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Archive for June, 2014

The response to our first-ever fundraiser has been wonderful. The readers who have responded have done so generously and there is simply no way to adequately express my heart-felt appreciation.

As good as the response has been, however, I still need additional funding to accomplish all my goals. I constantly get tips and information on stories that need to be written and the stack is growing. Without additional writers, there simply is no way to get to everything that needs to be covered. And as you probably know, my goal when I launched LouisianaVoice was to keep my readers informed about the stories that don’t get reported.

I simply refuse to take a press release and run it without examining the story completely. I was taught by my grandfather to question authority. By that he did not mean to break laws or defy convention. He meant to never accept what people said without examining the motivations for their saying it. He also taught me not to listen to what politicians say but rather to what they do not say. That is the legacy by which I want LouisianaVoice to be known.

Please, if you have not already done so, help us to continue our coverage and to bring you even more revealing stories about your state government, the money that runs it and the lengths to which office holders will go to obtain financial rewards—be it campaign contributions from or jobs with special interests.

You may contribute by credit card by clicking on “Donate” at the right hand side of our page https://louisianavoice.com/ or you pay by check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

107 North College West

Denham Springs, LA. 70726

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The news just keeps getting worse for Superintendent of Education John White.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has put White on a short leash with Executive Order BJ 2014-7 on June 18 and last Wednesday (June 25) Internal Audit Administrator Marsha Guidry issued an extensive laundry list of documents information relating to the Department of Education’s (DOE) contract with Data Recognition Corp.

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has learned the Legislative Auditor’s office is conducting an investigation of DOE that could involve payroll fraud, according to sources inside the department.

White, as we have reported several times in the past, has loaded up the department with unclassified appointments at bloated six-figure salaries.

There are apparently three major problems with that:

  • Many of these appointees seldom, if ever, show up for work and apparently are required to perform few, if any, duties to earn their keep;
  • The department did not have enough money in its budget to pay their salaries so they are reportedly being paid from federal funds earmarked for specific purposes;
  • The appointees are not assigned to areas for which the federal funds are allocated.

If true, these are serious allegations and even more serious violations that could prompt a federal probe in addition to the investigation already underway by the Legislative Auditor.

Of course, no one really knows who works where at DOE because no one has ever managed to obtain an organization chart for the department.

Oh, the Legislative Auditor, among others, has tried but with each request over the past couple of years now, the response has always been that the department is “undergoing reorganization.”

So, no organization chart and no determination of who works where in DOE.

And now, on top of that sticky wicket, up crops the controversy over Common Core and the testing by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC).

Short version: Jindal, White and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) back Common Core and legislation is introduced for state implementation of Common Core.

But then, somewhere along Jindal’s way to the White House, someone whispered in his ear that path of least resistance to the Oval Office would be for him to oppose Common Core on grounds that he didn’t want the big bad old federal government dictating how we teach our kids in Louisiana. He may even have waved a little American flag when he said it.

But White and BESE continue to back Common Core and the legislature passes it.

Jindal vetoed it but White and BESE said they were going ahead with it, and Jindal jumped onto his Nautilus Nitro Plus workout station to prepare for battle. He announced he was canceling the contract for the testing because, he said, DOE had issued the contract without taking competitive bids.

And now, the Office of Contractual Review (OCR) is reviewing the contracts.

Meanwhile, Guidry sent this letter to White:

Executive Order BJ 2014-7, issued June 18, 2014, directed the Division of Administration (DOA) “to conduct a comprehensive accounting of all Louisiana expenditures and resources related to PARCC.”  Pursuant to the Executive Order (EO) and the auditing authority of DOA over consulting contracts, I have been asked by the Commissioner to collect and review certain information.  Please provide the following information to carry out the EO to ensure DOE is complying with Louisiana law.

 Please identify and provide documentation for the following:

 1.      All documentation related to contracts with DRC or other testing or academic assessment tools, including both paid and outstanding invoices.

2.      Please provide an accounting of the cost of the PARCC Technology Readiness Tool survey, the method and documentation related to the procurement of this survey, and documentation of the funds used to pay for it, including all receipts and accounting paperwork.

a.       Please provide information related to the price of PARCC assessments as a total cost to the State of Louisiana and as an individual cost of each assessment to be provided in the State of Louisiana. This should include:  any cost information related to an increase or decrease in cost as a function of the number of states withdrawing from PARCC or other reasons.

3.      Please provide documentation related to negotiations on the price of any new assessment tool(s) including any negotiations or communications related to the cost of individual assessments, the total cost to the State of Louisiana of new assessments, or any breakdown of the cost negotiated or discussed by or with DOE. This should include communications conducted in writing (emails, letters, and memos) as well as any meeting minutes and calendar entries.

a.       Please also provide documentation of how DOE’s negotiations met the statutory requirement for the lowest-cost bidder, for a competitive procurement process, and the statutory authority of DOE to conduct such negotiations.

4.         Please provide evidence of DOE’s process to ensure during any Request for Proposal (RFP) conducted by PARCC or by a member state on behalf of PARCC that such RFP was a fair, competitive, price-sensitive proposal and was conducted using a fair, transparent process in accordance with Louisiana revised statutes. Please provide all files relative to these procurements.

5.         Please provide evidence that John White affirmed in writing to the Governing Board Chair of PARCC the State’s continued commitment to participation in the Consortium and to the binding commitments made by John White’s predecessor as Chief State School Officer as required by the Memorandum of Understanding establishing the PARCC Consortium.

 In addition to providing the above documentation, please provide a written response to each of the following questions:

a.       What contracts or other agreements are in place or in negotiation for the purchase of an assessment?  Please provide a list of these along with copies of all related documentation.

b.      What steps have been taken by DOE to procure any Common Core aligned assessment product?

c.       What steps have been taken by PARCC to procure any Common Core aligned assessment product?

Please provide these items by June 30, 2014. I may identify other documents or information necessary to complete this review and request your cooperation pursuant to the Executive Order.  Please identify any additional individuals within DOE who will be available to respond to any questions I may have during the course of the review.

 The documentation requested should be delivered to the Office of the Commissioner to my attention at 1201 N. Third Street, Baton Rouge, LA, 70802, Suite 7-210, on the 7th floor of the Claiborne Building.

http://www.myarklamiss.com/story/d/story/division-outlines-next-steps-in-doe-contract-revie/34643/LOilN9i14EaHl0wQ9zrGuA

You will note that White was given until today (Monday, June 30) to provide the information.

The problem with the governor’s request, as LouisianaVoice, Crazy Crawfish and others have learned, is that Jindal may not have followed proper procedure in seeking the information.

You see, when we ask for information, we are required to ask for specific documents, not simply information.

In fact, both DOE and the Division of Administration (DOA) have in the past simply refused to comply with our requests with the stock response that we requested information as opposed to specific records and therefore, both DOE and DOA felt comfortable informing us (somewhat condescendingly, we might add) that they were not required under the state public records act to respond.

Now if White only had the stones to tell DOA and Jindal that, we might yet have that epic Niles-Sheldon grudge match on Pay per View.

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Only two more days remain in our first ever fundraiser. We have been working free of charge for more than three years to bring you the stories behind the stories of Louisiana political corruption, misappropriation of public funds, waste of taxpayer dollars, abuse by public officials and the undue influence of money on politics that no one else has provided.

Our work involves extensive requests for public information, researching thousands of pages of documents and frequent travel hundreds of miles to places like Shreveport, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Monroe and New Orleans in our endless pursuit of facts that are important to Louisiana’s citizens.

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Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

107 North College West

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70726.

Whether or not you can afford to help, please know we deeply appreciate your loyal readership and your moral support.

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Another national ranking and yet another smack-down for Louisiana but this time there are underlying political reasons for the state’s poor showing.

A report by 24/7 Wall Street shows that Louisiana is the ninth-worst state in which to be unemployed despite the state’s 10th lowest unemployment rate of 4.5 percent. (Mississippi, as it does in virtually every such ranking, is the worst in the nation, lending credence to Louisiana’s unofficial state motto: At least we’re not Mississippi.)

http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/06/24/the-best-and-worst-states-to-be-unemployed/

Of the worst 10 states in which to receive unemployment benefits, seven are in the South. Besides Louisiana and Mississippi, the worst 10 include Tennessee (10th worst), Georgia (8th), Virginia (7th), Arizona (6th), Illinois (5th), Kentucky (4th), Michigan (3rd), and Alabama (2nd worst).

And for those who believe those drawing unemployment are just lazy deadbeats, as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and a lot of politicians would have us all believe, consider this: only 24.3 percent of weekly wages are covered by Louisiana unemployment benefits, second lowest percentage in the nation.

And just so you know, when Gov. Bobby Jindal traipses all over the country speaking at select venues and appearing on carefully chosen television talk news shows to boast about Louisiana’s soaring economic growth, it’s interesting to note that the state’s one-year job growth of .7 percent, 11th lowest in the nation, tends to cast doubt on the governor’s self-serving claims of prosperity, happiness and security among Louisiana’s workers.

Another key point Jindal conveniently overlooks, omits, or simply conceals from the public is the fact that only 20 percent of the state’s unemployed are even receiving benefits, tied for seventh-lowest in the U.S. To help Jindal overcome his apparent weakness at math, that leaves 80 percent of the state’s unemployed with no benefits.

And if you believe the state’s treatment of the unemployed is shabby, let’s consider how that policy dovetails with the consideration given injured workers who dare apply for worker’s compensation. The two programs are heavily stacked against workers who are laid off or hurt.

And why is that? Well, during the 2013 legislative session, House Bill 303 by Rep. Herbert Dixon (D-Alexandria, more appropriately, DINO-Alexandria) was approved 94-11 in the House and 38-0 in the Senate and subsequently signed into law by Jindal as Act 39.

That bill made it considerably more difficult for applicants to appeal denials of their applications for unemployment benefits by squeezing the time frame in favor of employers.

The previous law required that notices be sent by certified mail and the applicant was given 15 days from receipt of the notice to file an appeal.

HB 303 changed the notification method by deleting the certified mail requirement and started the 15-day clock on the day the notice was mailed or electronically transmitted. The bill further shortened the time for the appeal tribunal to mail a “notice to appear for a hearing” from 10 days to seven.

This year, HB 819 (which thankfully, failed to make it out of committee) was a particularly ominous bill from the standpoint of workers who are laid off.

That bill, by Rep. Joseph Lopinto (R-Metairie), would have presumed that if an employer “discharges and employee and then replaces the employee quickly, the employee was discharged with cause,” and thus ineligible for unemployment benefits.

That’s pretty heavy-handed even for the most ardent opponent of employee rights.

And while there are the periodic legislative attempts to weaken unions, dilute workers compensation laws and curtail unemployment benefits, most of the more subtle, under-the-radar efforts come in through the back door, seldom detected by those affected until it’s too late.

Take, for example, the March 5, 2013, order of Louisiana Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC) director and chief judge (at the request of OWC’s bill review company Qmedtrix of Portland, Oregon) which transferred 45 pending cases then split between two workers’ compensation judges in the Lake Charles District to Judge Shelly Dick.

Judge Dick was appointed ad hoc workers’ compensation judge in 2008 by then OWC Director Chris Broadwater (now a state representative and Vice Chairman of the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee) and whose name will crop up again and again.

On the face of the order, the order carried no special significance—until one began to peel back the layers that revealed:

  • Judge Dick had already been nominated and confirmed by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for a federal judgeship. In other words, the order would transfer the 45 cases to a judge that OWC knew full well would be leaving in short order.
  • OWC made it clear at the time that an ad hoc judge would hear the cases whenever Judge Dick moved to the federal bench and the only person mentioned at the time was attorney Amanda Clark, the former law partner of then-OWC Director Chris Broadwater.
  • The OWC order also transferred cases to the law firm of (ahem) Forrester & Dick (yes, the firm in which Shelly Dick was a partner), even though the law firm represented clients who were defendants in some of the 45 cases.
  • Neither of the two judges to whom the 45 cases were originally assigned issued or signed the transfer order.
  • Broadwater resigned as OWC director in 2010 and returned to the law firm of Forrester & Dick.
  • In 2011, Broadwater was elected to the Louisiana House and in 2012, resigned from Forrester & Dick whereupon he was retained by Qmedtrix to assist in the defense of its Louisiana cases involving Qmedtrix’s re-pricing of workers’ compensation outpatient bills based on “usual and customary” charge reductions.
  • By November of 2012, rumors began to surface that Qmedtrix and Broadwater were meeting with Broadwater’s successor, OWC Director Wes Hataway in an effort to get the cases stayed or funneled to a more favorable judge. Broadwater would admit (on his state ethics disclosure forms, no less) that the meetings did, in fact, occur: “Met with Director of OWC discussing process of resolving disputes over medical billing.” Altogether, Broadwater admitted to meeting with Hataway “three or four times” in person and speaking with him “10 or 15 times” on the phone—all while billing Qmedtrix $275 per hour.

Such meetings are known in the legal realm as “ex parte” meetings, a Latin term meaning done by, or on the application of one party alone.

And though Clark ultimately was never appointed to ad hoc judge, while she was still under consideration for that post, she attended a trial in Lafayette in January of 2013 presided over by Dick, her law partner. That case involved unpaid medical bills for physician-dispensed prescriptions and the defendant was LUBA Workers’ Comp.

In other words, LUBA’s case was tried by a judge whose law firm had been hired by LUBA but neither the court, Clark, nor LUBA disclosed Forrester& Dick’s representation at the trial.

“The Amanda Clark-LUBA connection is troubling,” said attorneys for plaintiff Christus Health Southwest Louisiana, because Christus Health’s legal counsel currently had pending more than 50 provider claims involving LUBA, and “LUBA, like Mr. Broadwater (who also represented LUBA) apparently believes it is entitled to engage in improper ex parte communications with the OWC director in relation to pending cases.”

Broadwater testified by deposition that Hataway, on Nov. 21, 2012, even sought his opinion as to whether the Hataway has the authority to stay the “usual and customary” cases and Broadwater advised him that he could. That meeting took place in Hataway’s office, according to court documents. Also present besides Broadwater, who attended on behalf of Qmedtrix, was Doug Cochran of the Stone Pigman law firm (Qmedtrix’s attorney), and representatives of Qmedtrix who attended by telephone.

Following that meeting, Cochran wrote Hataway a “Dear Wes” letter on Nov. 28 in which he outlined “the most efficient manner to proceed,” which included an order staying all claims procedures and having all the cases heard by a single judge. “Once these matters are stayed, we look forward to mediation,” Cochran said.

Mediation after claimants had all their cases stayed with no ability to more their claims forward would be of decided advantage to Qmedtrix.

Cochran’s letter continued: “Once the cases (past and future) have all be docketed with a single judge, the next step is to provide him/her the proper tools to resolve the cases at the mean of usual and customary.”

This meant that not only would the cases be transferred to a single judge as requested, but Qmedtrix also was suggesting that Hataway actually instruct the OWC hand-picked judge what evidence to consider and how to rule.

“We look forward to the stay being issued at the earliest opportunity so that the dockets of the OWC courts can be cleared of the UC (usual and customary) issue. Matters such as these UC cases are more adequately handled by experts rather than after contrary court opinions,” the Cochran letter said.

“Qmedtrix takes the position that medical provider claimants should have their underpayment claims decided by Wes Hataway and Qmedtrix rather than the court system,” Christus Health said.

Broadwater, in his deposition admitted that he was aware that his client Qmedtrix was involved in the usual and customary litigation before OWC at the time the ex parte discussions took place.

“A search of the entire Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act and the OWC Hearing Officer Rules reveals that there is no legal authority for the OWC director to either stay or transfer pending workers’ compensation claims,” Christus claims, adding that state statute, “which is the only statute addressing the transfer of OWC cases, makes it clear that the workers’ compensation judge (not the director) may transfer cases with the consent of the parties.”

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