618

LSU President F. King (I would absolutely change my name—or drop the initial) Alexander fired the first real warning shot across the legislature’s bow last April with he revealed he had already drawn up plans for financial exigency (bankruptcy) as yet another higher education budget cut loomed.

It worked, in a fashion. The legislature responded by passing a phantom tuition increase offset by a phantom tax credit which was supposed to fix the problem (who bought into that?), but only after consulting with the god of No New Taxes, Grover Norquist. Norquist has never held public office but yet he mysteriously controls the puppet strings of legislators and congressmen as if holding the sword of Damocles over their collective heads with his idiotic “No New Taxes” pledge. Did the Republicans learn anything from George H.W. Bush’s infamous “Read my lips: no new taxes” promise in his 1988 nomination acceptance speech? Apparently not.

And therein lies the real problem. Why in hell did our legislators, led by a delusional man who would be president if only he could break the 1 percent barrier in the Iowa polls, answer to someone like Norquist and not the citizens of this state? That question needs to be addressed repeatedly to every legislator who went along with that shell game last year. “Mr. Legislator: why did you acquiesce to Grover Norquist like some pathetic, starving little puppy begging for table scraps?”

“For years, Louisiana’s colleges have stabilized funding with tuition and fee increases to offset declining direct support from the state,” said Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) President Robert Travis Scott when shown the letter by LouisianaVoice. “But we’ve reached the limits of those tactical maneuvers. Now we need a strategy to provide long-term financial stability for higher education while also getting a streamlined and accountable educational product in return,” he said.

State Rep. J. Rogers Pope (R-Denham Springs), a member of the House Education Committee, said the letter “makes you want to throw up.” He said the message in the letter is “devastating to all parents and students as well as our colleges. I don’t see that the legislative body will permit that to happen.”

Pope, a former school principal and retired Superintendent of Livingston Parish Schools, said he hoped that the legislature and Edwards can “forget partisan politics and work together to get us out of this deep hole dug by the previous administration. Losing accreditation is a major blow to the state’s financial and workforce capabilities.”

Another source said the situation “is dire” and that was why football was mentioned by Edwards in Thursday’s address. “If we lose accreditation, it’s all over regardless of how much money TAF (the Tiger Athletic Foundation, which helps support LSU athletics) has.”

The source, who asked not to be identified said, “This is the beginning of the multi-institutional collapse of historic proportions I’ve been predicting for years.”

As I have said here before, if you, the citizens of this state, choose to sit idly by and not question the actions, motives and obligations of legislators to lobbyists and corporate contributors, then you have become as much of the problem as Jindal and the legislators.

It’s up to you to hold your elected official accountable. If you don’t, if you can’t pull yourself away from football or Wheel of Fortune or Bachelor long enough to learn what your elected officials are doing, then stop whining.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s so wrong with that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When LouisianaVoice was first contacted about Troy Hebert back in December, one of the things our anonymous source said was that the former Commissioner of Alcohol and Tobacco Control was positioning himself for a congressional run.

While everything the source told us was verified in a month-long investigation, we simply could not bring ourselves to believe that Hebert would seriously believe he could be a serious candidate for Congress.

After all, the Jeanerette native had enough baggage to justify an extra train car on any such expedition to Washington.

For openers, the veteran legislator cum ATC commissioner had, while serving as a state representative, managed to finagle a state contract for debris cleanup following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That alone was a flagrant conflict of interest but because he was apparently close to Bobby Jindal, the State Board of Ethics chose to look the other way.

Then there is his tenure at ATC, marked by constant battles with his agents. Rumors of racism on his part persisted and he required his agents to rise and chirp, “Good morning, commissioner” whenever he entered the room. At hearings on alcohol permit revocations and other penalties, he insisted on being called “judge,” though he was merely an administrative officer.

So we discounted out of hand the report that he might make a run for a congressional seat. We assumed he was taking aim of the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany who has made his intentions known that he plans to seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter.

Nah, we said. The source is simply wrong.

But wait.

Politics necessarily dictate sizable egos and apparently there is none bigger than Hebert’s.

And there it was, when we googled “Hebert announces for U.S. Senate.” Up popped this link: http://www.katc.com/story/31082873/troy-hebert-to-run-for-senate?clienttype=mobile

That’s the web site of Lafayette television station KATC. We clicked on the link and this story appeared on our screen:

Troy Hebert, a former state senator and former commissioner of the state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Office, says he plans to run for the U.S. Senate this fall. 

Hebert, who is from Jeanerette and lives in Baton Rouge, served in the Louisiana state Senate as a Democrat, but later switched to Independent. He was Alcohol & Tobacco Control Commissioner for the past five years and resigned at the end of December. 

Hebert said he plans to run as an Independent.

“Given the number of voters that are fed up with both parties, the large number of registered Independents and the swollen number of republican candidates, simple math shows a great opportunity for voters to elect their first truly conservative Independent United States Senator,” Hebert said. “This realization has some people in high places, with a lot to lose, already trying to keep me out the race. They think I kicked their asses before, just think what I could do as a U.S. Senator.” 

Hebert joins three other Louisiana politicians who have announced they are vying for U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s Senate seat. Vitter announced he would not seek re-election after losing the governor’s race last fall.

U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, and state Treasurer John Kennedy, also a Republican, have said they are running.

So it’s not the House but the Senate that Hebert is running for. Seems our source was pretty much spot on with this opening line back on Dec. 18, 2015:

“I have watched all of Mr. Herbert’s actions in the last year with amazement. His latest attempts to go around the State to get name recognition for what I hear will be a Congressional run has led me from watching from the sidelines to sending you this information.”

“Herbert also has been holding town hall type meetings across the State after he announced his resignation at end of year so he can get name recognition for his run for Congress,” she said.

Okay, it’s not the House, but that and other information provided us was accurate enough for us to see that our source is up in the middle of Troy Hebert’s business—and he has no idea who it is.

Stand by folks. If you thought last fall’s governor’s race was nasty, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

As C.B. would say if he were still with us: You can’t make this stuff up.

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Gov. John Bel Edwards hasn’t even issued the call yet for a special legislative session to deal with the state’s budgetary woes and already state lawmakers appear to have the collective attention span of a gypsy moth.

A couple of years ago, a person who knows me well (my wife) commented that after Bobby Jindal leaves office, I would have nothing to write about. She’s dead-on with most of her evaluations but with this one, she failed to take into account we still have a legislature.

That’s the body that allowed Bobby Jindal to run roughshod over this state for eight long years with hardly a peep of protest. And that’s the body that must, in the final analysis, be held accountable for the damage inflicted by Bobby.

The legislature allowed Jindal to rape higher education. It looked the other way when he gave away the state hospitals. It was shamefully mute when he closed or privatized mental health hospitals and cut funding for the developmentally disadvantaged.

No questions were asked when it was revealed on this blog that Department of Public Safety Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux picked up an extra $46,000 in spare change by taking advantage of a retirement incentive offer (along with an additional $13,000 in unused leave) in April of 2010 only to return to work the next day—at a promotion from deputy secretary to undersecretary (Funny, when Sally Clausen did that at the University of Louisiana System, the mainstream media was apoplectic).

Lawmakers blindly went along with a last-minute amendment to a bill in the closing hours of the 2014 session that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an additional $50,000 or so in retirement income in violation of an irrevocable decision he had voluntarily made years before that locked in his retirement. Only when LouisianaVoice stumbled upon the amendment and publicized it was action taken to rescind the amendment.

So now here we are in January of 2016, staring down the barrel of a $2 billion-plus budgetary shortfall for next fiscal year and about $700 million just to make it to the end of this fiscal year (June 30).

I’m about to make citizens angry at legislators’ lack of focus. I’m going to make women furious at lawmakers’ lack of sensitivity towards equal pay for them. I’m about to make those struggling to feed a family on minimum wage wonder (actually, they’ve never stopped wondering) if anyone in elective office even cares. And I’m about to send state employees who have gone for years without a pay raise into orbit.

And no matter which group you fall into, you can look to the legislature as the cause of your continued struggles.

And just so you don’t forget, I want to remind you that it is legislators like Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) who use not their own money, but campaign contributions to dine at the finest New Orleans restaurants, purchase season tickets to LSU athletic events and to Saints and Pelicans pro football and basketball games, and to lease luxury vehicles like BMWs and Mercedes. Others use funds to pay fines for campaign violations (the ultimate irony) and to even pay personal federal income taxes as well as to purchase season tickets to athletic events.

The Baton Rouge Advocate on Wednesday (January 13) ran a front page story about Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter’s attempt to convey to House members just how severe the state’s financial plight really is.

So the House members were riveted to Carpenter’s presentation, hanging onto every word, right?

Wrong. Elizabeth Crisp, writing for The Advocate, said the budget talk was “met with mild interest” from members “who mingled about and talked throughout the more than two hours of presentations.” http://theadvocate.com/news/14553820-123/state-house-members-hear-gloomy-budget-outlook

The chamber was called to order, she said, in an attempt to quiet the “loud chatter” and some members posed questions in an attempt to get fellow members’ attention, “though it had little effect,” she wrote.

What the hell? I mean, WHAT THE HELL?

Did we send a bunch of juvenile delinquent dumbasses to Baton Rouge to party and have a good time at taxpayer expense? Apparently so.

If these legislators had kids who got their hands on dad’s credit cards and maxed them out and the kids started chattering and laughing during the lecture on fiscal responsibility that followed, dad would—and should—jerk a half-hitch in them. We, in our parental roles, should remind these jerks, these spoiled brats in no uncertain terms why they were elected.

Remember State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia)? He’s the one who slipped the infamous Edmonson Amendment in during the closing hours of the 2014 session. That was the amendment that would’ve kicked Edmonson’s retirement up by some $50,000.

Well, guess what? Though he was frothing at the mouth to get Edmonson his money in 2014, he went on record today (January 13, 2016) as opposing any increase in the minimum wage. Greg Hilburn, writing for the Monroe News-Star, quoted the incoming chairman of the Senate Labor Committee as justifying his opposition to an increase: “The Louisiana economy is struggling,” he sniffed.

Well, DUH!

Yes, Senator, the economy is struggling. When you have people trying to exist on $7.25 an hour, they’re going to struggle. They won’t be able to purchase appliances, cars, or homes, the very consumer products that drive the economy. Where did you get your economics degree, Senator? Oh, that’s right, I forgot. You run a couple of mortuaries. Do they teach economics in embalming school? I bet you don’t pass up an opportunity to increase prices on those shiny coffins, do you? How much do you charge for a funeral today as compared to say, ten years ago? Five years ago? One year? Betcha a dollar to a doughnut those rates haven’t remained stagnant.

There was no one in Louisiana more skilled than C.B. Forgotston at chronicling the antics of those he referred to as the leges. C.B. sadly is no longer with us, so it falls to those of us who can only aspire to his observational skills to keep Louisiana’s citizens abreast of the shenanigans of the 144 members of the Louisiana House and Senate.

With that said, here’s another reason the economy in Louisiana is struggling: Women in Louisiana, on average, make 66 cents for every dollar paid a man for the same job. Where is the equity in that, Senator?

Here’s a news flash for you. Politico Magazine has just issued its annual “States of our Union” report. Any guesses as to where Louisiana ranks?

If you said 50th, you would incorrect. We’re 51st. It seems the District of Columbia was also included in the rankings (coming in at 39th overall).

There’s a thing called the Gini coefficient, or Gini index, factored into the rankings. The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent income distribution, or more accurately, to reflect income disparity (the gap between the haves and the have-nots).

In that measure, the District of Columbia is the worst but we’re not far behind. We have the nation’s fourth-worst income inequality. But Neil Riser doesn’t want to increase the minimum wage.

Here are a few other rankings that contributed to the state’s overall anchor position:

  • Per capital income: 11th worst at $24,775;
  • Unemployment rate: 6th worst at 6.3 percent;
  • Percentage of population living below poverty level: 3rd worst at 19.8 percent;
  • Percentage of high school graduates: 3rd worst at 83.6 percent;
  • Life expectancy at birth: 4th worst at 75.7 years;
  • Infant deaths per 1,000 births: 5th worst at 7.49.

And just for good measure, another survey shows that Louisiana is the sixth most violent state in America with 514.7 violent crimes per 100,000 population. The state’s murder rate (10.3 per every 100,000 residents) is the highest in the nation and more than double the national rate (4.5 per 100,000 people). http://247wallst.com/special-report/2016/01/12/the-10-most-dangerous-states/2/

Statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Justice show a direct correlation between poverty and crime. http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5137

But let’s not raise the minimum wage, Senator.

Here’s the real irony with Riser: he represents one of the poorest senatorial districts in the state which means he is undermining the interests of his own constituents. Could it be he does not want to pay his employees more?

At least Edwards has signed an executive order expanding Medicaid which will provide health care to some 300,000 citizens who were denied it under the Jindal administration.

And finally, for those state employees who have gone without raises, I’m sure by now you are well aware that state troopers received back-to-back raises totaling some 30 percent over a six-month period last year. http://theadvocate.com/news/legislature/12940806-123/state-troopers-get-hefty-back-to-back

But did you know that Edmonson is working quietly behind the scenes to implement an automatic annual pay increase for state troopers in addition to the usual merit raises (which, we need not remind you, have been denied other state employees)?

That’s right. He calls it a “longevity” increase and if he is successful, it will give state troopers, many of whom already make six-figure incomes, automatic raises each and every year, merit be damned. Longevity means by virtue of hanging onto one’s job, troopers get automatic raises.

While state employees may belong to a union (The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—AFSCME—is the main player), state civil service rules prohibit state employees from striking. But why not a state employee association? That’s a pretty benign term. We have RSEA, the Retired State Employees Association of Louisiana. Members pay their own dues and a state employee association could be set up in the same manner. No one has the authority to ban an employee association—especially if there is no payroll deductions for dues. And for the more sensitive types, it removes the stigma of the word union from the discussion. (People forget, however, that it was unions’ efforts that ended child labor in oppressive sweat shops. Unions gave us the 40-hour work week. They fought for a minimum wage and for our retirement and medical benefits. And it was unions that led the fight for equal rights for women and minorities. We should never lose sight of those facts because unions, like ’em or not, were instrumental in creating America’s middle class that Republicans seem hell-bent on eliminating.)

An association, after all, would only be a large social club—sort of like that other organization…what’s it called? Oh, yeah, the Association of Louisiana Lobbyists. Or maybe the Fraternal Order of Police.

And such an association would never call for a widespread sickout of state employees in order to make a point (wink, wink) on an issue like say, longevity pay increases for state police while civil service employees continue without even cost of living increases for years on end.

Seriously, if leges (with apologies to C.B.) don’t get their collective heads out of… (and we’re not talking about sand here), they will end up creating just such an organization. People (teachers, state employees, women, minorities—all voters, mind you) are tired of being dumped on. They’re tired of patchwork budgets, tired of legislators turning deaf ears on their problems, tired of the elitist attitudes and campaign-funded perks of the power structure.

They want solutions and the leges would be wise to pay attention in class and to take their jobs seriously—or get out so someone else will.

 

 

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Interspersed in all the venomous political rhetoric in the gubernatorial campaign that is now moving toward its merciful final week are some real issues that affect our lives and which should warrant closer inspection by the voting public.

Unfortunately, given the public’s taste for voyeurism and salacious gossip, that probably won’t happen. Besides, time is short and the sordid half-truths, distortions and details of political black ops are just heating up. There just isn’t time for the things that matter.

But at least one group is taking U.S. Sen. David Vitter to task for a letter he wrote last April to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy.

In that otherwise routine five-page letter, dated April 16, 2015, Vitter addressed a number of issues concerning levees, flood control, storm surge protection, past due payments from the Corps to the State of Louisiana for freshwater diversion projects, a request to complete the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA) in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes, deauthorization of the West Pearl River Navigation Project, a request for increased negotiation efforts to approve the Lower Mississippi River Management proposal, and bank stabilization along the Ouachita River in north Louisiana.

Buried at the bottom of page three of the letter was item number 7: Helis Oil and Gas Permit MVN (Mississippi Valley New Orleans)-2013-02952-ETT.

Issue: “The aforementioned permit application is currently awaiting approval within MVN, but has stalled due to several pending lawsuits,” Vitter’s letter said. “The State of Louisiana, Department of Environmental Quality issued the water quality certification (WQC 140328-02) on March 19, 2015. Issuance of the 404 permit is the last remaining action needed to begin construction of the test well.”

Request: “Immediately approve and issue the 404 permit.”

VITTER LETTER TO CORPS

In his April 16 letter, Vitter did what he does best: intimidate with not-so-subtle threats.

“As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moves forward with leadership transitions and promotions in the coming months, I’d like to take this opportunity to ensure that you—as the two primary Corps leaders—continue strengthening your commitment to improve communication and issue resolution with non-Federal stakeholders who depend on the Corps to provide necessary flood protection, reliable navigation, and restored ecosystems,” he wrote.

“…However, it’s critical that Corps leadership understand there remain several significant Louisiana issues that need to be addressed and resolved in an expeditious manner. In light of those issues, I can’t support the transition or promotion of new leadership until I know that a constructive approach will be taken to address and resolve these serious problems.”

As if on cue, the Corps on June 8 approved the permit application by Helis Oil & Gas Co. http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/06/wetlands_permit_approved_by_fr.html

Vanishing Earth, a new political blog that concentrates on environmental issues, obtained the Vitter letter to the Corps that contained Vitter’s heavy-handed approach to resolving issues, particularly the approval of the Helis permit.

That permit, since approved, will allow Helis to drill an exploratory well for the purpose of oil drilling and controversial hydraulic fracking in St. Tammany Parish. Parish residents have resisted fracking in St. Tammany and have even filed a lawsuit in district court to stop the practice there because of legitimate concerns about air and water pollution, damage to the aquifer that supplies drinking water, and the industrialization of the parish.

The irony is that St. Tammany is considered a strongly Republican parish and represents one of Vitters’ strongest areas of support.

But, as is always the case in politics, money speaks much louder than loyalty to constituents and Helis has seen to it that Vitter’s campaigns, both federal and more recently, state, are remembered fondly.

On May 8, less than a month after Vitter wrote his letter to the Corps, Helis made a $5,000 contribution to Vitter’s gubernatorial campaign. Additionally, on that same date, Helis CEO David Kerstein made an identical maximum allowable contribution of $5,000. Then, on Nov. 6 of this year, less than two weeks after the first primary, Helis chipped in an additional $5,000. The company also contributed $15,000 in three separate contributions to lieutenant governor candidate Billy Nungesser.

https://coraweb.sos.la.gov/CommercialSearch/CommercialSearchDetails.aspx?CharterID=442768_VAE52

 

Moreover, Kerstein contributed an additional $7,500 to Vitter’s U.S. House and Senate campaigns from 2000 to 2008, according to Federal Election Commission records. Corporations are prohibited from contributing to federal campaign. http://docquery.fec.gov/cgi-bin/qind/

KERSTEIN, DAVID New Orleans ATTORNEY  VITTER FOR CONGRESS 05/01/00 1000.00
KERSTEIN, DAVID New Orleans SELF VITTER FOR CONGRESS 09/22/03 1000.00
KERSTEIN, DAVID New Orleans SELF DAVID VITTER FOR US SENATE 07/07/05 2000.00
KERSTEIN, DAVID New Orleans SELF VITTER FOR US SENATE 02/21/08 300.00
KERSTEIN, DAVID New Orleans SELF DAVID VITTER FOR US SENATE 02/21/08 2200.00
KERSTEIN, DAVID New Orleans SELF/ATTORNEY VITTER FOR CONGRESS 04/18/01 1000.00

Helis apparently is not an equal opportunity donor; no contributions could be found by the company or its CEO to Democrats John Bel Edwards or Nungesser’s opponent Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden.

What David Vitter is essentially saying in his letter to Secretary Darcy and Lieutenant General Bostick is that if they do not perform certain acts, issue the permit, then he will punish them by taking away something of personal value to them which, in this case, are the “transitions and promotions,” wrote Vanishing Earth publisher Jonathan Henderson. “In other words, he blackmailed them.” http://vanishingearth.org/2015/11/05/senator-vitter-corruption-reaches-st-tammany-parish-fracking-fight/

Henderson is encouraging his readers to call on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics “to immediately investigate Senator David Bruce Vitter.”

Additionally, one source said some residents of St. Tammany were considering filing a complaint with the State Board of Ethics. LouisianaVoice inquired of the state board whether or not such a complaint had been filed. This was the response we received:

In response to your public records request of Nov. 12th, please be advised that all complaints and documents prepared or obtained in connection with an investigation are deemed confidential and privileged pursuant to R.S. 42:1141.4 K&L which also provides that it is a misdemeanor for any person, including the Board’s staff, to make any public statement or give out any information concerning any confidential matter.

LouisianaVoice has begun an investigation into fracking operations in Lincoln Parish as well. Residents there are concerned about the drain on the Sparta Aquifer which supplies drinking water to several north Louisiana parishes. We will bring you more details on those operations as we receive them.

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