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Editor’s note:

The following is a guest column offered by Baton Rouge teacher Fred Aldrich who, along with thousands of others, listened Monday as Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson appeared on the Jim Engster Show to defend the amendment tacked onto an unrelated bill on the final day of the legislative session which will give Edmonson an additional $55,000 (not $30,000 as first reported—we’ll explain at the end of Aldrich’s guest column) upon his retirement—a nice bonus unique to Edmonson and one other state trooper.

 

I am a long-time listener to NPR station WRKF, and I listen to the Jim Engster show whenever possible. I don’t always agree with Jim or his guests, but I usually don’t find my disagreements worthy of a response. Today was an exception.

The comments of Jim’s guests are not the opinions of Jim or WRKF, but unfortunately those comments may be spin and/or misinformation which listeners will take as truth.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson was on the show this morning. I have great respect for the state police, and I have considered Edmonson one of the good guys in the Jindal administration. This morning’s interview, however, was problematical for me in several ways.

Engster congratulated Edmonson for having the fortitude to come on the program at a time when the superintendent is facing a lot of heat statewide. His performance suggested that he has paid attention during the years he has also served as a prop for the governor. He sounded earnest, sounded passionate, and sounded determined to serve his troopers and the people of the state. So far, so good, but that’s not why he’s on the hot seat. No one questions his dedication.

As a teacher with 38 years of experience in Louisiana and one who participated in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) about the same time as he did, my understanding and experience with the program are much different from what Edmonson expressed on the program. He wanted to dispel “inaccuracies” with “facts,” but in my estimation he mostly promulgated misinformation, to wit:

  • The retirement systems which offer DROP are not “different” retirement systems than they were at the time he or anyone else went into DROP. DROP was simply a program within these retirement systems which was offered to employees for a few years, theoretically to provide valued employees an opportunity to continue working while putting three years of retirement checks in an interest-earning escrow account that could not be accessed until the employee finally retires, as which time federal laws regarding taxes and withdrawals apply. Though officially retired, the employee continued to draw his regular pay while payments were made into his DROP account. These three years do not count as service credit toward figuring eventual retirement benefits.
  • Despite Col. Edmonson’s casual use of the word, no one was “forced” into DROP. It was a choice for anyone with 30 years of service, or 25 years of service for those 55 years old or older. Those who chose to not enter DROP simply continued to work, with the three years counted as regular service credit, and allowed the employee to draw the retirement benefits he/she accrued upon final retirement. Had Col. Edmonson, and myself, and others, chosen to not participate, his, and our, retirement benefit would have been what it took him a specious legislative effort to attain.
  • The form that each DROP participant had to sign made the options and possible outcomes very clear. It states, in no uncertain terms, that the employee understands that his basic retirement benefit is frozen at that time, that the decision is irrevocable, that service credit past the exit from DROP is calculated in a different manner, and that DROP may not be the best option, depending on future circumstances. It urges employees to consider their decision carefully and seek financial counsel before they choose to enter the program.
  • The articles I’ve read and the radio program in particular fail to mention the three years of retirement pay in Col. Edmonson’s DROP account plus the accrued interest and whether he plans to return that money to the system if he gets his new benefit. In my case, and I was in DROP at the same time as Edmonson, my account balance has nearly doubled in ten years. (And my eventual retirement benefit will be approximately 65% of what it would have been had I not chosen to go into DROP.)
  • Col. Edmonson misstated the application of the $30,000 yearly bump that has been mentioned. No one I know of has claimed that this is a bonus on top of his new yearly retirement benefit. It is the difference between the benefit that he is entitled to as the result of his voluntary participation in DROP and his new benefit, courtesy of a friendly conference committee.
  • Blaming the confusion at the end of the legislative session for the “misunderstanding” is ridiculous. It’s beyond obvious that he and his allies (which could range from the governor down to legislative staffers) gamed the system and took advantage of this dysfunctional process for his benefit, then blamed the process for a misunderstanding.
  • As for the integrity in which Col. Edmonson bathed himself and the commiseration he offered a caller who found herself in a similar retirement situation, he could have demonstrated his concern by including all DROP participants in his legislation. I, and several of my colleagues, (and apparently many others) have tried to lobby for the same remedy that Col. Edmonson and his allies sneaked through (Let’s call it what it is.) We have met the runaround
  • from every source we’ve approached, and we’ve accepted that most of us will have been long dead before anything actually could be done.

Unfortunately, we’re not in the governor’s loop and teachers with 35-50 years of experience who make less than half the salary of Col. Edmonson don’t have the same voice. His assertion that everyone should get the same consideration that he does begs the fact that all troopers, state workers, and teachers don’t have the same political connections and the same willingness to go through this foul-smelling process to enrich themselves.

This is my understanding based on my experiences with DROP and my following of Edmonson’s gift from the conference committee. If anything is factually incorrect, I will readily stand corrected. As a reaction to what happened, I remain convinced that the whole action smells. There are many hard-working, conscientious, productive people in state government, law enforcement and education, who don’t get special treatment through a disgusting legislative process.

            In addition to Mr. Aldrich’s comments, we have some comments and additional information of our own to add:

During his appearance on the Jim Engster Show, Edmonson who last week said he never asked for the legislation and did not know about it, acknowledged that an unidentified” staff member” brought the matter to his attention and he authorized the effort to go forward. He also told Engster that the issue of the special legislation actually arose several weeks before the end of the session.

That being the case, why was it necessary to wait until the last day of the session, when the pace becomes hectic and confusing, to insert the amendment into a benign bill completely unrelated to retirement (the bill, Senate Bill 294, dealt with disciplinary procedures for law enforcement officers under investigation)? That tactic alone smacks of covert intent designed to keep the measure from the prying eyes of the media and public.

Edmonson, during his interview, acknowledged that when he voluntarily (and the word voluntarily should be emphasized here) entered DROP, he was a captain earning $79,000 per year in salary. By entering DROP, his retirement was frozen and would be calculated on that salary. The trade-off was that he earned a higher salary.

But he probably did not foresee his advancement to Superintendent of State Police at a salary of $134,000.

Based on a formula multiplying his salary by the number of years of service by 3.33 percent), he would have retired at 100 percent of that $79,000 salary instead of 100 percent of his higher salary of $134,000 after 30 years.

Until the passage of the secretive-shrouded amendment to SB 294, that is. The amendment will mean an additional $55,000 per year to Edmonson during his retirement years—$134,000 (100 percent of his current salary).

Should Edmonson live for 30 years after retirement, that’s an extra $1.14 million in retirement benefits.

The amendment prompted one retired state trooper, Jerry Patrick, to express his embarrassment “that one of our troopers was so selfish that he would tarnish the badge that I and so many others worked and sacrificed to honor.”

Patrick said that it was “no stretch to believe that the governor’s office was directly involved in requesting this for a member of the governor’s cabinet.”

To that end, LouisianaVoice has made three separate public records requests. The first was to the Louisiana State Police communications director (which was handed off to the agency’s legal team) requesting the opportunity to review “all emails, text messages and/or other communications” between Edmonson, his staff, State Sen. Neil Riser, his staff, and the governor’s office pertaining to any discussion of DROP and/or retirement benefits for Edmonson and any discussion of retirement legislation that might affect Edmonson.

We made similar requests of both the House and Senate for any similar communications between members of the conference committee that approved the special amendment, Edmonson, the governor’s office and Laura Gail Sullivan, legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee. Riser is chairman of that committee and was on the conference committee that inserted the amendment for Edmonson.

Through the grapevine, we have learned that Sullivan has already invoked the sacred attorney-client privilege to prevent releasing any of her emails. But that objection is questionable at best inasmuch as Edmonson is not her client. Neither is the governor. Nor is, for that matter, Riser.

Of course, she will probably include Riser by extension by virtue of his chairmanship of the committee for which she works but Riser, should he have nothing to hide, could always waive the attorney-client privilege.

If he does not, and if Sullivan does resist releasing the contents of her emails, we can only assume the obvious: there is something contained in those messages that the principals would rather we not know.

And to quote my favorite poet and playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare of Denham-on-Amite from my favorite play, Hamlet Bob: “Ay, there’s the rub.”

But we are confident they would never try to hide anything from the public. This administration, after all, is the gold standard of ethics, openness and transparency. Gov. Jindal himself has said so on countless occasions in his many out-of-state appearances.

Oh, but wait. We also learned on Tuesday that House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) has refused a request by State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) for a full investigation of the secretive amendment. Kleckley said that because it was a Senate bill to which the amendment was attached, it becomes a matter for the Senate to investigate. Apparently, Kleckley neglected to note that three members of the conference committee that approved the amendment were House members.

Kleckley’s dancing around the issue, folks, is what is known as the Bureaucratic Shuffle.

 

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“This was done in Conference Committee and was done on an obscure bill with obscure references to old acts in hopes that the conferees would never have to answer any questions about why this was done.”

“Many bills are brought before the (House and Senate) retirement committees that (would) allow a revocation of a DROP decision and…all have been voted down.”

—Irate but attentive legislative observer.

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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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Oxymoron: A combination of contradictory or incongruous words that is made up of contradictory of incongruous elements (Merriam-Webster).

Greek in origin, the term comes from the words oxy (sharp) and moros (dull).

There are several terms that come to mine which would qualify as oxymoronic:

Jumbo shrimp, conspicuous absence, crash landing, deafening silence, found missing, only choice, peaceful conquest, pretty ugly, silent scream, unbiased opinion…well, you get the idea (and there’s no way I’m dropping happily married into the mix).

As in, “A certain jumbo shrimp governor, after a conspicuous absence, was found missing in (insert state) where he presented and unbiased opinion of himself as the only choice for a peaceful conquest of the White House in a pretty ugly speech that was met with deafening silence and a few silent screams…”

Okay, that was just too easy. But, back to the subject of oxymora.

As of Saturday (mark the date: June 21, 2014), you can add to that list anarchist Bobby Jindal.

Bobby Jindal, an anarchist?

If you hear or read what he said in Washington in a speech to the annual conference of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, yes.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/jindal-says-rebellion-brewing-against-washington-n137881

In his address to more than a thousand evangelical leaders attending the three-day conference led by Christian activist Ralph Reed, Jindal accused President Barrack Obama in particular and the Democratic Party in general of waging a war against religious liberty and education and said a rebellion is in the making and America is ready for a “hostile takeover” of the nation’s capital.

You read that correctly. Jindal, growing bolder in his ever more frequent appearances everywhere but in Louisiana, called for a revolution in the streets, an action some might call treasonous were those words uttered by the likes of David Koresh, Randy Weaver or the late fire-breathing right wing evangelist Gerald L.K. Smith.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXG-sQ7Ao1o

http://www.thecrossandflag.com/articles.html

“I can sense right now a rebellion brewing amongst these United States where people are ready for a hostile takeover of Washington, D.C., to preserve the American Dream for our children and grandchildren.”

Shades of the late Tulsa, Oklahoma, evangelist Billy James Hargis of the Christian Crusade radio broadcasts of the ‘60s.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ssybQg1ZAY

http://thislandpress.com/11/02/2012/the-strange-love-of-dr-billy-james-hargis/

Or of everyone’s favorite contemporary elitist hate monger, Rush Limbaugh.

Jindal said there was a “silent war” (again with the oxymoron) on religious liberty being fought in the U.S.

“I am tired of the left. They say they’re for tolerance, they say they respect diversity. The reality is this: they respect everybody unless you happen to disagree with them. The left is trying to silence us and I’m tired of it. I won’t take it anymore.”

Let’s break that down, shall we?

“They say they’re for tolerance.” This from perhaps the most intolerant, most narrow-minded Louisiana governor since Huey Long.

“They say they respect diversity.” This from a governor who stacks state boards, commissions and cabinet positions with older, rich, Republican white men—with the occasional African-American or female for appearances sake.

“They respect everybody unless you happen to disagree with them.”

Wow. We could write for days on this one but instead, we will simply refer you to the growing list of those who “happen(ed) to disagree” with Jindal:

  • Tommy and Melody Teague;
  • William Anker;
  • Cynthia Bridges;
  • Mary Manuel;
  • Raymond Lamonica;
  • John Lombardi;
  • Dr. Fred Cerise;
  • Dr. Roxanne Townsend;
  • Scott Kipper;
  • Murphy Painter;
  • Tammy McDaniel;
  • Jim Champagne;
  • Ann Williamson;
  • Entire State Ethics Board;
  • State Rep. Jim Morris;
  • State Rep. Harold Richie;
  • State Rep. Joe Harrison;
  • State Rep. Cameron Henry

And that’s just a partial list.

“I won’t take it anymore.”

So now Jindal is the reincarnation of the Peter Finch character Howard Beale from the 1975 classic movie Network.

To that bravado, we can only add the words of the late Gov. Earl Long, responding to Plaquemines Parish boss Leander Perez’s dogged fight against desegregation: “Whatcha gonna do now? The feds have the A-bomb.”

The conference also featured most of the other potential candidates for the Republican presidential nomination for 2016 who had to endure yet another tirade by Louisiana’s symbol of tolerance, understanding and benevolence.

Jindal also asked the (supposedly rhetorical) question: “Are we witnessing right now the most radically, extremely liberal, ideological president of our entire lifetime right here in the United States of America, or are we witnessing the most incompetent president of the United States of America in the history of our lifetimes? You know, it is a difficult question,” he said. “I’ve thought long and hard about it. Here’s the only answer I’ve come up with, and I’m going to quote Secretary Clinton: ‘What difference does it make?'”

To that we can only add (once again):

Never have the words to the song One Tin Soldier been more appropriate than for Jindal and his minions:

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,

Go ahead and cheat a friend;

Do it in the name of heaven,

You can justify it in the end.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal’s head cheerleader, the Baton Rouge Business Report, keeps churning out those feel good blurbs about the various surveys that put Louisiana in a good light.

That’s understandable, of course. After all, Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister served as Jindal’s campaign treasurer, then as chair of Jindal’s transition team, later as director of Jindal slush fund organization Believe in Louisiana, and finally as treasurer for Jindal’s Stand Up to Washington PAC.

As reward for his loyal services, Jindal appointed McCollister to the LSU Board of Stuporvisors where he promptly proceeded to vote with the remainder of the board in the decision—dictated by Jindal, of course—to fire LSU President John Lombardi, to resist the release of candidates for LSU president—so much for the Fourth Estate standing up for the public’s right to know—and to allow Jindal to give two LSU hospitals to a fellow LSU board member. As an added bonus, Jindal appointed McCollister associate Julio Melara, Business Report President, to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome) Board of Commissioners.

And we won’t even discuss campaign contributions to Jindal from McCollister and Melara.

That should be sufficient assurance of objectivity and even handedness, so why should anyone question all those wonderfully warmed-over success stories about business climates, job growth, economic development, etc.?

So when the Business Report recently ran a story that proclaimed to the world that Thumbstack.com’s third annual Small Business Friendliness Survey ranked Louisiana as fifth in the nation in the all-important overall friendliness with a grade of A+, we were appropriately ecstatic.

But then on June 12, came the report from 24/7 Wall Street that identified the top 10 states in economic growth.

Louisiana was a no-show on that list.

While the U.S. economy grew at a rate of only 1.9 percent, down from the 2013 growth rate of 2.9 percent, the 10 states experienced growth rates of between 3 percent (Nebraska) and 9.7 percent for North Dakota.

http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/06/12/10-states-with-the-fastest-growing-economies/?utm_source=247WallStDailyNewsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=JUN122014A&utm_campaign=DailyNewsletter

Louisiana? Our economy grew by a whopping 1.3 percent, according to the Associated Press, .6 lower than the national rate.

You would never know that to hear our esteemed presidential candi…er, governor, boast about the great strides our state has taken under his mostly absentee leadership.

But leave it to our friend Stephen Sabludowsky, publisher of the blog Bayou Buzz, to call Jindal out on his misrepresentations with his post, “Louisiana GDP facts: ‘Jindal miracle’ or mirage.’”

http://www.bayoubuzz.com/buzz/item/685147-louisiana-gdp-facts-jindal-miracle-or-mirage

Sabludowsky noted that Jindal told CNBC’s Jim Cramer (appropriately, a former hedge fund manager) that Louisiana is “doing what Washington, D.C. is not doing.” Jindal said, “Our economy is growing 50 percent faster than the national economy.”

On a roll, he continued: “Louisiana’s state GDP has grown by $36 billion since 2008 and it’s growing at nearly twice the rate of our nation’s GDP.”

Sabludowsky, not impressed, noted that economic numbers released by the federal government did not square up with Jindal’s claim.

“Every chance he gets,” he said, “whether on national TV, while campaigning for President or while sharing broiled chicken with the Chamber of Commerce, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal touts the Louisiana economy—as glowing and out performing almost all competition. Some conservative commentators have described the state’s economic ascendency as the ‘Jindal miracle.’”

Conservative commentators. There is your key. Jindal is very careful to spew his rapid-fire statistics—with little or no basis in reality—in interviews held only in the friendliest of environments where they are accepted at face value and are never challenged. You will never—we repeat, never—see him venture into hostile territory where such claims can be vetted.

Not that anyone in the media would ever challenge him. Where are the old-fashioned, cynical reporters who, like Peter Falk’s character Columbo, always asked one more question, never satisfied with hearing what politicians say but who listen instead to what isn’t said? Where are the journalists who challenge authority—like the late David Halberstam who, as a reporter for the New York Times, called out the American generals for lying when they repeatedly insisted we were winning in Vietnam? His audacity resulted in attempts by the U.S. military to demonize him and to have him thrown out of Vietnam and off his war coverage beat—a distinction he bore with honor.

Sadly, those guys just don’t exist anymore. They are all too busy rewriting press releases and never asking probing questions that might lead to real answers.

What reporters practice today is what Glenn Greenwald, author of No Place to Hide, his book about Edward Snowden, calls “an obvious pretense, a conceit of the profession.”

That’s how Jindal became governor: not one reporter asked the questions that needed to be asked when he ran in 2003 or again in 2007. By 2011, it didn’t matter; he was too firmly entrenched.

And that’s precisely how he plans to get elected President if not in 2016, then in 2020 or 2024.

All he has to do is schmooze a few more news executives.

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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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Another survey is out that ranks Louisiana as number one in the nation but it’s not very likely that the results will appear on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s feel-good blog and perhaps not on the web page of his biggest cheerleader, the Baton Rouge Business Report.

Liz Farmer and Kevin Tidmarsh, writing for Governing magazine penned an eye-opening story which we apparently failed to properly attribute. Though we did make a point of including the link to their article, which we felt made it abundantly clear that we were not claiming the work as our own and were citing them—through inclusion of the link to their story—as our source, they nonetheless felt we should have done more to identify them as the authors. By simply including the link to Governing, we apparently did not go far enough in proper attribution and for that we apologize because they did a superb job in identifying the problem of money and politics.

In their story, they cited a report by the Public Administration Review that details states’ corruption risks, accountability practices and related laws puts Louisiana at the top of the list of states for public corruption. http://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/state-public-corruption-convictions-data.html

The report, released on Monday (June 9), also shows that states with higher levels of corruption are able to shape budget allocations and that they have a propensity to spend more money on capital outlay projects than for health and education.

Construction projects provide greater opportunity for the misappropriation of public funds for personal gain than expenditures on health, education and welfare, the study says.

The report provides an in-depth review of how some states showed progress while others remain behind the curve in mitigating corruption. Louisiana, with 384 public corruption convictions between 2001 and 2010, is far ahead of the pack both in terms of convictions per 100,000 population (8.5), and convictions per 10,000 public employees (10.5).

By contrast, Oregon (1.2) and Kansas (1.3) had the lowest rates of convictions per 10,000 public employees.

And though Pennsylvania and New Jersey had more convictions (542 and 429, respectively), their rate of corruption convictions per 10,000 public employees was less than Louisiana (7.1 for Pennsylvania and 6.7 for New Jersey). Neither Pennsylvania nor New Jersey appeared among the worst 10 states for the number of convictions per 100,000 population, the report shows.

Louisiana’s 384 total convictions during the 10-year period ranked behind Texas (697), California (679), Florida (674), New York (589), Pennsylvania (542), Ohio (495) and New Jersey (429), but with a considerably smaller population base than those states, Louisiana’s conviction rate was much higher.

“If levels of convictions are high, that’s a sample of the climate of the state, said Indiana University’s John Mikesell, who co-authored the report with Cheol Liu of the University of Hong Kong. “The convictions are just the ones who got caught. If there’re a lot of convictions, there’re probably a bunch that haven’t been caught.”

Among the higher profile convictions in Louisiana during the first decade of this century were former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, former Sen. William Jefferson, former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, and Mandeville Mayor Eddie Price.

In what should have been of particular embarrassment to the state, in December of 2010, the U.S. Senate closed out the decade by convicting Judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. of Federal District Court in Louisiana on four articles of impeachment and removed him from the bench, the first time the Senate has ousted a federal judge in more than two decades. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/09/us/politics/09judge.html?_r=0

 Judge Porteous, the eighth federal judge to be removed from office in this manner, was impeached by the House in March on four articles stemming from charges that he received cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, used a false name to elude creditors and intentionally misled the Senate during his confirmation proceedings.

Additionally, Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan announced his resignation in November of 2007 after what one observer called “almost five insufferable years in office.”  His resignation ended a tenure marked by a perceived failure to prosecute violent criminals, a jury verdict ruling that he racially discriminated against white employees, a seizure of the office’s assets and disruption of his staff’s salaries—all capped off when a robbery suspect fled to Jordan’s Algiers house only to then become a suspect in the shooting of a New Orleans police officer. http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/10/sources_talks_underway_for_jor.html

U.S. Sen. David Vitter dropped out of the 2003 gubernatorial race after reports surfaced of a relationship with a prostitute. He was elected to the Senate two years later but in 2007, his number appeared on telephone records belonging to Deborah Jeane Palfrey who was convicted in 2008 for running a high-end prostitution ring. He is an announced candidate for governor in the 2015 race.

And then there is Mr. Clean himself, Gov. Bobby Jindal, who attracted huge monetary contributions for a foundation run by his wife, Supriya Jindal, many of those from oil and gas companies. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/03/us/politics/03jindal.html?pagewanted=all

Those investments—and make no mistake, political campaign  contributions are just that: investments—paid off in spades last week when Jindal signed SB 469, pushed by another recipient of mega-contributions from oil and gas interests, Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton). SB 469 killed a lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) that sought to force 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies to restore the damage they inflicted on Louisiana’s wetlands through decades of abuse to the Louisiana coastal lands.

Farmer and Tidmarsh interviewed several sources for their story that says what we all know but which too often goes unreported.

“Legal corruption” they wrote, is even greater, according to Chuck Thies, a Washington, D.C., political consultant who said the “wink, wink, nod, nod” culture of campaign finance often runs right up to the line of bribery. http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-corruption-politics-spending-study.html

Thies said an example of that would be a contractor who is lobbying a politician for approval of his project. The politician, who is running for reelection, approaches the contractor to ask for a campaign contribution.

“It’s that simple,” Thies said. “It happens all the time. The savvy person knows not to say, ‘If I do my ($5,000), will you authorize my (contract)?’ But (both) know exactly that’s what just transpired.”

When one follows the money into the campaign coffers of Louisiana’s most powerful politicians, it becomes a simple matter to understand in unmistakable terms just how much money runs—indeed, corrupts—the political process. The $10 and $25 contributor has little chance in being heard over the roar of the $5 million that oil and gas companies poured into the campaigns of the state’s 144 legislators and another $1 million that was funneled to Jindal.

Easily available campaign contributions allow legislators to enjoy the perks of eating at the finest restaurants, buy gasoline for personal vehicles, hiring family members as campaign “workers,” and purchasing luxury boxes at LSU, Saints, and Pelicans games, ostensibly for “entertaining” constituents.

So when those contributors come calling, as they most surely will, what legislator—or governor—is going to stand up to the special interests?

When lobbyists outnumber legislators by a 5-1 ratio, it becomes difficult for John Q. Citizen to squeeze his way into the conversation.

It all comes down to who our elected officials really represent, and the answer is obvious—and not pretty.

Louisiana fits the profile perfectly in that it killed Medicaid expansion that would have provided expanded health care access to the state’s indigent citizens while the legislature passed a $5.6 billion construction budget that includes sports complexes, golf courses, local road projects, fish hatcheries, and non-government agencies—all at a time when the state is in dire financial straits.

The classic shakedown can also encourage the culture of corruption while discouraging those who attempt to play by the rules.

A north Louisiana contractor has a lawsuit pending against the State of Louisiana and the Department of Transportation and Development for just such an alleged shakedown attempt by state employees that he said ultimately put him out of business because he refused to go along with the efforts to extract payoffs from him.

And there’s no incentive in spending time and money on a bid when the winning bidder has already bought political sufficient influence to “win” the contract or when the bid specifications have been written in such a way as to qualify a single bidder.

Several years ago in north Louisiana, a parish police jury wanted to purchase a used bulldozer. But not just any used bulldozer; police jury members had already spotted the one they wanted. The answer? The police jury advertised for bids in its legal journal, the local newspaper. Included in the bid specifications along with the make, year and horsepower was….the serial number.

It’s all part of the process that we call Louisiana politics.

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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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