Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘State Agencies’ Category

That hateful, smugly, self-serving Executive Order 15-8 signed by Grovernor Jindal on Tuesday could ultimately blow up in his face, although his tenure as grovernor will be long over by the time the courts get around to ruling on his license to openly discriminate against gays.

In case you’ve been living in a cave these past few months, Jindal signed the executive order this week, in effect enacting the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act only hours after House Bill 707 by freshman Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) was rejected in a 10-2 vote by the House Civil Law Committee.

Similar bills were passed by state legislatures in Indiana and Arkansas earlier this year.

Standing beside Jindal as he made the announcement of the executive order was Johnson but that ceremony could well be as close to a victory for the bill as the two tools of Gene Mills, Tony Perkins and Grover Norquist will get.

That’s because a challenge to a previous executive order, BJ 2012-16 (that would be the 16th executive order of year 2012) was upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge back in December and last month the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear the matter.

Janice Clark, 19th District Court Judge in Baton Rouge had approved the state’s motion to dismiss the case brought by the Louisiana Hospital Association (LHA) and the Louisiana State Medical Society against the Department of Insurance over Jindal’s executive order. The case will now be tried on its merits in state district court as a result of the higher court’s reversal.

Though far from over, observers will be watching the LHA closely case as it unfolds so as to gauge the effect it has on the governor’s powers to issue executive orders such as the one he handed down on Tuesday relative to the so-called marriage and conscience act which opponents see as little more than an effort to legally deny services by retail establishments, schools and medical facilities to gay couples.

The decision by the First Circuit, throwing the challenge to Jindal’s 2012 executive order back into state district court could impact his latest executive decision as well—long after a new governor has moved into the Capitol’s fourth floor. https://casetext.com/case/la-hosp-assn-la-state-med-socy-v-state

That 2012 order, creating Rule 26, suspended existing laws and granted far-reaching powers to Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon in the wake of Hurricane Isaac in August of 2012. The order’s justification was that Donelon could “be hindered in the proper performance of his duties and responsibilities…without the authority to suspend certain statutes in the Louisiana Insurance Code and the rules and regulations that implement the Louisiana Insurance Code including, but not limited to, cancellation, nonrenewal, reinstatement, premium payment and claim filings with regard to any and all types of insurance subject to the Louisiana Insurance Code.”

Accordingly, Jindal made the suspension of rules applicable to all insurance lines, including health maintenance organizations (HMOs), health and accident insurance, as well as property and casualty lines. Read the entire Rule 26 HERE.

LHA and the State Medical Society immediately filed their joint petition seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive and declaratory relief against the Department of Insurance, challenging the constitutionality of the rule.

Along with several other specific challenges, they claimed that the state statute does not grant the governor the authority to make “substantive, affirmative law.”

But it is the challenge to the governor’s authority to make “substantive, affirmative law” that should attract the attention of opponents of this week’s executive order.

It’s not likely that a ruling will be made on the 2012 executive order and the accompanying Rule 26 before Jindal leaves office and even it a ruling does come down, it’s likely to be appealed. But should a ruling adverse to his 2012 order, especially on the point of the governor’s ability to make law, result, it would obviously bolster the courage of opponents of the latest order creating the marriage and conscience act that specifically singles out gays on religious grounds but which could conceivably be expanded to other target groups.

No matter which direction the legal winds ultimately blow, the resulting publicity will be used by Jindal to continue to project himself onto the national stage, an invitation that has thus far eluded him.

If he wins, he will crow that justice has prevailed because his policy was on the same page with God. Should he lose, obviously, the judiciary will have come under left-wing, liberal influence.

Read Full Post »

Our friend C.B. Forgotston, who follows the legislature relentlessly, alerted us to this little tidbit this morning that illustrates just how far the legislature is willing to go to absolve itself of any responsibility in the current fiscal mess in which the state currently finds itself.

Year after year, when stinging budget cuts are imposed on higher education and health care, the same cry goes up from the citizenry: “Why are only higher ed and health care subjected to repeated budget cuts? Why aren’t other agencies made to share the pain?”

And year after year, the same response from legislators: “Because under the State Constitution, those are the only areas that can be cut.

“Our hands are tied,” they wail in unison.

Not so, says Forgotston, who once was a staff attorney for the legislature.

Of the $30 Billion in the current state budget, $3.9 Billion or only 13 percent is constitutionally-protected, he says.

Of the dedicated funds:

  • $3.3 Billion (85 percent of the constitutionally-dedicated funds) funds public elementary and secondary education’s Minimum Foundation Program (“MFP”) which is approved by the leges.
  • $318 Million (9 percent) pays the annual debt service on state borrowing (bonds).
  • $115 Million (3 percent) pays the supplemental pay for municipal policemen, firemen and deputy sheriffs.

What’s not protected?

            Of the $30 Billion budget, Forgotston says 87 percent is not constitutionally-protected. That includes:

  • NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other local pork barrel projects in the Operating and Capital Outlay budgets.

The constitutional scapegoat

            The constitution is a convenient scapegoat for the governor and the legislators’ lack of political courage to set priorities,” he said, “especially, since none of them appear to have ever read the document.”

No matter. On Monday, they had a chance to do something about it and they didn’t.

They punted.

And the vote wasn’t even close.

The Senate Finance Committee deferred, by an 8-2 vote, Senate Bill 196 by State Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) which would have placed a constitutional amendment before Louisiana voters that would have repealed the constitutionally-imposed dedications. SB 196 TEXT

The Legislative Fiscal Notes, which accompany any bill dealing with fiscal matters, says there would be “no anticipated direct material effect on governmental expenditures.”

The fiscal notes also said, “Due to the elimination of approximately 20 constitutional funds and the requirement that the revenue source of such funds now flow into the State General Fund (SGF), the SGF will have approximately a statutorily dedicated fund balance transfer of approximately $3.9 billion in FY 16 and annual SGF revenue flow of approximately $730 million per year.” SB 196 FISCAL NOTES

Morrell lectured committee members as he testified on behalf of his bill, saying, “We fixed higher ed but not health care. We have too many ‘not me’s’ coming before you to defend their programs.

“If you kill this bill,” he cautioned members, “you’re saying to your constituents not only that your hands are tied but that you like your hands to be tied.”

Which is precisely what they did on motion from Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge).

Before the vote on Claitor’s motion, Sen. Fred Mills (R-St. Martinville) offered a substitute motion to approve the bill, sending it to the Senate floor. Only Sen. Bodi White (R-Central) voted with Mills in favor of the bill. Those voting against approval were committee Chairman Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), committee Vice-Chairman Norbert Chabert (R-Houma), members Bret Allain (R-Franklin), Sherri Smith Buffington (R-Shreveport), Claitor, Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles), Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), Edwin Murray (D-New Orleans), and Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport).

As an unspoken acknowledgement of the committee’s concern over a possible veto by Bobby Jindal, a fretful White went so far as to suggest to Morrell that he might get a more favorable consideration of his bill if he waited until next year “when we have a new governor.”

So, bottom line, it appears that legislators remain unwilling to confront a lame duck, largely absentee governor despite his abysmal approval ratings by Louisiana voters.

Something is wrong with this herd mentality, folks.

This is not the time to wait for a “new governor.” This is the time for bold, decisive action that says to Jindal, “We damned well dare you to veto this or we’ll throw it back in your face with a veto session like this state—or any other state—has never seen. We will bring the attention of the national media down upon your delusional head.”

Instead, they choose to wait.

Again.

Read Full Post »

 

Because of our limited staff (one, plus a few occasional contributors), we often fall behind in our efforts to keep up with the news of our misbehaving public officials. We try to keep up, but these guys are pretty slick and very resourceful in finding new ways to siphon off funds, whether they be state funds or contributions from campaign supporters.

So, today, we will highlight a couple of politicos who are very tight: Bobby Jindal and his director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), Troy Hebert (whose wife just happens to be the Jindal children’s pediatrician, we’re told).

We have an update on the status of Frederick Tombar III, who, like Hebert was appointed to a high-level position in the Jindal administration only to harass himself out of a job.

Tombar, it seems, has landed on his feet after leaving his $260,000 a year job as director of the Louisiana Housing Corporation because of some sexually explicit emails he sent to two female employees—one, a contract employee and the other an actual employee of the agency.

Both women attempted to put off Tombar’s advances because of fear of losing their jobs but eventually each filed complaints and Tombar left before he could be interviewed during an investigation by Ron Jackson, Human Resources Director for the Division of Administration.

Not to worry. We’re told by sources that Tombar, of New Orleans, had a soft landing at Cornerstone Government Affairs consulting company where he will work alongside two former state Commissioners of Administration, Mark Drennan and Paul Rainwater. http://www.cgagroup.com/index.html

http://www.cgagroup.com/team/RainwaterPaul.html

http://www.cgagroup.com/team/mark_drennen.html

Efforts to reach both Drennan and Rainwater for comment were unsuccessful.

It’s not known what Tombar’s salary at Cornerstone will be, but we are willing to bet it doesn’t approach the quarter-million a year he was making as a Jindal appointee.

That other appointee mentioned earlier, Troy Hebert, of whom much has been written here, little of it good, recently sent a bill to former ATC agent Howard Caviness of West Monroe who now serves as Grambling State University chief of police. Well, actually, the bill was not from Hebert, but from the agency under which he serves, the Department of Revenue (LDR).

The invoice, for all of $123.59 is for an alleged overpayment to Caviness in Dec. of 2012, according to the letter dated April 29 which is stamped “2nd notice.” Supposedly, the $123.59, when collected, will go to help patch over Jindal’s $1.6 billion budget deficit. LDR letter

Attached to the letter is a time sheet for the two-week time period of Nov. 26—Dec. 9, 2012, with no explanation other than a hand-scrawled, “will leave a balance owed.” ATC timesheet

(CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE)

Caviness, contacted by LouisianaVoice, feels the action is in retaliation for his having testified on behalf of another former agent, Brett Tingle, who Hebert fired while Tingle was recovering from a heart attack.

Reprisals against a state employee by officials in the Jindal administration? Surely not!

But that would fit the modus operandi of Hebert and would give credence to a third former agent who revealed she was ordered to conduct an investigation of LouisianaVoice publisher Tom Aswell (that would be me). That former agent admitted that she did indeed follow through on the investigation but found me “rather boring.” We’ll take boring any day.

But we did our own nosing around and found that Hebert played pretty fast and loose with campaign donors’ money while he was still a state senator—and even after he left office to take over operations at ATC after Jindal did a number on former ATC Director Murphy Painter.

At the top of the list, as with the case of so many office holders, was his $12,165 expenditure for the purchase of what seems to be the most sought-after perk of all state politicians: LSU football tickets—$4,930 of that well after he left the House of Representatives in 2010 to become head of ATC. It’s somewhat difficult to see how whose expenditures, especially the $4,930 spent after he left office, could be justified as being “related to the holding of public office,” as state campaign expense laws clearly dictate. related to a campaign  personal use  cannot use campaign funds for personal use

But, as they say in those cheesy TV commercials, “Wait! There’s more!”

Our boy Troy also shelled out the following amounts for other seeming unrelated purposes:

  • Nov. 11, 2014: All State Sugar Bowl tickets, $590 (again, quite a stretch in tying this to holding public office); SUGAR BOWL
  • April 22, 2009: Sullivan’s Restaurant, Baton Rouge, $2,323.10 for a fundraiser; RESTAURANTS
  • April 1, 2010: Delta Airlines, $691.80 (no explanation of any destination, but his House district was pretty small and probably didn’t require air travel to get around Iberia Parish; TRAVEL
  • April 1, 2010: Hilton Hotel, Washington, D.C., $1,505.70. Ah! There’s his destination for that Delta flight. But what was he running for in Washington? HOTELS
  • May 10, 2011: Monteleone Hotel, New Orleans, $500. About those two hotel bills: state regulations limit hotel rooms to a mere $120 per night. Perhaps someone should sent Hebert a bill for the difference. Oh, wait. The rooms were paid out of campaign funds, not the state treasury. So that makes it okay, we guess.  travelguide

Still, $15,452 in campaign expenditures which somehow just don’t pass the smell test for legitimate campaign expenditures, especially $5,520 of which was spent after he left office.

And then there’s Jindal.

Since 2009, a year after he first took office, he has racked up an eye-popping expenditure of $169,597 in hotel room costs alone. TRAVEL

Even more revealing, all but $30,000 of that ($139,660) has been since his re-election in October of 2011, evidence that he has spent precious little time in Louisiana performing the “job he always wanted,” and the job to which he was elected.

Jindal also spent more than $185,000 in campaign money since 2003 on air travel, his campaign expense records show. Because his travel expenses were about equally divided between pre- and post-re-election in 2011, it would indicate that much of his lodging was provided by organizations to whom he was speaking.

By running as an “undeclared” candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, he was able to make free use of campaign funds he reaped while running for and serving as governor. That would explain why he is so cagey about his non-candidacy candidacy: the rules change and federal regulations kick in once he is a declared candidate. His self-serving claim to be “praying for guidance” over his decision has little or nothing to do with it; it’s all about the way he can spend the money.

Read Full Post »

LouisianaVoice is continuing its fundraising drive to help offset the costs of litigation against the Division of Administration and Bobby Jindal in our never-ending fight for access to public records.

These are records of what the administration is doing, how it is spending your taxpayer dollars, and how it is implementing policies that affect your daily lives.

These are also records that belong to you, the citizens of this state, and Jindal does not want your prying eyes looking over his shoulder—even if that shoulder is in Iowa or New Hampshire. Nor do the various boards and commissions which exercise tremendous power over small businesses want us looking into their operations.

But we do and we will continue to do so. But it is costing us legal fees—fees that we don’t recover if we fail in court. And the courts are not inclined to side with the public’s right to know; they would rather take the easy way out and rule for the state.

But we nevertheless must keep the pressure on and to do so costs money and time.

Please help by contributing what you can either by clicking on the Donate Button with Credit Cards button to the right of the page or by mailing your check to:

Capitol News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, LA. 70727-0922

Thanks for your support!

Read Full Post »

LouisianaVoice is launching its third fundraiser during the month of May and while past support has been appreciated more than you could ever know, this one has a greater sense of urgency to it than before.

Where the previous fundraisers helped defray the costs of travel and paying for public records, etc., this one will be used for an even more expensive—and more important—endeavor: covering mounting legal costs.

We are currently engaged in a court battle with the Division of Administration (DOA) over DOA’s pattern of delay in complying with the state’s public records laws (R.S. 44:1 et seq.).

To illustrate DOA’s tactics, here is one glaring example:

Last October 14, we made an official FOIA request for information pertaining to the $350 million contract between the Office of Group Benefits and a California company called MedImpact.

Believing DOA was deliberately stalling in complying with our requests, we had a friendly (but unidentified) legislator make the identical request through the House Legislative Services Office. That request was submitted the same day (Oct. 14, 2014) as our request.

On Oct. 21, 2014, we received the following response to our request:

  • Pursuant to your public records request, we are still searching for records and/or reviewing them for exemptions and privileges. Once finished with the review process, all non-exempt records will be made available to you. It is estimated the records will be available on or before October 31, 2014.

The House Legislative Services Office spokesperson received the following response to its request from DOA two days later, on Oct. 23, 2014:

  • You requested the MedImpact contract, Notice of Intent to Contract, ratings, and recommendations for awarding the contract. Please note the contract contains some proprietary and/or confidential information that has been redacted under La. R.S. 44:3.1. We have scanned these records. They are too large to email, so I can bring a CD over. I heard you’re out of the office. Do you want me to drop it off for you or wait until you get back?

So we were promised the records eight days later than the House Legislative Services Office and while that illustrates a deliberate delay on DOA’s part, it was not completely unreasonable and was hardly a basis for litigation. It didn’t even upset us that DOA would hand deliver the records to the legislature but require that I drive in from Denham Springs to review them.

But the fact is we never received the records—until, that is, after we filed our lawsuit in January of 2015. Once the lawsuit was filed, of course, they were immediately delivered to our attorney’s office—nearly three months after they had been delivered across the street to the legislature.

That was just the most egregious case, but we actually filed our lawsuit on the basis of  shorter but nevertheless unnecessary—and purposeful—delays in compliance with other several other requests.

The records we have requested are for actions by agencies of the state which affect you, the taxpayer. Because most media outlets are concerned with only the surface treatment of news stories, we attempt to pry deeper into the cause and effect aspect of state government—relationships between vendor and vendee, between elected officials and campaign donors, between contributions and contracts and board appointments. In short, we follow the money.

Government in general is uncomfortable with this and this administration in particular abhors scrutiny. That’s why DOA had instituted a deliberate strategy of delay when it comes to complying with our records requests. One former employee of DOA told us that it was common practice for DOA to get the records we request and then simply let them sit in a corner for weeks at a time before finally allowing us to inspect them. This is not the way to build trust between the government and the governed.

And it is not acceptable to us.

That is the reason we filed suit.

Our lawsuit is scheduled for trial this month and no matter which way the judge rules, the decision is quite likely to move to the First Circuit Court of Appeal. It’s that important to us if we lose and apparently, it’s equally important that the administration hide its actions from public examination.

Either way, it has already cost us a lot of money in terms of legal fees. And an appeal is going to cost a lot more. If we win, DOA will appeal in an attempt to make it cost-prohibitive to fight them by forcing us to continue paying legal costs until our resources are exhausted and we allow the case to abandon. That’s what happened with the case of a dentist who was pursuing legal action against the State Dentistry Board. DOA has attorneys on staff being paid with your tax dollars; it’s not costing Kristy Nichols a dime to stay in the game.

That is why we need your help now more than ever.

Please click on the Donate Button with Credit Cards button near the top right part of our web page to donate by credit card.

If your receive e-mail notices to our posts, you will need to click on Read more of this post or pull up the full web site by clicking on http://louisianavoice.com/

If you prefer to mail checks or money orders, please make payable to:

Capitol News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, LA. 70727

Whichever way you choose to contribute, your help in our fight to make state government more transparent and accountable is both needed and appreciated.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,897 other followers

%d bloggers like this: