Freedom of expression for state employees, even when they pay for it, is squarely in the crosshairs of the Jindal administration.
State lawmakers in Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, Idaho, Washington, Michigan, Wyoming, North Carolina and Florida have all passed or attempted to pass anti-public employee union legislation sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
More recently, the ALEC-sponsored movement has moved to Louisiana in the form of two House bills, one of which (HB 1023) is authored by ALEC member Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport). The second, HB 88, is the handiwork of Rep. Bob Hensgens (R-Abbeville).
Seabaugh’s bill would prohibit mandatory payroll deductions from the paychecks of public employees for membership dues for “any entity which engages in political activity” while HB 88 by Hensgens is more narrowly worded in that it would apply only to public school officials who belong to organizations that are politically active.
Jindal would probably claim that he had nothing to do with the bills, that they were the product of free and independent-minded Seabaugh and Hensgens. But let us not overlook the fact that Jindal contributed $2,500 to each of their legislative campaigns last August.
That is enough for Louisiana’s teachers’ unions to feel that the bills are nothing more than reprisals for their opposition to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sweeping education reform bills.
The bills could also apply to payroll deductions for membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). For doctors and nurses who work in state facilities, it also could conceivably apply to membership dues for the American Medical Association and the Louisiana State Nurses’ Association.
What about all the attorneys for the Louisiana Attorney General’s office and executive legal counsels for all the state agencies, including the governor’s office? Most of those are members of the State Bar Association and most of those pay dues through payroll deductions.
The Louisiana Retired Teachers’ Association, Louisiana State Troopers Association, Professional Fire Fighters Association and even the alumni foundations of state colleges and universities are political active to some extent.
Each of those either employs full time lobbyists to represent their interests before the legislature or do so themselves. That’s pretty far-reaching, but within the definition of either of the two bills.
The Louisiana Department of Education has an undetermined number of Teach for America members and they, too, may pay dues through payroll deduction. Teach for America is about as politically active as any other organization already mentioned.
There are others. Acadian Ambulance has an entire team of lobbyists who stand ready to twist legislative arms on behalf of their client. So what about state employees who have purchased membership with Acadian and set up payroll deductions?
Louisiana Health Service & Indemnity Co., the parent company of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana, made $17,500 in political contributions in 2003, including $10,000 to Jindal. That would constitute political activity by any definition.
Blue Cross/Blue Shield provides health insurance for tens of thousands of Louisiana active and retired employees—through payroll deductions.
The same would apply to UnitedHealthcare which also provides health care coverage and which employs lobbyists and actively provides financial support to various political campaigns.
The same goes for scores of life insurance companies which provide coverage to state employees—again, through payroll deductions. Ditto for such organizations as Humana, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Girls Scouts of Louisiana-Pines to the Gulf, Louisiana Citizens for the Arts, Louisiana Children’s Museum, LaCAP Federal Credit Union, the four state retirement programs (LASERS, LSERS, LSPRS AND LTRS).
One would assume that the Sierra Club, Ducks Unlimited, the Coastal Conservation Association and the NRA are politically active and would thus, be forbidden to extract dues via payroll deductions.
Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said he is convinced that Seabaugh’s bill was filed as a form of reprisals against teachers for their part in trying to sink Jindal’s education reforms.
“This is an effort to silence the voice of opposition,” Monaghan said. “Because we defend public education and stand up to the politicians who seek to bully, some want to strike us down.”
Dr. Michael Walker-Jones said the bills were “an attempt to shut down the voice of public employees totally.”
Bridget Nieland, vice president of Communications and director of Education and Workforce for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), however, said the idea that non-profit groups would be affected by the legislation were nothing more than a “scare tactic” being used by union leaders in an effort to garner opposition.
One opponent of the proposed legislation said the bills were based on two false assumptions—that taxpayer dollars are being used for political purposes and that payroll deductions of union dues is tantamount to compulsory unionism.
“Union members’ dues are not taxpayer dollars,” said Les Landon, writing on Facebook. “They (dues) come from the salaries earned by employees who have a right to spend those dollars as they wish, including for political purposes.”
Seabaugh, a member of ALEC, was reimbursed $2,060.52 in taxpayer dollars for his attendance of the ALEC National Conference last August—in New Orleans.
Seabaugh apparently saw no problem in spending public dollars to attend the conference by an organization which drafts hundreds of laws favorable to business and industry and adverse to the interests of public employees.
Those drafts are provided—some say spoon-fed—to state lawmakers — to take back to their home states for passage. Among bills written by ALEC and promoted in Republican-controlled state legislatures are privatization of state agencies, the sale of state prisons, school vouchers and charter schools, and major public employee retirement reform.
Nick Dranias, director of Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute, speaking on behalf of a similar bill to abolish payroll deduction in Arizona, said, “No special interest is supposed to have a law that forces government to negotiate in a secret backroom for advantages that benefit only their private interests.”
All sample legislation adopted by ALEC, including last August’s national conference in New Orleans, is done so behind closed doors. The media and general public were barred from the New Orleans conference as they are at all such conferences.
It would be interesting to hear Dranias offer his take on that “special interest” negotiating “in a secret backroom” on behalf of its “private interests.”