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Archive for the ‘Legislature, Legislators’ Category

Back in the spring of 2011, LouisianaVoice predicted that higher premiums and reduced benefits would by the immediate by-product of privatization of the Office of Group Benefits Preferred Provider Organization (PPO).

The administration initially—but only temporarily—proved us wrong by reducing premiums as the lead-in to contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana as the third party administrator for the PPO.

If we wished to be vain about that move, we could have said that Gov. Bobby Jindal made that move just to prove us wrong. But it wasn’t nearly as simple as that; there was, in fact, a far more sinister reason for the premium reduction.

Because the state pays 75 percent of state employees’ premiums, cutting those premiums reduced the financial obligation to the state, thus allowing Jindal to divert money that normally would have gone to health care for some 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents to instead be used to plug gaping holes in what has become an annual budget shortfall, thanks to slipshod management of state finances by the governor.

The recent developments pertaining to impending radical changes that will force eligible retirees onto Medicare and out of Group Benefits are not about who is right and who is wrong; it’s about people. It’s about people like you and me (yes, I’m a state retiree who is one of the lucky ones who is eligible for Medicare by virtue of my hire date after April 1, 1986 and by virtue of some 25 years of newspaper reporting work in the private sector).

In all the rhetoric coming out of the office of Kristy Nichols, the people she and her boss serve appear to be the forgotten element as Jindal has become a 100 percent absentee governor while he chases the impossible dream of becoming POTUS.

FAQs

Tragically, retirees with no private sector experience and who began with the state prior to April 1, 1986, are ineligible for Medicare and the steep premium increases looming on the near horizon—open enrollment is Oct. 1 through Oct. 31—can mean only one thing for them: financial devastation. A new premium increase to go with the one that took place on July 1 is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, placing an additional financial burden on enrollees.

Of course, if you look back, you will see how the administration fed us a string of outright lies in 2011. Thanks to loyal reader Kay Prince of Ruston, we have a copy of a letter written by then-Commissioner of Administration and who later served as Jindal’s Chief of Staff until his unexpected resignation last March which can only be described as a laundry list of lies to state employees and retirees.

Read the text of Rainwater’s letter here: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4F444D324D5441344C6C4245526A51344E7A413D

If one has to wonder where this latest political assault on state employees originates, one has only to Google “ALEC Health Care Agenda” for the answer.

HHS_2013_SNPS_35_Day

ALEC, of course, is the acronym for the American Legislative Exchange Council, the non-profit political arm of the Koch brothers and the Walton Family of Wal-Mart fame. ALEC, which drafts “model bills” for its member legislators to take back home for passage, includes sweeping changes to health care benefits for public employees as one of its primary objectives.

While we don’t normally advocate political boycotts, perhaps state employees should give serious consideration to a complete boycott of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club as a response to the ALEC-inspired medical benefit cuts you are about to experience. A word or two to friends and relatives might not be a bad idea either.

For a comprehensive look at the ALEC agenda as it pertains to medical benefits, go here:

http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Health,_Pharmaceuticals,_and_Safety_Net_Programs

Here is a list of Louisiana legislators, both present and past, who are now or once were members of ALEC. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Louisiana_ALEC_Politicians

Girod Jackson (D-Marrero), who was charged with fraud and failure to file taxes, resigned and is no longer in the legislator and it is our understanding that Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe) is no longer a member of ALEC.

And certainly, let’s not forget that until recently, BCBS was a member in good standing of ALEC and BCBS was listed as a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and ponied up $10,000 for a “Director” level sponsorship of ALEC’s annual conference held in New Orleans at which Jindal received the organization’s Thomas Jefferson Award. BCBS of Louisiana paid an additional $5,000 and served as a “Trustee” level sponsor of that 2011 conference.

And ALEC continues to have its logo prominently displayed on the Louisiana Legislature’s web page. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/OtherGovSites.aspx

Despite all the spin from Kristy Nichols, the Aug. 11 report to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget by the Legislative Fiscal Office paints a much truer picture of what’s in store for members.

Read the LFO report here: LFO_OGBReport_August_2014

Apparently, the working media also do not buy into the Kristy Kreme version of “it’s all good,” as the proposed changes are attracting the attention of Capitol reporters like Melinda Deslatte, a very capable reporter for Associated Press: http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/news/local/louisiana/2014/08/26/health-benefit-changes-planned-state-workers/14651363/

As a barometer of just how serious the proposed changes are and the impact they will have on members, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, apparently in response to the request of State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) is apparently willing to buck Boss Jindal and call a special meeting of the House as a Committee of the Whole as reported here by the Baton Rouge Advocate’s Marsha Shuler: http://theadvocate.com/home/10100116-123/house-group-benefits-meeting-possible

Undaunted, Nichols trudges on like a good soldier. Today, state employees arrived at work to find emails, mass distributed via the state’s “Bulletin Board,” attempting to address the “incorrect” information “distributed over the last few weeks” regarding the anticipated health insurance changes.

Basically, she denied all negative information, threw up administration smoke screens, made lame excuses and (ho-hum, yawn) blaming the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which has absolutely nothing to do with the Office of Group Benefits.

While Kristy rants that premium increases will be negligible (if one can consider a 47 percent bump negligible), we would remind her it’s not about the premiums; it’s about the benefits. It’s about the co-pays. It’s about the deductibles. Kristy, you can’t ignore the elephant in the room indefinitely.

As state workers peruse Kristy’s latest missive, it is important to refer back to the aforementioned Paul Rainwater letter of April 29, 2011, to get a quick refresher as to just how capable the administration is of clouding an issue with misinformation and outright lies.

They lied then so what’s to keep them from lying now?

The fact is the Jindal administration, what’s left of it, does not nor has it ever cared about the welfare of state employees.

Jindal is joined at each hip by his former—and only—private sector employer McKinsey & Co. on one side and ALEC on the other and both have the same agenda: the destruction of working Americans in favor of ever increasing corporate profits. Together, they guide each and every step Jindal takes.

McKinsey & Co., it should be noted, is also a member of ALEC and is the same company that once consulted General Motors into bankruptcy, advised AT&T there was no future in the cell phone market and which structured the corporate plan for Enron.

These are the ones who are maneuvering to control the health care future of 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.

Only last November, the state flirted with McKinsey & Co. for the purposes of retaining the firm to put together a Business Reengineering/Efficiencies Planning and Management Support Services proposal.

Apparently Jindal opted to go with the less expensive Alvarez & Marcel (A&M) for that contract that has grown from $4.2 million to $7.5 million for A&M to find $500 million in savings over a 10-year period.

But McKinsey did submit a 406-page proposal and a two-page cover letter to Ruth Johnson of the Division of Administration (DOA) which LouisianaVoice has obtained.

Much of McKinsey & Co.’s proposal was redacted by DOA before its release to us—including every word in the proposal dealing with health benefits.

That’s correct. Not a single word about health benefits as proposed by McKinsey was readable. Skip down to page 37 for the redacted health benefits section to see what we mean.

Read the McKinsey report here: McKinsey – State of LA Cost Proposal – Final

In case you don’t have a lot of time, here is a shorter proposal from McKinsey: McKinsey – State of LA Cost Proposal – Final

Are you sufficiently comfortable with that to sit back and trust this administration to do what’s best for you?

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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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