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Archive for the ‘Louisiana Purchase’ Category

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Walter Lee has been indicted by a state grand jury and the FBI is investigating State Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray)—both for double billing for travel.

Investigators may want to take a look at the expense records of State Rep. and Shreveport mayoral candidate Patrick Williams (D-Shreveport).

Lee’s indictment by a DeSoto Parish grand jury accuses him of the felony theft of $3,968 in fuel expenses and $1,578 in lodging in meals charged to both BESE and to the DeSoto Parish School Board at a time when Lee was simultaneously serving as DeSoto School Superintendent and as a member of BESE.

A state audit used as the basis of Lee’s indictment said he collected travel expenses from BESE for attending state board meetings even though he used a parish school system credit card to pay for those expenses and failed to reimburse the school system after receiving payment from BESE.

DeSoto District Attorney Richard Johnson, Jr. said Lee also terminated a lease early on a vehicle which cost the school system around $10,000 and then got a substantial discount on the purchase of another vehicle shortly thereafter.

Williams’ expense reimbursements, however, more closely resemble those of his colleague in the House.

Harrison has been ordered by federal investigators to produce travel expense records after the New Orleans Times-Picayune revealed in a lengthy investigative series that Harrison was reimbursed more than $50,000 by the House for travel in his district from 2010 to 2013—travel that he had also charged to his campaign.

House reimbursement records and campaign expense records reveal that in 2012 alone, Williams systematically doubled his campaign and the House for more than $4,000 for expenses that included postage, subscriptions to the Shreveport Times, travel to and from Baton Rouge, hotel accommodations in Washington, D.C., airport parking, cab fare, and air travel.

LouisianaVoice was alerted to Williams’ expense payments by former Shreveport attorney Michael Wainwright who now lives in North Carolina.

Wainwright said Williams accepts campaign contributions which then pays “thousands of dollars” in travel and other expenses. “Rep. Williams then bills the taxpayer for those same expenses (and) then keeps the reimbursement checks. He has converted the money to his personal use.”

Wainwright said the practice “is conduct which seems to fall squarely within the definition of theft,” which he said is defined under Louisiana Criminal Law as “the misappropriation or taking of anything of value which belongs to another, either without the consent of the other to the misappropriation or taking, or by means of fraudulent conduct, practices or representation.”

He provided us with a detailed itemization which we verified through our own check of Williams’ campaign expense report and House reimbursement records.

The following list includes the month of the House expense report, the amount and purpose. In the case of each expense item listed, Williams also billed his campaign:

  • January: $113.73—Purchase Power Postage;
  • February: $52.88—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • April: $85.51—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • May: $53.95—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • May: $107.99—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • June: $65.68—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • August: $17.98—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • October: $37.04—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • October: $85.48—Pitney Bowes Postage;
  • November: $17.98- Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • December: $17.98—Shreveport Times Subscription;
  • November 5: $70.00—Fuel & Travel to Baton Rouge;
  • November 29: $50.32—Fuel & Travel to Baton Rouge;
  • December 4-8: $40.00—Shreveport Airport Parking;
  • December 4-7: $838.16—Hilton Hotel, Washington, D.C. (Campaign billed for entire $912.71 amount);
  • December 4-8: $169.94—Washington Travel Expense (Note: Rep. Williams was paid $745.00 in per diem expenses by the State of Louisiana while attending a NCSL conference in Washington, DC Williams also charged his campaign account $169.94 for the following per diem expenses related to this trip: Delta Airlines Travel baggage ($25), Supreme Airport Shuttle ($13), Hilton Hotel ($103), Meals ($28.44);
  • February 1: $158.00—Holiday Inn, Lafayette;
  • March 12-16: $197.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (This amount was billed to his campaign while the House paid $291.38);
  • March 17-20: $327.04—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • March 31-April 13: $373.09—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • April 14-27: $335.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • April 28-May 11: $257.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);
  • May 12-25: $262.12—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75)
  • May 26-June 4: $146.00—In Session Fuel & Mileage (billed to campaign; House paid $582.75);

This is the same Rep. Patrick Williams who in 2011 authored House Bill 277 which would have required the posting of the Ten Commandments in the State Capitol. There’s no word as to whether his bill proposed deleting the Eighth Commandment.

 

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Gov. Bobby Jindal, with the signing of House Bill 799, has continued his assault on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E), underscoring the importance and power of special interest money over the welfare of the state.

HB 799, authored by Rep. Stuart J. Bishop (R-Lafayette), bars the Louisiana attorney general from hiring plaintiff attorneys on a contingency-fee basis to pursue litigation against corporations like Chinese dry wall manufacturers responsible for millions of dollars in damages to new homes in Louisiana, pharmaceutical companies accused of price fraud at the wholesale level and of selling pharmaceutical products not approved by the federal government, companies found to be improperly handling underground storage tanks, or tobacco companies whose seven top executives (to evermore be known as the “seven dwarves”) lied under oath to Congress in saying nicotine was not addictive.

Bishop cited fees of $51.4 million paid state-contracted attorneys in a case against the pharmaceutical industry that resulted in a $285 million verdict. That computes to a fee of about 18 percent as compared to the 30 percent norm usually charged by attorneys hired on contingency.

A $235.7 million settlement of another pharmaceutical case resulted in attorney fees of $46.6 million, or 19.7 percent. The Coalition for Common Sense, a group describing itself as committed to a fair legal climate said another portion of that settlement went to repay two-thirds of the state’s Medicaid expenses. The coalition said that bumped the legal fees up to 34.2 percent, but without further clarification, it seems difficult to equate Medicaid fees to legal fees. That would seem to come under the purview of Jindal’s continued mismanagement of the state’s Medicaid program.

In yet another case, attorneys, including Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s campaign treasurer and other contributors, received $4 million in fees, or 9.4 percent, of a $42.5 million case.

Granted, it doesn’t look good for Caldwell’s campaign treasurer to receive a contract but the obvious question is how is that any different than Jindal’s former executive counsel Jimmy Faircloth getting contracts to represent the state in one losing case after another—at fees which now exceed $1 million?

Jindal’s penchant for protecting the oil companies, who have contributed more than $1 million to his various campaigns, is by now well-known. His largesse has even extended to BP which may have negated pending claims against the company for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill that killed 11 men and pumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

The fact that the governor’s brother works for BP, of course, had nothing to do with Jindal’s decision to sign Senate Bill 469 by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) which killed the SLFPA-E lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for damages inflicted to Louisiana’s coastline and marshlands. SB 469 also made the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was nipped in the bud.

(Allain, by the way, was the one who slipped that $2 million appropriation into the 2013 Capital Outlay Bill to renovate the third floor of an old elementary school in Franklin for conversion to a museum to house the archives of former Gov. Mike Foster who will now become the only governor in Louisiana history to have his archives housed in something other than a university library.)

Jindal, in signing SB 469 into law, said the law would stop “unnecessary frivolous lawsuits.”

Allain, also invoking the “frivolous lawsuit” catch phrase, also said if allowed to stand, it would “hurt jobs.”

Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton), who lobbied for the bill and who has been the beneficiary of more than $600,000 in oil and gas campaign contributions, said, “This bill keeps a rogue agency from misrepresenting this state and trying to raise money through illegal actions.”

Perhaps Sen. Adley should take a long inward look at misrepresenting the state and raising campaign money through legal but questionable means.

Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs called Jindal’s signing of the bill “a huge victory for the oil and gas industry.”

You think?

What all three men seem to have overlooked is that when companies that traditionally reap billions in quarterly profits each year walk away from their responsibilities to repair damage they inflict on the environment in their non-stop quest for even more profits, then sometimes those “greedy lawyers” need to step up and hold these companies accountable.

And of course there was SB 667 which neutered the so-called “legacy lawsuits” over environmental damage from oil and gas companies’ tendency to walk away from well sites on private property without bothering to restore the property to its original condition.

And let’s never forget that a priority of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is to oppose environmental protections, be they EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases or legacy lawsuits. At the top of ALEC’s membership list in leading the fight against environmental laws, and the rights to hold corporations legally accountable are such familiar corporations as Exxon/Mobil, BP, Chevron, Shell and, of course, Koch Industries.

At least two of those legacy lawsuits succeeded before SB 667 was signed into law by Jindal.

  • The first, a $76 million award, was litigated by Lake Charles attorney J. Michael Veron on behalf of family members whose property was heavily polluted—and subsequently abandoned—by Shell Oil. Veron authored a book entitled Shell Game about the litigation. In the book, he describes in detail how he was called into then-Gov. Foster’s office and lectured to like a misbehaving schoolboy. Despite the heavy pressure from Foster, Veron persisted and eventually won.

Foster, of course, is the one responsible for our present predicament: he discovered Jindal—“the smartest man I ever met,” he said—and appointed him head of the Department of Health and Hospitals at the tender age of 24.

  • The second case was that of Bill Doré, retired chairman of Global Industries of Sulphur. Doré made a fortune from the Southwest Louisiana oil patch but when he purchased Cameron Meadows in Cameron Parish with the intent of constructing a hunting lodge, he discovered the land had been polluted by oil companies to such an extent that alligator, fish and other wildlife populations had dwindled significantly and that wherever he stepped on the property, oil and brine would ooze to the surface. He sued Exxon/Mobil whose executives promptly summoned him to Houston for a come to Jesus meeting at which they informed him that if he continued on his quixotic quest, he would lose valuable Exxon/Mobil business. He more or less told the Exxon/Mobil suits what they could do with their business, which amounted to some $37 million over the years. He reminded them that because Exxon, the richest company on earth, insisted on such rigid contract firms by forcing vendors to accept smaller margins as the cost of doing volume business with them, Global had actually lost $7 million on its Exxon/Mobil business. Represented by New Orleans attorney Gladstone Jones, the same attorney representing SLPFA-E, Doré won a $57 million judgment against the giant oil company.

In an interesting side bar to the story, a small Cameron café catered the meals for both sides and the jurors during the protracted Doré trial. Attorneys for both sides agreed to split the cost of having meals for both sides. Following the two-week trial and after each side had paid its share of the costs, Doré’s legal team gave the café’s staff a $1,000 tip. The tip from attorneys for Exxon/Mobil was $20—almost as if the café’s staff was responsible for the adverse verdict.

So now, it comes full circle.

The SLPFA-E board, stacked with Jindal appointees after he replaced rebel John Barry, the leading proponent of the litigation, voted 4-4 last week on a motion to withdraw the suit. While a majority was required for passage, it appears to be academic. Jindal’s signing of SB 469 would seem to ring the death knell for any future legal action.

So now, the state is virtually powerless to seek remediation for damages done to our coastline such as that depicted in this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaW1DomWRk4

Greedy lawyers? Frivolous lawsuits?

So, where does all that special interest money we alluded to in the first paragraph come in?

Well, LouisianaVoice has already provided an itemized list of oil and gas industry contributions to each of the state’s 144 legislators that totals more than $5.2 million and we earlier cited contributions to Jindal in excess of $1 million from the same industry.

But how did the contributions break out on the House and Senate votes on the infamous SB 469?

We’re glad you asked. We’ve done the math for you.

In the senate, the 25 senators who voted in favor of the bill killing the SLPFA-E litigation received $1.99 million from oil and gas interests, or an average of $79,664 each.

The 11 who voted against killing the lawsuit combined to receive $591,000, or $53,769 each—a difference of nearly $26,000 each.

Now let’s stroll across the Capitol Rotunda to the House side where vote-buying is a little less expensive, more economical if you will.

The 59 members who voted in favor of SB 469 combined to rake in $1.885 million, or just a tad under $32,000 each while the 39 nay votes took in $889,281 between them, or an average take of $23,402, a difference of about $9,600 each.

Moreover, during debate on SB 469, the State Capitol was swarming with lobbyists from BP, which stood to benefit mightily from passage of the bill.

So, you see, it’s really pretty evident that money—lots of it—tends to flow freely in the Capitol and its influence is completely out of kilter with the intent of a democratic republic. We no longer have a representative government for the people but a representative government for those who can wave the most money under the noses of our elected officials.

As one legislator who, for obvious reasons, shall remain anonymous as to his name, the area of the state he represents and even the chamber in which he sits, said in a recent email to a constituent:

“When a fella has the oil and gas lobbyists, the LABI lobbyists, and the governor’s office all on the same team and wanting you to be on the same team, well, it was a challenging last few days of the session.  I thought then, and I still hold the belief, that this is a bad bill (now a law since Gov. Jindal has now signed it) and sets a horrible precedent.  Again, this administration has assured another legal challenge to a law it supported and I expect a lawsuit to be filed before long.

“I appreciate your taking time to send me your email.  When I was down there surrounded by many who were interested in me only for the vote of the moment, expressions such as yours remind me of my commitment to the good people of the district I serve and confirms that, in the face of all those present in the Capitol during the session, I was sent there to represent those who can’t be there.”

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“The convictions are just the ones who got caught. If there’re a lot of convictions, there’s probably a bunch that haven’t been caught.”

—From a Governing magazine story by writers Liz Farmer and Kevin Tidmarsh, quoting John Mikesell of Indiana University, who co-authored a new report that placed Louisiana at the top of the list of most corrupt states.

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1974 Louisiana Constitution-Declaration of Rights

§22. Access to Courts

Section 22. “All courts shall be open, and every person shall have an adequate remedy by due process of law and justice, administered without denial, partiality, or unreasonable delay, for injury to him in his person, property, reputation, or other rights.”

(Special thanks to Tony Guarisco for researching this provision of the State Constitution.)

 

 

This is about yet two more examples of how Gov. Bobby Jindal conveniently manages to look the other way instead of being up front when confronted with issues that most might believe could present a conflict of interest

When Jindal signed SB 469 into law on Friday he not only killed the pending lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) but he also placed in extreme jeopardy the claims by dozens of South Louisiana municipalities and parish governments from the disastrous 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill that killed 11 men and discharged 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, spoiling beaches and killing fish and wildlife.

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with its accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like blow flies buzzing around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

Russel Honore said it another way, observing wryly that the Exxon flag still flies over the State Capitol.

Blogger Lamar White, Jr. observed that former Gov. Edwin Edwards spent eight years in a federal prison for accepting payments from hopeful casino operators for his assistance in obtaining licenses—all after he left office. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was similarly convicted of using his position to steer business to a family-owned company and taking free vacations meals and cell phones from people attempting to score contracts or incentives from the city.

So what is the difference between what they did and the ton of contributions received by Adley and Jindal? To paraphrase my favorite playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare, a payoff by any other name smells just as rank.

And while big oil money flowed like liquor at the State Capitol (figuratively of course; it’s illegal to make or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session), what many may not know is that Jindal may have had an ulterior motive when he signed the bill into law against sound legal advice not to do so, thus protecting the interests of big oil over the welfare of Louisiana citizens who have seen frightening erosion of the state’s shoreline and freshwater marshes.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is one of the firms that represented BP in negotiating a $4.5 billion settlement that ended criminal charges against the company. Included in that settlement amount was a $1.26 billion criminal fine to be paid over five years.

An associate of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who has defended clients in government audit cases and in several whistleblower cases is one Nikesh Jindal.

He also is assigned to the division handling the BP case.

Nikesh Jindal is the younger brother of Gov. Piyush, aka Bobby Jindal.

Suddenly, John Barry’s words take on a little more significance: “We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

And that’s not the only instance in which Jindal neglected to be completely candid about connections between him and his brother.

In yet another of his increasingly frequent op-ed columns, this one for the Washington Examiner, prolific writer and part time governor Jindal staked out his position of support of for-profit colleges in their battle against the Obama administration.

A 2012 report by the Senate Committee on Health, Labor and Pensions said that between 2008 and 2009, more than a million students attended schools owned by for-profit companies and by 2010, 54 percent of those had left school without a degree or certificate.

The committee also found that associate degree and certificate programs cost an average of four times the cost of degree program at comparable community colleges. Moreover, bachelor’s degree programs at for-profit colleges cost 20 percent more than flagship public universities.

Jindal disputed proposed U.S. Department of Education “gainful employment” rules that would tie federal aid at for-profit and public and private vocational and certificate programs to their success in preparing students for gainful employment.

“The message from this administration couldn’t be clearer,” Jindal wrote in suggesting that the Obama administration policies are tantamount to “redlining educational opportunities” for low-income and minority youths. “If you want to attend an elite professional school you could end up having tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt forgiven by your school and the federal government. But if you’re a struggling African-American single mother relying on a certificate program at a for-profit school or a community college and you like your current education plan—under this administration, you have about as much chance of keeping it as you do your health plan.”

Critics of the for-profit institutions, however, claim that the schools recruit vulnerable students, some of whom do not even possess a high school diploma, charge exorbitant tuition and encourage students to take out huge student loans they will never be able to repay.

Once again, it was what went unsaid that is significant.

Nikesh Jindal, it turns out, has represented the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), in an earlier legal battle with the Obama administration.

Nikesh Jindal “historically has been part of the team representing APSCU in litigation,” said Noah Black, APSCU spokesman, and was listed as one of the attorneys for the association in its successful challenge to a Department of Education rule that colleges must become certified in each state in which they enroll students.

For a man of repeated claims of transparency, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s lack of candor is awfully opaque.

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That citation of Dual Trucking Co. by the Montana Department of Environmental Equality for dumping oilfield radioactive waste from the nearby Bakken Oilfield, it turns out, is not the only problem State Rep. Gordon Dove (R-Houma) has experienced with environmental authorities, LouisianaVoice has learned.

Vacco Marine, Inc., a company owned by Dove, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, has been the subject of several investigations, negative reports, citations, and compliance orders by and from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over a period of several years, records show.

Last week, while presiding over a meeting of the Natural Resources Committee, he joined 12 other members in passing an amendment to SB 469 that made the prohibition against suing oil companies for damages to the state’s wetlands and marshes retroactive. The amended version of the bill has since been approved by both the full House and Senate and awaits the signature of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Dove also serves as a member of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Following are a few of the issues in which Dove and his company, Vacco Marine, have been involved:

  • May 12, 1989: DEQ, Office of Water Resources, Water Pollution Control Division inspection found evidence that various substances, including diesel and sludge, were being buried and that the practice had been ongoing “for a while.”

 

  • April 28, 1994: Same office found “several areas of limestone and ground contaminated with oil” and that a ditch which drained into Bayou Grand Caillou was “contaminated with hydrocarbons.” Dove was ordered to remove contaminated sediment, remove all contaminated ground in proximity of spills and to prevent future spillage.

 

  • Sept. 12, 1996: Vacco Marine was issued a compliance order by DEQ’s Hazardous Waste Division after an inspection in December of 1995 resulted in three separate violations relating to solid waste.

 

  • Oct. 6, 2004: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a complaint and consent agreement pursuant to the EPA’s compliance evaluation inspection of Sept. 23, 2003. Vacco Marine paid $6,593 in civil penalties to EPA on Jan. 14, 2005, for unspecified violations. The agreement also noted that Vacco would be subject to further enforcement action and additional penalties of up to $32,500 per day for continued noncompliance. The agreement also stipulated that Vacco could be enjoined from further generation, transportation, storage of disposal of hazardous waste if violations persisted.

 

  • Feb. 24, 2010: A DEQ inspection found 10 separate violations including incorrect logging of mercury, cut electrical and air lines, failure to log wastes received at the facility, and a lack of a Stormwater Water Pollution Prevention plan, among others. The 177-page inspection report included numerous photographs of conditions at Vacco Marine. Those included photos of open ditches that contained effluent and which drained into the Houma Navigational Canal.

 

  • April 11, 2012: DEQ compliance order and notice of potential penalty issued on the basis of DEQ finding that Vacco Marine had failed to develop and implement a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan as ordered in 2010. The DEQ order further noted that Vacco Marine had neglected to comply with other requirements, including the filing of required reports and permit applications. Vacco Marine also was found in violation of the requirement to record flow from its facility and, in fact, the flow meter was inoperable. Even when in service, the flow meter was found to have been installed incorrectly so that it could not accurate record flow rates. Other violations noted included failure to submit a noncompliance report, exceeding effluent limitations, incorrect reporting of Butyl Benzyl Phthalate outfall.

 

Even though Dove’s company was ordered to come into compliance with DEQ regulations, no penalties were imposed on Vacco Marine.

Could this have been because of his powerful position as chairman of the House Natural Resources and Environment?

Could it be that he received special consideration because of his position as a legislator?

That, of course, is difficult to say. But it certainly should not be hard to see the potential danger of placing an individual as chairman of a legislative committee that oversees the very agency that regulates his business—especially when that individual has such a spotted record of compliance as Rep. Gordon Dove.

That makes about as much sense as allowing him to chair that same committee and allowing him to vote on SB 469 after he received nearly $29,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

It makes about as much sense as Gov. Jindal’s apparent belief that the state ethics laws are meant to apply to some but not others as he signed into law a bill to allow former State Sen. Francis Heitmeier to lobby the Legislature despite the fact that his brother, David Heitmeier, is currently a state senator—in open violation of the state ethics law that prohibits members of lawmakers’ families from lobbying the legislature.

It makes about as much sense as allowing the LSU Board of Stuporvisors to enter into a contract with a company run by an LSU Board member to operate two LSU hospitals in north Louisiana.

It makes about as much sense as allowing Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) President Chas Roemer to vote on charter school issues despite the fact that his sister is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

It makes about as much sense as allowing BESE and the Louisiana Department of Education to enter into multi-million contracts with Teach For America (TFA) even as Kira Orange Jones sits as a member of BESE and serves as executive director of TFA Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta.

Where I grew up in north Louisiana, we called that letting the fox guard the henhouse.

In Baton Rouge, apparently it’s just called Jindaltics.

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As expected, the Louisiana Senate voted 25-11 on Friday to accept the House amendment to SB 459, which made the prohibition against governmental entities’ ability to seek redress from 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies for the damages inflicted on Louisiana’s erstwhile freshwater marshlands, effectively sealing the fate of efforts by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) to hold the companies accountable for their actions.

The amendment, passed earlier by the House in a 59-39 vote made SB 469 retroactive, which is tantamount to killing the SLFPA-E litigation, prompting Ret. Gen. Russel Honeré to observe, “The flag of the oil companies still flies over the Louisiana Capitol.”

But in passing SB 469, which Gov. Bobby Jindal is almost certain to sign into law, given his backing of the bill, the Louisiana Legislature may have pulled the proverbial rug from under Louisiana coastal city and parish governments, according to a five-page analysis of the bill by Robert R.M. Verchick of the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.

Also participating in drafting the report on the potential repercussions of the bill were Zygmunt J.B. Plater, professor, Boston College Law School and former Chairman of the State of Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s Legal Task Force; William Andreen, professor of law, University of Alabama School of Law, and Christine A. Klein, professor and director, LL.M. Program in Environmental & Land Use Law, Levin College of Law, University of Florida.

Among other the bill by Sens. Bret Allain and Robert Adley (who have received $632,000 in contributions from oil and gas interests—$597,950 for Adley and $34,140 for Allain), provides:

  • Except as provided in this Subpart [the state coastal zone management law], no state or local governmental entity shall have, nor may pursue, any right or cause of action arising from any activity subject to permitting under R.S. 49:214.21 et seq. [the state coastal zone management law], 33 U.S.C. 1344 [§ 404 dredge or fill permitting under the Clean Water Act][,] or 33 U.S.C. 408 [the Rivers and Harbors Act] in the coastal area as defined by R.S. 49:214.2, or arising from or related to any use as defined by R.S. 49:214.23(13), regardless of the date such use or activity occurred (emphasis theirs).

That provision of the bill would appear to again place the state at odds with federal statutes, specifically the congressional Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) which says, in part:

  • Notwithstanding any other provision or rule of law, and subject to the provisions of this Act, each responsible party for a vessel or a facility from which oil is discharged, or which poses the substantial threat of a discharge of oil, into or upon the navigable waters or adjoining shorelines or the exclusive economic zone is liable for the removal costs and damages…

Moreover, federal statute says that the list of recoverable costs and damages includes economic losses and natural resource damages incurred by state and local governments. Damages under the federal statute shall include:

  • Damages for injury to, destruction of, loss of, or loss of use of, natural resources, including the reasonable costs of assessing the damage, which shall be recoverable by a United States trustee, a state trustee, an Indian tribe trustee, or a foreign trustee;
  • Damages equal to the net loss of taxes, royalties, rents, fees, or net profit shares due to the injury, destruction, or loss of real property, personal property, or natural resources, which shall be recoverable by the Government of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision thereof.
  • Damages for net costs of providing increased or additional public services during or after removal activities, including protection from fire, safety, or health hazards, caused by a discharge of oil, which shall be recoverable by a State, or a political subdivision of a State.

So what does all that have to do with local governmental entities?

Simply this: because SB 469 would limit the types of claims that state and local governmental entities may pursue, the report says. This means if BP should raise defenses of claims from the BP spill of 2010 based on SB 469 and even only partially succeed, “the results would needlessly deprive Louisiana and its communities of precious revenue and cause considerable embarrassment of state leaders” because it specifically excludes economic or natural resource damage claims under OPA, according to the report which was signed by Verchick.

Economic damages and damages from the loss of natural resources comprise the very basis of pending claims against BP, Verchick says.

In its OPA suit against BP, for example, Jefferson Parish has claimed that it has suffered, among other things:

  • Ecological damage;
  • Damage to the quality of life of its citizens;
  • Loss of sales tax revenues, use tax revenues, parish tax revenues, inventory tax revenues, hotel and motel tax revenues, severance tax revenues, royalties, rents and fees;
  • Increased costs of providing services to the citizens of Jefferson Parish;
  • Damage to the natural resources of Jefferson parish;
  • Increased costs for the monitoring of the health of its citizens and the treatment of physical and emotional problems related to the oil spill;
  • Increased costs for debt service;
  • Loss of fees for permits and licenses;
  • Loss of fines and forfeitures income;
  • Increased administrative costs.

State senators who represent Jefferson Parish who voted for SB 469 in its amended form and the amount of campaign contributions they have received from oil and gas interests (in parentheses) are:

  • John Alario, Senate President: $124,400;
  • David Heitmeier: $44,300
  • Jean-Paul Morrell: $87,800;
  • Gary Smith: $87,600.

TOTAL: $344,100 (Ave: $86,000 each).

Alario is a Republican while the other three are each Democrats, which illustrates that the money of big oil can purchases allegiances on each side of the aisle.

House members from Jefferson Parish who voted for the amended bill and their oil and gas contributions (in parentheses) include:

  • Bryan Adams: $9,000;
  • Robert Billiot: $32,800;
  • Jerry Gisclair: $3,750;
  • Cameron Henry: $30,000
  • Christopher Leopold: $29,800;
  • Nick Lorusso: $21,700;
  • Julie Stokes: $20,000.

TOTAL: $147,050 (Ave. $21,000 each).

GRAND TOTAL, HOUSE AND SENATE: $491,150 (Ave. $44.650 each).

“Because SB 469 works retroactively, it could undo all of these claims,” Verchick said.

If Jindal signs the bill into law, it would also apply prospectively. “So if, say, one of the supertankers offloading at the state’s offshore oil port caught fire and started pouring oil into Lafourche Parish, or if a major pipeline in Plaquemines Parish ruptured, or an oil rig anywhere in state coastal waters blew up, as BP’s Deepwater Horizon did, then no parish or city that was affected would be able to bring a claim for economic losses, not even if it cost taxpayers millions—or billions—of dollars,” he said.

Louisiana produces nearly 1.25 million barrels of crude oil per day. It hosts the world’s only offshore superport for oil and gas tankers and is crisscrossed by more than 100,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines. “Does Gov. Jindal really want to sign a law that could immunize the oil and gas industry from paying for economic losses caused by any oil spill (however reckless the behavior) in the state’s coastal zone?” Verchick asked in his report.

He said Jindal, in the opening week of hurricane season, should consider the terrible risk the law would impose on fragile communities along the Louisiana coast. “Whatever one thinks about SLFPAE’s lawsuit, such expansive action cannot be justified. It’s like bombing the Gulf of Mexico to catch a single snapper,” he said.

The report said the most significant risk could be the aftermath of future oil spill events that may occur wholly within Louisiana’s coastal zone, including potential ruptures in any of the more than 125,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in Louisiana or a spill occurring at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), the largest point of entry for waterborne crude oil entering the U.S., or from a tanker rupture similar to the Exxon Valdez spill.

“We emphasize that this is a significant litigation risk faced by the state and local governments should SB 469 be signed into law,” he said. State and local governments will also have counter-arguments that they can raise, namely that SB 469’s prohibitions will trigger conflict-preemption such that OPA’s damages provisions will take precedence over the prohibitory language of SB 469.

“Implied preemption can also take the form of conflict preemption where complying with both federal law and state law is impossible or where the state law ‘creates an unacceptable “obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.”

Arguably, the application of SB 469 to prevent certain state or local governmental entities from pursuing the full panoply of damages available under OPA may present such an obstacle and could be found by a court to be conflict-preempted,” Verchick said.

“These open questions present a significant litigation risk to such governmental entity claims. A court could plausibly interpret SB 469 to dismiss or limit damage claims, now before the court, that the state and its subdivisions have brought against BP. Regardless of how the court ultimately rules, the very existence of these eventualities will devalue the plaintiffs’ settlement posture and perhaps lengthen the time those governmental entities will go without recompense for these categories of economic loss,” the report concluded.

But it isn’t very likely that much thought will be given to the implications cited by Verchick; legislators and Jindal will be far too busy counting the $6 million or so they have received in big oil campaign contributions to give the report anything more than a cursory perusal.

Here is the way the Senate voted on the amended version of SB 469 which kills the SLFPA-E litigation:

YEAS

Alario

Adley

Allain

Amedee

Buffington

Chabert

Claitor

Cortez

Donahue

Erdey

Gallot

Heitmeier

Johns

Long

Morrell

Morrish

Peacock

Perry

Riser

Smith, G.

Smith, J.

Tarver

Thompson

Walsworth

White

Total – 25

NAYS

Appel

Broome

Brown

Crowe

Dorsey-Colomb

Kostelka

Martiny

Mills

Murray

Nevers

Peterson

Total – 11

ABSENT

Guillory

LaFleur

Ward

Total — 3

As a refresher from our previous post, for a complete list of campaign contributions from oil and gas interests to our 144 current legislators as compiled by Moss Robeson, click here: Copy of Campaign Contributions

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Never let it be said that Piyush Jindal doesn’t remember his friends. As long as the word “friends” is synonymous with the word “cash.”

Of the seven new appointments and one re-appointment to the University of Louisiana System board, six of those combined to contribute nearly $147,000 to Jindal political campaigns from 2003 through 2011, according to state campaign finance records.

The terms of seven of the 16 member board expired on Dec. 31. The eighth position was vacated when attorney Jimmy Faircloth, Jindal’s former executive counsel, resigned after two years on the board and was replaced by his wife, Kelly Faircloth, a chiropractor.

Faircloth, while serving on the board, recently was contracted by Jindal to represent the State Department of Education in a pair of lawsuits challenging the state voucher system and the teacher tenure revisions, both enacted last year by the state legislature as part of Jindal’s education reform package.

Faircloth contributed $14,000 and his former Alexandria law firm contributed an additional $9,000 to Jindal campaigns in 2003, 2006 and 2010. Of that total, Faircloth and his firm each contributed $5,000 to Jindal on the same date in December of 2006.

Only one of three re-appointees, Jimmie “Beau” Martin, Jr. of Cut Off, contributed to Jindal. Martin, family members and three family-owned businesses combined to contribute $34,278.30, records show.

Jimmy Long, Sr. of Natchitoches and Winfred Sibille of Sunset were also re-appointed to new six-year terms but neither was found to have contributed to Jindal.

The other four new appointees and their contributions include:

Gary Solomon of New Orleans, chairman of Crescent Bank and Trust (replacing Renee Lapeyrolerie): $35,000 from Solomon and family members in 2003, 2007 and 2008 and another $7,199 from Crescent Bank in 2007 and 2009;

Mark Romero of New Iberia, executive vice president of Brown & Brown Insurance (replacing Paul Aucoin of Morgan City): $1,000 from Romero in 2008 and $9,000 by his insurance firm in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011;

Robert Shreve of Baton Rouge, CEO of Gulf South Business Systems and Consultants (replacing Russell Mosely of Baton Rouge): $11,000 in 2007 and 2009 and $1,000 by his firm in 2011;

John Condos of Lake Charles (replacing Louis Lambert): $20,500 by Condos and his wife.

No one expects any governor to appoint political opponents to state boards and commissions but some elected officials might choose to appoint small-time contributors; appointment considerations with this governor, however, just don’t work that way.

Instead, Piyush has displayed a disturbing propensity to favor the big-dollar contributors in making his appointments and the same old names keep popping up, indicating that his solid core support base may be a smaller fraternity than one might assume.

It’s either that or he simply chooses to bestow appointments on only his biggest contributors and ignore the rest.

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