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

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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Something happening here,

What it is ain’t exactly clear

 

The 1967 Buffalo Springfield Vietnam War protest song, For What It’s Worth could be applicable to just about any scenario in Louisiana politics but probably never more so than with HOUSE BILL 727 by State Rep. Major Thibaut (D-New Roads).

Thibaut, posing as a Democrat but appearing to be anything but, apparently wants to repeal the FIRST AMENDMENT which guarantees American citizens the right of peaceful assembly.

HB 727, which has 50 additional co-authors in the House and 14 in the Senate, would amend an existing statute in accordance with the dictates of the AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC), which long ago wormed its way into the Republican mindset as a means of advancing its agenda.

That agenda, of course, works hand-in-hand with that of corporate America—big oil, big banks, big pharma, charter schools, and private prisons, among others—to the overall detriment of those who ultimately foot the bill—the working stiffs of middle America who continue to convince themselves that their interests are compatible.

The bottom line is this: if the corporate giants are shelling out millions upon millions of dollars to lobby lawmakers and to finance their campaigns, you can bet they’re in bed together. And when they whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ear, they ain’t discussing how to make your life easier.

And that’s HB 727 and ALEC are all about. While the seemingly innocuous bill appears only to lay out penalties for trespassing onto “critical infrastructure,” and to include “pipelines” or “any site where the construction or improvement of any facility or structure…is occurring” to the definition of critical infrastructure, the wording of the bill includes subtle landmines designed to discourage otherwise legal protests.

For instance, while criminal trespass and criminal damage has long been considered a violation of the law, the bill adds this provision:

“Any person who commits the crime of criminal damage to a critical infrastructure wherein it is foreseeable that human life will be threatened or operations of a critical infrastructure will be disrupted as a result of such conduct shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than six years nor more than 20 years, fined not more than $25,000, or both.”

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

The key phrase here is “wherein it is foreseeable…”

This is a pretty subjective call on someone’s part. Just who decides what is “foreseeable”?

And then there is the conspiracy clause that’s added to the bill.

HB 727, which passed the HOUSE by an overwhelming 97-3 vote with five members absent, provides if “two or more” person conspire to violate the statute, each “shall be imprisoned with or without hard labor for not more than five years, fined not more than $10,000, or both.”

Just what would constitute a “conspiracy” in this case? Well, it could mean the simple discussion of possible trespass. Whatever it is, the word “foreseeable” is thrown into the mix again. So, a protest in the proximity of pipeline construction could conceivably be construed by an ambitious prosecutor as “conspiracy” and any discussion during such a protest could become a conspiracy.

Besides being yet another windfall for the private prisons, this bill is nothing more than a means to discourage protests over pipeline construction through sensitive areas such as the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 (keep those names in mind; they’ll come up again later).

It’s also an obvious effort to placate ALEC and the oil and gas industry that has held this state, its governors and legislators captive for a century. The political leaders of this state, from the governor on down, won’t go to the bathroom without permission from Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, which boasts on its WEB PAGE that it is “Louisiana’s longest-standing trade association” (read: lobbying arm of the petroleum industry).

There’s battle lines being drawn;

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

What’s not difficult to believe is the motivation behind nearly half of the bill’s sponsors.

Of the 51 representatives and 14 senators who signed on as co-authors of the bill, 31 (23 representatives and eight senators) combined to rake in $62,500 in contributions from Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 since January 2011.

ENERGY TRANSFER PARTNERS CONTRIBUTIONS

PHILLIPS 66 CONTRIBUTIONS

Phillips also gave $3,500 to Senate President John Alario and Energy Transfer Partners chipped in another $4,000. Additionally, Energy Transfer Partners gave $4,000 to then-Sen. Robert Adley of Bossier Parish who was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards as Executive Director of the Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority, $2,000 to then-Rep. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro who served as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee at the time.

Energy Transfer Partners also contributed $5,000 to Edwards, who is on record as SUPPORTING the Bayou Bridge project, and Phillips 66 added another $5,500.

Thibaut was not one of those. But he did specialize in accepting campaign contributions from more than 40 political action committees—including several aligned with energy interests. In all, he pulled in $105,000 from PACs since 2008, campaign records show.

Those PACs included such diverse interests as dentists, bankers, payday loan companies, optometrists, insurance, student loans, pharmaceutical companies, sugar, realtors, and nursing homes, to name only a few.

EASTPAC, WESTPAC, NORTHPAC, and SOUTHPAC, four PACs run by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) combined to $13,750 to Thibaut, records show, while the Louisiana Manufacturers PAC gave $11,000.

With that money stacked against them, the Bayou Bridge pipeline opponents are fighting an uphill battle, especially with leaders like Edwards already having publicly endorsed the project.

The end game, of course, is to head off a repeat of STANDING ROCK, the largest Native American protest movement in modern history over the construction of a 1,170-mile Dakota Access pipeline, of which the BAYOU BRIDGE project through the Atchafalaya Basin is a part. Opponents of the 162-mile Bayou Bridge project—from St. James Parish to Calcasieu Parish—say would harm the area’s delicate ecosystem.

Standing Rock was an ugly scene, further illustrative of how this country has time after time ripped land, basic human rights and dignity from the country’s original inhabitants, inhabitants who weren’t even recognized as American citizens until 1924 even though more than 12,000 fought for this country in World War I.

Standing Rock apparently was such a national emergency that St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne, at the time President of the National Sheriffs’ Association, found it necessary to visit Standing Rock in 2016 and to write a lengthy self-serving account in the association’s online PRESIDENT’S PODIUM of the carnage he witnessed at the hands of the protestors whom he described in less than glowing terms.

His article prompted a lengthy REBUTTAL by Cherri Foytlin, state Director of BOLD LOUISIANA in Rayne and Monique Verdin, a citizen of the UNITED HOUMA NATION, who also were at Standing Rock. It’s difficult to believe, after reading the two missives, that they were at the same place, witnessing the same events play out.

What a field day for the heat;

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly saying, “hooray for our side.”

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Legislators and leaders of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) would do well to pay attention to the rumblings of discontent that began in West Virginia and rolled westward into Kentucky and Oklahoma.

Those same rumblings, though faint and indistinct for now, are being picked up by those in tune with the times.

Louisiana’s public school teachers, a group to whom I owe so very much from a personal perspective and to whom I shall ever remain loyal, are quietly receiving copies of a “Teacher Salary Satisfaction Survey” being distributed by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).

It could just as easily be called a “Teacher Salary Dissatisfaction Survey.

The flier opens with the question: “What are you willing to do for a pay raise?” and goes on to note that education funding in Louisiana “has been frozen for the past decade. Our teacher salaries are now about $2,000 below the Southern regional average.”

How can that possibly be? How could we have allowed ourselves to neglect the most dedicated, the most heroic among us for so very long?

We gave state police huge salary increases and while I don’t begrudge their pay increases, they certainly should not have come at the expense of teacher salaries.

Teachers should never have to bow down at the sacrificial altar of political servitude, yet that is precisely what has happened.

I can still remember that little presidential wannabe Bobby Jindal telling LABI that the only reason some teachers are still in the classroom was by virtue of their being able to breathe. That was just before Sandy Hook when a teacher stood between a gunman and a student and took a bullet that ended her breathing ability but which allowed a child to go on living.

I still remember teachers at Ruston High School taking an interest in the well-concealed abilities of a poverty-stricken, less-than-mediocre student and nurturing and cultivating those latent talents into eventual college material and a career in journalism. They didn’t have to do that; they could have let him slip through the cracks. But they didn’t. Thanks, Mrs. Garrett, Miss Lewis, Miss Hinton, Mr. Ryland, Coach Perkins, Mr. Peoples, Mr. Barnes. Thanks so very much. You never knew (or maybe you did) what your compassion meant to that kid.

“Another budget crisis is looming, and yet our legislature has taken no steps to avert it,” the flier says.

True. So true. The legislature has taken no steps because legislators, for the most part, are in bed with the special interests who are slowly bleeding this state to death with overly-generous tax breaks even as benefits are being ripped from our citizens. Benefits like health care, education, decent roads and bridges, flood control, the environment—benefits that we rely on our elected officials to provide.

Oh, but they haven’t forgotten the tax breaks for the Saints, the Pelicans, the Walmarts, the Exxons, the Dow Chemicals, pharmaceuticals, the movie industry, the utilities, the banks and payday loan companies, the nursing homes, the private prisons, the Koch brothers, the Grover Norquists, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), or chicken-plucking plants.

But teachers? Nope. They don’t need raises. Besides, we have virtual academies and charter schools, so who needs public education?

“In some states,” the flier reads, “teachers and school employees have acted to demand pay raises and better funding for schools. Actions in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky had positive results for educators.”

LABI, of course, would beg to differ. After all, LABI was created back in the 1970s for the express purpose of destroying labor unions in Louisiana through passage of the right to work law. I got that straight from the mouth of Ed Steimel, one of the moving forces for the creation of LABI, shortly before his death.

But let’s back up a minute and pause for reflection before you try to label me as some ranting liberal or even worse, a (gasp) communist.

Do you approve of:

  • Your annual two-week (or whatever the length of time) vacation?
  • How about the eight-hour work day?
  • The 40-hour work week?
  • Overtime?
  • Retirement?
  • Minimum wage?
  • Health benefits?
  • The abolition of sweat shops where children as young as seven or eight are required to work 12- or 14-hour days for pennies?
  • Workplace safety reforms that have drastically reduced injuries and deaths at work?
  • Sanitation laws that have cleaned up the meatpacking industry?

Well, gee, if you approve of all that, you must be a ranting liberal yourself. Or worse, a (nah, better not say it).

But just who do you think brought about those reforms? It certainly wasn’t management. Okay, the guvmint was largely responsible for the meatpacking industry reforms but for the rest, you can tip your hat to organized labor.

“Please complete the Teacher Salary Satisfaction Survey,” the flier reads. “Let the Louisiana Federation of Teachers know what you think about salaries in our state, and what you think will help correct the situation.”

The second page is an authorization form requesting the local school board (in this case, Livingston Parish) to deduct dues for the LFT.

Legislators and LABI are being taken to class here and they’d be wise to pay attention lest they get a failing grade.

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Taking their cue from Alabama Sheriff TODD ENTREKIN, several members of Louisiana’s House of Representatives have co-sponsored a bill that would cut food expenditures for prisoners and college and university students while increasing the percentage of prisoner work-release pay that the state receives in an effort to boost revenue as the state rushes headlong toward the June 30 fiscal cliff.

HB-4118, co-authored by a dozen Republican legislators who received the highest ratings from the conservative Americans for Prosperity (AFP), would slash funding for inmate meals three days per week in an effort to help make up budgetary shortfalls.

The bill has been endorsed by AFP, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, and Attorney General Jeff Landry as an effective cost-saving measure that would, at the same time, continue to allow generous tax breaks for business and industry to remain untouched. Also remaining intact would be tax incentives for movie and television production in the state.

In Alabama, existing legislation allows sheriffs to collect a salary supplement as a percentage of savings achieved.

Entrekin, Sheriff of Etowah County in Alabama, recently came under heavy criticism when it was learned that he cut back on his jail’s food budget by eliminating meat for prisoners for all but a couple of days per month but then used the money saved to purchase a beach house for $740,000. HB 4118, while similar to the Alabama law, would have built-in safeguards against any surplus being diverted for personal use.

“Sheriff Entrekin, who runs only a single county jail in Alabama, was able to save approximately $250,000 per year for three years. Granted, he abused the intent of the law by using his surplus funds for personal gain,” said State Reps. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) and Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) in a joint statement announcing their introduction of the bill. “If surplus funds are properly allocated back to the state instead of to individuals as was the case in Alabama, that misuse of funds can be avoided. With 50,000 prison inmates and more than 200,000 college students in Louisiana, imagine how much we would be able to save by employing the same paradigm.”

HB 4118 would cut servings of meat, milk and juice by three days a week for 50 weeks per year—Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for state-run prisons and all colleges and universities and Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for parish jails and privately-run prisons. State appropriations for those institutions would be cut accordingly.

“We wouldn’t want to make such cuts for prisons on Sundays or during the weeks of Thanksgiving or Christmas because that would just not be the Christian thing to do,” the statement by Henry and Harris said. “Colleges and universities are out during those weeks anyway, so they would not be affected during those times.”

They said the potential savings to the state, calculated at a minimum of $3 per meal at which meat, milk and juice are eliminated, would be an estimated $22.5 million per year at prisons and $75 million at institutions of higher learning, or a total of $97.5 million per year.

Public schools would be exempted from the more restrictive diets for now, they said.

Operators of prisons and jails typically receive about 60 percent of the earnings of each prisoner who participates in a work-release program. That amount would be increased to 75 percent if HB 4118 becomes law. Additionally, a processing fee of one dollar would be added to the sale of each soft drink and snack to the prices presently charged by prison commissaries, according to provisions of the bill. Currently, prisoners are charged $3 for soft drinks and $5 for snacks.

“These people are in jail for committing crimes,” the two lawmakers’ joint statement said. “They get free housing, food, clothing and they’re learning a trade. There really isn’t any need for them to earn money on top of those benefits.

“This bill will allow the state to protect the valuable incentives for businesses and industry which provide jobs for Louisiana’s honest, hard-working citizens,” they said. “The bill protects the same jobs that will be available to the college students when they graduate. We’re asking students to sacrifice a little now for greater rewards in the future.”

Though the bill’s language doesn’t specifically say so, the same cuts could also be applied at hospitals now operated as part of the public-private partnerships implemented by the Jindal administration, which would produce additional savings although no estimates were provided for the medical facilities.

If approved, the new law would go into effect one year from today.

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