Archive for the ‘Legislature, Legislators’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s so wrong with that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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God knows, I’m no financial wizard. My bank account balance clearly illustrates that. Nor am I a political strategist qualified to critique an administration less than a month into its term of office. After all, it took three years of Bobby Jindal blunders for me to become cynical enough to launch LouisianaVoice.

Moreover, my advice is worth precisely what I charge for it: zero.

Still, there are developments in the John Bel Edwards administration that are already prompting questions and causing my spider senses to tingle a bit.

Obviously, the reappointment of Mike Edmonson as State Police Superintendent heads that list. Likewise, the reappointment of Jimmy LeBlanc over the Department of Corrections raised more than a few eyebrows given the ongoing investigation into the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and the myriad of problems documented there.

But I am aware of political reality and the reality is the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association wanted both reappointed. Edmonson because of what he can do for the sheriffs, i.e. jobs to sheriffs’ relatives; LeBlanc because of the convenient arrangement that has local jails housing state prisoners at a nice profit to the sheriffs.

Edmonson and LeBlanc aside, there are other appointments and salary structures that should raise a few eyebrows.

Take Thomas Enright, for example. Bobby Jindal’s former executive counsel, Enright repeatedly found ways to block legitimate public records requests by throwing up the “deliberative process” defense. And don’t forget, it was apparently on his advice that Jindal signed the infamous “Edmonson Amendment” in 2014 that would have given Edmonson an additional $50,000 or so in retirement. That was the last-minute amendment tacked onto an otherwise benign bill by State Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia which was ruled unconstitutional by a Baton Rouge district judge pursuant to a lawsuit filed by State Sen. Dan Claitor of Baton Rouge.

So Enright was shown the door, right?

Not exactly. While he is no longer the governor’s executive counsel and while he is no longer earning $165,000 per year, he was kept on the payroll by Edwards. Shunted off to the Department of Veterans Affairs where he will serve as executive counsel to that agency, his salary was reduced to $120,000 per year, a 27 percent cut in pay.

Meanwhile, Edwards has announced staff and cabinet appointments with combined salaries of $2.4 million.

Several months ago, when it first appeared that he had a real chance to win the governor’s race, I offered up some of that free advice I alluded to earlier.

In an email to Edwards, I offered up what I thought at the time was a bold but sensible suggestion: appoint retired executives to key cabinet positions and pay them $1 per year. I even offered up the name of the retired president of my alma mater, Louisiana Tech, Dan Reneau. I didn’t know of Dr. Reneau would accept a job, but I used his name as an example of someone with expertise who was financially secure and not political ambitious.

Obviously, such an appointee would have to be someone who didn’t need the money and it would be imperative that such a person would not want to use the position as a springboard to political office.

And it’s not like mine was an original idea. The precedent has been set already—many times. Perhaps the most famous dollar-a-year men are President John F. Kennedy, former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-dollar_salary


Others include former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison, Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to name only a few.

Some of those of course took healthy stock options in lieu of salary, but not all did. Jobs, Iacocca, Kennedy, Schwarzenegger, Bloomberg and Riordan did not. Nor does John Mackey (Whole Foods), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), David Filo (Yahoo), Jeremy Stoppelman (Yelp), Edward Lampert (Sears), or Richard Hayne (Urban Outfitters).

Obviously there are few other than Tom Benson that are in the same league with these gazillionaires and even his fortune pales in comparison to Zuckerberg’s $46 billion. But there are certainly a sufficient number adequately well off to give of their time to fill a dozen or so crucial spots in state government. Their expertise, after all, could be invaluable in addressing the state’s dire fiscal woes head-on. The absence of a political agenda on their part could only be an added plus.

Edwards’ response to my suggestion?

“I’ll think about it.”

Apparently he didn’t think too long about it. Like his predecessor, he has loaded down his administration with top-heavy salaries and has even raised the salaries of six appointees.

Joey Strickland got $134,351, a $4,351 raise over what David Lecerte was earning as Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Jay Dardenne’s salary as Commissioner of Administration is $237,500 compared to Jindal’s last commissioner Stafford Palmieri’s $204,400.

New DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson is making $176,900, an increase of $6,900 over the previous secretary, Sherri LeBas. Former State Rep. Karen St. Germain will make $125,000 as Motor Vehicles Commissioner, compared to former commissioner Stephen Campbell’s $103,614.

Press secretary Richard Carbo is being paid $110,000. Jindal press secretary Mike Reed made $93,600 and General Counsel Matthew Block pulls down $180,000 compared to Enright’s $165,000.

Granted, the $2.4 million outlay for cabinet and staff members (so far) is not a lot when one considers a looming budget deficit of $700 million for the remainder of this fiscal year and a whopping $1.9 billion (and counting) for the next fiscal year which begins July 1.

But placing retired executives with the appropriate expertise in key positions would have been a symbolic—and productive—gesture that would have sent a positive message to voters that Edwards is serious about solving the state’s fiscal mess. Such a move would have marshaled the state’s brain trust into a united effort never before seen in this state—probably in any state. It would have said to a few good men and women who still have much to offer: “Hey, we’re all in this together. Come help us.”

Instead, it was a missed opportunity. For one who said he would “not be a business-as-usual” governor, this looks, sounds, and smells a lot like business as usual. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/01/john_bel_edwards_emphasizes_un.html

I hope I’m wrong.


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Predictably, the business community is in high dudgeon over Gov. John Bel Edwards’ initial proposals to address the fiscal mess left by his predecessor—you know, the guy who thought he was presidential timber.

Judging from the early reaction of his die-hard opponents, including the Louisiana’s Rush Limburger wannabe Jeff (so) Sadow, Edwards is already a major flop just two weeks into the job. As much as I detest Mike Foster’s love child, I gave him nearly four years before abandoning any hope that he had the slightest concern for the people of this state.

Personally, I can’t think of a single person on the face of the good earth who could come into this job and successfully turn the state around in eight years, let alone four. It’s a daunting task that no sane candidate should relish.

In coaching, no one wants to be the one to follow a legend. You want to be the one who follows the one who follows the legend. Well, no one should want to be the one to inherit a disaster. You want to be the one who follows the one who tried to right the ship so if things are looking up, you can ride the momentum and take credit for the recovery.

With that in mind, here are a few observations:

The Baton Rouge Advocate on Sunday ran an outstanding analysis of the undeniable disaster in high education funding left by Jindal. The story was especially timely in light of Edwards’ announcement of even more draconian cuts facing high ed as he tries to cope with $750 million in budget deficits for the current fiscal year and a $1.9 billion budget gap for next fiscal year—all to be covered with shrinking revenues. http://theadvocate.com/news/14621878-123/special-report-how-startling-unique-cuts-have-transformed-louisianas-universities

LSU President F. King Alexander has gone on record as saying summer school may have to be cancelled at LSU. That’s the same type of dire warning as his “financial exigency” threat last year. That worked to get legislators’ attention and warded off the threatened bankruptcy. This threat of the cancellation of summer classes is a similar wakeup call to lawmakers—if they can get their heads from the place where only their proctologists can find them.

Even Jindal’s head cheerleader Rolfe McCollister inexplicably allowed Jeremy Alford to reveal in McCollister’s Baton Rouge Business Report that Edwards learned to his surprise that Piyush had approved millions of dollars in pay raises and made almost two dozen board and commission appointments that were not announced.

As a sign that McCollister may not be paying enough attention to his publication, he also allowed an Associated Press story that said Jindal left Edwards a gaggle of economic development deal IOUs.

But when Edwards suggested a tax package to help meet the fiscal disaster head-on, you’d have though from LABI’s reaction, that he was demanding the first-born of every businessman in the state.

Never mind that the Tax Foundation released a report last week that revealed that Louisiana has the sixth-lowest tax burden in America in the 2012 fiscal year.

While the rest of the country was paying an average of one dollar for every $10 earned in state and local taxes (exclusive of federal taxes), Louisiana citizens were paying only 76 cents for every $10 earned.

The per capita state and local taxes of $2,940 paid is fourth-lowest in the country and the state’s cigarette tax is one of the lowest. Edwards is seeking to increase the 86-cent cigarette tax to $1.08, which would bring Louisiana more in line with other states.

The state’s effective property tax rate of .5 percent is third lowest but the combined state and local sales tax rate (arguably the most regressive tax) of 8.9 percent is third highest.

Edwards says the days of using budget gimmicks are over. “This administration will remove the smoke and mirrors and provide the facts about where we are,” he said, in a not-so-subtle slap at Jindal. http://theadvocate.com/news/14619324-75/gov-john-bel-edwards-outlines-budget-options

State Sen. Jack Donahue, in a rare exhibition of lucidity for a legislator, told The Advocate, “…the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and so what did we spend (state revenue) on? Motion pictures; we spent it on solar power; we spent it on enterprise zone tax credits; we spent it on new market tax credits. We spent millions and millions and millions of dollars on all those things; so obviously, they were more important than our education.” http://theadvocate.com/news/14621878-123/special-report-how-startling-unique-cuts-have-transformed-louisianas-universities

Well, Senator, you said it. And you were oh, so accurate to employ the pronoun “we.” Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 and yours is flawless. Other than Edwards, Rep. Rogers Pope, and Sens. Ed Murray and Dan Claitor, and maybe a couple others, I can’t recall many objections to the Jindal giveaway years coming from either chamber over the past eight years.

So now, Edwards wants to roll back some those insanely, ill-advised, foolish, thoughtless corporate tax breaks, and the corporate world is already screaming rape. Hey, guys, the honeymoon is—or should be—over. It’s way past time for the middle- and low-income citizens of this state to be relieved of the heaviest tax burdens while you guys get all those tax breaks, exemptions and incentives to create minimum-wage jobs—if jobs are even created at all. I mean, does anyone really think oil and gas will leave Louisiana when the oil and gas is here? To get to it, they have to come here. Do we really need Enterprise Zone credits for Wal-Marts in St. Tammany Parish?

As Edwards said, it’s time for the governor’s office to be “not business as usual.”

He will make mistakes. He will do things I don’t agree with. I was never under the illusion that I would agree with every single action he takes. No politician, like a rooster in a henhouse, could ever please everyone all the time.

And when he does displease me, I will say so. But for now, I’m more than willing to at least let him get his feet wet. We all owe him that much.


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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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