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Archive for the ‘ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council’ Category

If Louisiana’s working citizens—particularly those struggling to pay rent, put food on the table, pay for their children’s educational needs, clothe their families, buy gasoline and pay insurance premiums—are paying attention, they will soon know who their legislators represent—the aforementioned working people or the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

State Sen. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans) cartert@legis.la.gov has introduced SB 155, backed by Gov. Edwards, to raise the state’s stagnant minimum wage from an incentive-choking $7.25 to $9.00, effective July 1, 2020. If approved, it would go to voters in the form of a constitutional amendment.

It’s time. In fact, it’s way past time.

The same goes for the long overdue equal pay for women legislation. Louisiana currently pays women about 60 percent of what men earn for the same job. That’s unthinkable.

Equally unfathomable is that similar bills have failed to gain traction in past legislative sessions.

Gov. Edwards is on record as supporting both measures.

Women are not second-class citizens and should not be treated as such.

HB 289 by Rep. Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport) nortonb@legis.la.gov provides equal pay for women and HB 63 by Rep Joseph Bouie, Jr. (D-New Orleans) bouiej@legis.la.gov would require any contractor who enters into a contract with a public entity to comply with the Equal Pay for Women Act. Both bills are pending before the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee.

That committee membership is weighted 9-6 in favor of Republicans. Members include Reps. Patrick Jefferson, Chair (D-Homer) jeffersonpo@legis.la.gov, Kenny Cox (D-Natchitoches) coxk@legis.la.gov, Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans) duplessisr@legis.la.gov, Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) james.ted@legis.la.gov, Ed Larvadain, III (D-Alexandria) hse026@legis.la.gov, Vincent J. Pierre (D-Lafayette)  pierrev@legis.la.gov, Blake Miguez, Vice Chair, (R-Erath) miguezb@legis.la.gov, Beryl Amedee (R-Houma) amedeeb@legis.la.gov, Larry Bagley (R-Stonewall) bagleyl@legis.la.gov, Raymond Crews (R-Bossier City) crewsr@legis.la.gov, Reid Falconer (R-Mandeville) falconerr@legis.la.gov, Dodie Horton (R-Haughton) hortond@legis.la.gov, Jack McFarland (R-Jonesboro)  mcfarlandj@legis.la.gov, Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) seabaugha@legis.la.gov, and Scott Simon (R-Abita Springs)  simons@legis.la.gov.

The federal minimum wage hasn’t been adjusted for a decade and anyone who thinks even a single person with no dependents can survive on $7.25 per hour is woefully out of touch with reality.

Anyone who believes that is spending far too much time on the golf course.

Anyone who believes that, you can bet, has never had to do so.

LABI President Stephen Waguespack, a alumnus of the Bobby Jindal administration, will throw all his organization’s resources into an all-out effort to defeat Carter’s bill just as he has with past efforts to raise the minimum wage.

Waguespack can afford to do so, too, because he’s being paid a comfortable six-figure salary to represent the interests of big business over those of working stiffs.

His condescending comment about a minimum wage being being a “one size fits all” approach is both arrogant and deliberately misleading.

Waguespack will be in the State Capitol corridors every day. Legislators are forbidden from accepting campaign contributions from any of the four LABI political action committees, but they know if they vote the way he wants, those contributions will flow in once the legislative session adjourns.

In the meantime, nothing prevents him from wining and dining key members of the legislature. Key members like, say, certain members (read: Republican) members of the Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee, which will decide whether or not Carter’s bill moves forward to the floors of the House and Senate.

That committee is chaired by Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), risern@legis.la.gov

Riser should (but likely won’t) be all-in on raising the minimum wage. After all, it was he who tried to slip that amendment onto a rather benign bill back in 2014 that would’ve given then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson a healthy six-figure increase in his yearly retirement.

Carter is vice-chair and he should have allies in Sens. Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge) barrowr@legis.la.gov, Wesley T. Bishop (D-New Orleans) bishopw@legis.la.gov and Jean-Paul J. Morrell (D-New Orleans) morrelljp@legis.la.gov.

Republicans on the committee include, besides Riser, include Sens. Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles) johnsr@legis.la.gov and Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City) peacockb@legis.la.gov

Other southern states that have held the line at $7.25 include Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Arkansas has already raised its minimum wage to $11. Shoot, even West Virginia has a state minimum wage of $8.75.

Altogether, 26 other states have a minimum wage higher than Louisiana and 19 of those are already at $9 or above.

The U.S. has an income disparity that should be embarrassing—and it’s only getting wider. The haves keep getting richer and the have-nots keep sinking in poverty and the Stephen Waguespacks of the world couldn’t care less as long as they can keep corporate board members fat and happy.

And many legislators couldn’t care less as long as they can keep the campaign contributions coming in.

So, fight back. The average worker can’t take time off to go to the Capitol to lobby legislators. Stephen Waguespack can because that’s precisely what he’s paid to do. It’s an uneven playing field.

But you can contact your legislator—early and often—and let him/her know that this is an election year and you have a lethal weapon—the ballot.

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In 2016, her first year as a member of the Louisiana Legislature, Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) successfully sponsored Senate Bill 466 which provided a procedure for the LSU Board of Supervisors and the Commissioner of Administration to seek approval from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and the legislature to proceed with the sale of a state hospital.

The bill, which may have stymied Bobby Jindal’s privatization blitz had it been in effect at the time he jettisoned state hospitals to private contractors, passed the House, 97-0 but met resistance in the Senate before passing by a 25-11 vote.

That same year, Hewitt sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 84 which, in a classic example of bureaucratic redundancy, requested the Division of Administration “to provide a report of all the reports required of the executive branch by statute and resolution.”

Inexplicably, in 2018, she voted against SB 117 by Sen. J.P. Morrell that would have required any state contractor to comply with the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act.

Typical of the backwater mentality of the Louisiana Republican Party and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that has kept this state from entering the 21st Century, the bill failed by an 18-20 vote.

The resistance to legislating equal pay for women parallels the Louisiana Legislature’s stubborn insistence on beating back repeated efforts to raise the minimum wage in Louisiana. Even Arkansas has recognized that a person simply cannot subsist on $7.50 an hour.

But now Louisiana. I wonder if it has ever occurred to our political leaders that the determination to keep wages low might just have a little to do with the state’s perpetual bottom ranking in everything but poverty, obesity, crime and football?

That vote probably contributed in large part to her selection as “National Legislator of the Year” by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization noted for its rigidly conservative political positions that favor the privileged over those who actually get the work done.

ALEC has long been in lockstep with the Republican Party that promotes tax breaks for the wealthy and valuable incentives and exemptions for corporations while placing the tax burden on the working class.

ALEC likes to describe itself as non-partisan but that description is about as far from the truth as possible. The organization has a long and sordid history of supporting big oil, big pharma, banking and insurance companies over the rights of injured workers, minorities, the environment, affordable prescription drugs and public education.

And it opposes equal pay for women.

Was I being overly harsh in describing LABI and the Republican Party of obstructing progress in Louisiana? Perhaps, but consider this: In Louisiana, the earnings gap between men and women just happens to be the largest in the nation.

Progressive? Hardly.

Women in this state make 69 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same job, according to the Association of American University Women (AAUW).

But Hewitt apparently navigates on a level that puts her out of touch with reality. She holds a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from LSU and put that degree to good use managing major deepwater assets in the Gulf of Mexico for Shell Oil.

Chances are she received comparable pay as male engineers at Shell and I can only say good for her. She earned it.

But she seems to forget that not everyone can be so fortunate. Perhaps it never occurred to her as her career advanced that other women deserve equal pay for equal work as well.

There can be no rationalization for not recognizing that fact.

It reminds me of an old television commercial by Eddie Chiles who said, “If you don’t have an oil well, get one.” Which is just a cute way of saying, “I got mine; it’s too bad if you didn’t get yours.”

Just a touch of arrogance there. Personally, I’d rather own the Boston Red Sox or the New York Times. But you see, lofty aspirations like that are simply out of reach for the unwashed masses.

Equal pay should not be.

ALEC, which bestowed its “National Legislator of the Year” honors upon Hewitt, has among its membership corporations hit hardest with penalties for employment discrimination. ALEC member CSX Transportation was recently fined $3.2 million for employing unfair and unnecessary tests designed to steer women into lower-paying occupation. In 2005, ALEC member Federal Express was fined $3.4 million fir discrimination against a woman.

But be proud, Louisiana. A woman legislator just got a national award from ALEC.

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On Monday (Nov. 13), Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell issued a glowing PRESS RELEASE in which he announced what he described as a project to provide high-speed internet service to more than 54,000 homes and businesses in the 24-parish PSC District 5.

Yet, only two months earlier, Campbell had appeared before the Claiborne Parish Police Jury to publicly trash a proposal by Claiborne Electric Cooperative to provide even faster and more comprehensive internet service to an estimated 65,000 homes and businesses in its five-parish service area—at a comparable customer cost.

Campbell, an Elm Grove populist Democrat who lost to John Kennedy in the 2016 U.S. Senate race, who lost to Bobby Jindal in the 2007 governor’s election and who three times ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House from Louisiana’s 4th congressional district, seems to be running for something again but there don’t seem to be any other offices for him to seek.

In September, he presented his timeline of events concerning the approval process for Claiborne’s proposed high-speed broad internet service. One cooperative member who was present for that performance described Campbell’s remarks as “hyperbole,” adding that many of Foster’s claims “were outright wrong.”

“Then when he had his say, for which he caught a lot of flak from citizens in attendance, he promptly left as (Claiborne CEO) Mark Brown was given the opportunity to present his side of the situation,” the member said, pointing out that he is neither an employee nor a board member of Claiborne Electric. He asked that his name not be used.

“There was a marked difference in the points of view with Mr. Brown’s position being a lot more straightforward and fact-based,” he said. “That Campbell made his accusations and factually incorrect statements and then left without hearing Mr. Brown’s EXPLANATION was one of the rudest displays I’ve seen in a public forum.”

In his press release, Campbell said the “Connect America” program of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “is helping fiber, wireless and satellite internet providers meet the need for broadband service in unserved or underserved areas of North Louisiana.”

He said that FCC records indicate that 54,580 homes and businesses in his PSC district are eligible for high-speed internet service funded by Connect America.

That represents just a fraction of almost a million people—325,000 households—in the 24 parishes.

What Campbell describes as “high speed” internet is a download speed of 10 megabytes per second and an upload speed of one megabyte per second at an estimated cost of $60 per month per customer.

Claiborne’s proposal calls for the same $60 monthly rate for 50 megabytes to one gigabyte of service for 10,000 more customers in the five-parishes of Bienville, Claiborne, Lincoln, Union and Webster than for Campbell’s entire 24 parish district.

Campbell claims that if the Claiborne project fails, customers would be on the hook for the costs, ignoring the fact that the proposal calls for a construction phase-in that would allow the project to be scrapped if it did not meet projections.

“Foster Campbell ignores the fact the 69 co-ops around the country have already done projects like that proposed by Claiborne and none of those have failed,” the Homer member said. “He also ignores that about 75 other co-ops around the country are in the process of starting fiber optic systems.”

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Foster’s behavior is a strange reversal of traditional Democratic support for electric cooperatives begun under the administration of Franklin Roosevelt and championed by such notables as Lyndon Johnson. In fact, Foster’s rhetoric is reminiscent of Bobby Jindal’s REJECTION of that $80 million Commerce Department grant to install high-speed broadband internet for Louisiana’s rural parishes back in 2011.

In that case, Jindal was in lockstep with the AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC) which in 2010 had staked out its opposition to federal encroachment onto the turf of private business despite the fact that private business had been painfully slow in responding to the needs of rural America dating back to the early days of electric power and telephone service.

And therefore, since AT&T was a member of ALEC and since AT&T was opposed to the grant, therefore, so was Jindal. In Jindal’s case, AT&T had also made a six-figure contribution to his wife’s charitable foundation, giving Jindal another reason to take up the ALEC banner.

AT&T, in fact, even took the City of Lafayette to court to fight the city’s efforts to construct its own fiber optic high speed broadband internet system. It was a costly fight for both sides but Lafayette eventually emerged victorious despite AT&T’s best efforts.

Foster Campbell, in his press release noted that AT&T would be responsible for $17.2 million, or 79 percent of the FCC-funded broadband expansion into PSC District 5 while CenturyLink of Monroe would have responsibility for $3.9 million (18 percent) of the cost and satellite provider ViaSat would spend $1.5 million (3 percent).

So, why is Campbell now sounding so downright Jindalesque in his opposition to Claiborne Electric?

For that answer, one would have to take the advice FBI agent Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, gave to reporter Bob Woodward during the Washington Post’s investigation of Nixon and Watergate:

Follow the money.

  • CenturyLink made two $1,000 contributions to Campbell’s various state campaign fund in 2011 and 2012, according to Louisiana Ethics Commission records.
  • Glen F. Post, III, of Farmerville in Union Parish, is President of CenturyLink. He personally contributed $11,500 to Campbell between 2003 and 2014.
  • Stacy Goff is Executive Vice-President of CenturyLink. He chipped in another $500 for Campbell in 2005.
  • AT&T gave $10,000 to Campbell in campaign contributions between 2003 and 2010.
  • William G. “Bud” Courson and James W. Nickel of Baton Rouge are registered lobbyists for AT&T. Their firm, Courson Nickel, LLC of Baton Rouge, contributed $2,000 to Campbell from 2002 to 2014.

CENTURYTEL

COURSON NICKEL

Post contributed another $3,000 to Campbell’s unsuccessful Senate campaign in 2016 and Nickel and Courson also contributed $500 and $1,000, respectively, to that campaign, federal campaign finance records show.

Altogether, Foster Campbell had at least 30,500 reasons to oppose Claiborne Electric’s proposal to provide high speed broadband internet service to its members.

Because he indisputably had skin in the game, he should have recused himself from the discussion in order to avoid any conflict of interests.

Therein lies the problem of regulators accepting contributions from those they regulate.

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As a state representative, John Bel Edwards was once a harsh critic of Bobby Jindal.

That was then. Now appears to be quite different.

Edwards the legislator was often a lonely voice in the legislature, speaking out in opposition to Jindal’s destruction of the Office of Group Benefits and the raiding of OGB’s $500 million surplus from which it paid medical claims for state employees. Then.

Edwards opposed Jindal’s attempts to privatize governmental services, including prisons. Then.

Edwards the legislator was the leading critic—sometimes the only critic—of Jindal’s destruction of the state hospital system. Then.

Edwards the legislator openly challenged Jindal’s constant budgetary cuts, often asking pointed questions of Jindal or his lackeys during committee hearings. Then.

Edwards the legislator said that he was fooled into voting in favor of an amendment at the end of the 2014 legislative session that would have given a hefty—but illegal—boost in retirement income for then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson. Edwards, in fact, led the call for an investigation into the maneuver by State Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia. Then

But when John Bel Edwards was elected governor he suddenly began to morph into Bobby Jindal 2.0.

The first indication that the more things change the more they remain the same was when he reappointed Mike Edmonson as State Police Superintendent and Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc at the behest of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.

The sheriffs’ association is a powerful lobby and anyone who desires to be governor must pass in review before the association and receive its blessing. The local sheriff, after all, is the single most powerful political figure at the parish level. And when you multiply that local power by 64, the number of parishes, you have a formidable political force to overcome if you don’t have their collective endorsement.

Edwards’s brother is a sheriff. So was his father and his grandfather before that. So, it was no surprise when Edwards received the association’s seal of approval.

JINDAL was joined at the hip by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and he showed it by his penchant for tax relief for big business at the expense of public and higher education and health care.

Remember when people could actually afford to send their kids to college?

Remember when there were facilities available to those in need of mental health care?

Remember when the state budget reflected some degree of sanity?

Remember when teachers could count on a pay raise every decade or so?

I can remember when there were real Democrats in Louisiana politics and not pretenders who bend with whichever direction the wind blows (see John Alario, John Kennedy, et al).

Well, thanks to the abetting of compliant legislators beholden to corporate campaign contributors, those are now just fond memories.

But when John Bel was elected, there was hope.

Instead, he has cozied up to business and industry and rather than confronting legislators, he tried to get along with them without offending them. Apparently, he didn’t learn from Dave Treen, a Republican governor who tried unsuccessfully to get along with a Democratic legislature.

And now, today, he is in New Orleans to address, of all people, delegates to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). On a lesser scale, that’s the moral equivalent to Trump colluding with…well, never mind.

ALEC is, or should be, everything a real Democrat (as opposed to a DINO) should shun like the plague. A real Democrat truly interested in promoting what is best for Louisiana’s citizens would never set foot inside an ALEC Annual Meeting, much less appear as a speaker at one.

Retired State Budget Director Stephen Winham said as much when was quoted by a Baton Rouge Advocate EDITORIAL yesterday.

ALEC is a conglomerate of BUSINESS INTERESTS that promotes a Republican agenda exclusively. Members converge on a city (like New Orleans) for their Annual Conference, sit down in highly secretive meetings (no press allowed, thank you very much), and draft “model legislation” for member lawmakers in attendance to take back home and introduce as new bills, quite often without bothering to change so much as a comma.

That’s it. Legislative members of ALEC attend these meetings so lobbyists for corporations from other states can tell them what’s best for Louisiana citizens.

In 2011, when then-State Rep. Noble Ellington of Winnsboro was its national president, Jindal was the featured speaker and received the organization’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award.

Now, ALEC is back and so is Jindal 2.0 John Bel Edwards.

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To some readers, this will come under the heading of extremely old news.

To others, it will be a revelation well worth the time to read if for no other reason than to remind us how those in positions to do so tend to take care of their own.

I’m talking about House Bill 1351 of the 2004 legislative session—14 years ago.

It was what insiders to the legislative process sometimes refer to as a snake because it is sneaked into the process as an apparently innocuous piece of legislation. In reality, however, it is a self-serving bill that does nothing to benefit the general population but which serves the purposes of only a small minority, a mere fraction of the population: those in control of the system.

Signed into law by Gov. Kathleen Blanco after passing both chambers unanimously (with five absences—four in the House and one in the Senate), and authored as HB 1351 by then Rep. Taylor Townsend, the bill gave sweeping powers to legislators and staff members to literally snub their collective noses at the authority of state courts.

Should you ever be subpoenaed as a witness or a defendant in a civil or criminal matter, you had best be in court clad in the proper attire, with a respectful attitude and at the appointed time lest you bring the wrath of the presiding judge down upon your spinning head. Try to ignore that subpoena or otherwise buck the system and you’re likely to be shown your new quarters in a local holding cell and with a special new nom de plume, courtesy of the occupants already there: “Fresh Meat.”

Unless you serve in the legislature or are employed by same.

In strict legalese, Act 873, which is formally referred to as R.S (for Revised Statute) 13:4163, is an “Ex parte motion for legislative continuance or extension of time, legislators or employees engaged in legislative or constitutional convention activities.”

In plain English, it’s a doctor’s excuse to skip class for extended periods of time.

With a not from appropriate authority, i.e. the clerk of the House or secretary of the Senate, a legislator or a legislative staff member, when subpoenaed for a court proceeding, may thumb his or her nose at the judge because the STATUTE gives them that authority over a court order.

It says so, right there in the second paragraph: “A member of the legislature and a legislative employee shall have peremptory grounds for continuance or extension of a criminal case, civil case, or administrative proceeding…The continuance or extension shall be sought by written motion specifically alleging these grounds.”

The statute also says the continuance (legal term for delay) is for the benefit of the legislator or legislative staff member “and may only be asserted or waived by a member or employee.” It even applies of the legislator is an attorney who enrolled as counsel of record in the court matter.

In other words, someone with important business before the court will just have to cool his heels while his attorney/legislator tends to more important matters, i.e. taking care of campaign contributors like oil and gas companies, nursing homes, pharmaceutical firms, banks and members of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) by making sure they are not overburdened with silly requirements to pay their fair share of taxes.

And you surely wouldn’t want your legislator missing out on a fine supper at Sullivan’s or Ruth’s Chris, a gala crawfish boil or some other after-hours function because he was hung up in court representing some poor nobody in a criminal case or civil lawsuit.

Boy Howdy, talk about rank having its privilege.

This exemption even extends to legislative committees and/or subcommittees in addition to legislative sessions and constitutional conventions (the last one of those, by the way, was in 1974 but hey, why take chances?).

So next time you’re required to be in court as a plaintiff, defendant, legal counsel for either side, or a jury member, just be thankful you aren’t a legislator so heavily burdened with the state’s pressing business that you would have to decline the judge’s invitation to attend.

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