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Archive for the ‘House, Senate’ Category

Earlier this week, we posted our story about growing frustration over the fact that time after time, when official corruption and wrongdoing are exposed, nothing is done.

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/25/in-a-state-where-graft-and-corruption-abound-honesty-and-law-enforcement-have-taken-a-permanent-leave-of-absence/

And it isn’t just the wrongdoing or questionable activities exposed by LouisianaVoice that feeds our exasperation. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a member of the media or a state agency, the fact is the vast majority of the cases are quietly ignored until they go away. Ignored, that is unless it’s some hapless inner city resident caught with a couple of joints or a civil servant fudging her timesheets because her agency’s budget has been cut to the bone, forcing shortcuts on her so she can maintain an overburdened caseload.

In those cases, justice is swift and severe.

But for those in positions of power and influence, it’s quite another story.

Only in Louisiana would a sheriff under federal indictment for beating defenseless prisoners and turning vicious dogs on them and who even threatened a federal prosecutor have the gall to petition the courts to give him his gun back. (Well, perhaps Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio would be so brazen, but we digress.)

http://addictinginfo.org/2016/07/20/violent-sheriff-who-threatened-federal-prosecutor-wants-gun-back-because-hes-scared-video/

Nowhere is Louisiana’s chronic case of legal periodontitis more evident than with the state’s “gold standard of ethics” presented to us way back in 1984. Because of his gutting state ethics laws, the Louisiana Ethics Commissions by all appearances is unable to collect more than $1 million in fines and penalties it has assessed against 248 political candidates. These candidates run the gamut—from sheriffs to current and former legislators and a member of the Board of Elementary and secondary Education.

Thank you, Bobby Jindal.

Jindal’s ethics reform was of such a high “gold standard” that it removed all enforcement powers of the Ethics Board and handed those duties to an administrative judge appointed by the governor—in this case, Jindal. The reform had the effect of making ethics enforcement just another political animal controlled by the governor in the same fashion as the Office of Inspector General, neither of which now have any real powers.

Ten of the 11 Ethics Board members immediately resigned in protest.

Perhaps it was only coincidence, but just 10 days after taking office—and before Jindal introduced his ethics reform bill—he was himself hit with a $2,500 ethics fine after failing to report that the Republican Party of Louisiana spent $118,265 on direct mail to promote his successful 2007 candidacy.

http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/01/jindal_to_pay_ethics_fine.html

Jindal spokesperson at the time, Melissa Sellers, said Jindal would pay the fine to avoid a public hearing. The only trouble was, she said his campaign would pay the fine, an ethics violation in itself. Ethics Commission regulations prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal expenses, including ethics fines.

Political consultant Elliott Stonecipher of Shreveport remembers the backroom dealings in drafting the ethics reform of 2008. “By way of my pro bono consulting for the old Ethics Board, I knew details of what House Speaker Jim Tucker (R-Terrytown), Rep. (later Senator) Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), Jindal’s Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth, Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell, and Ann Wise were concocting,” he would later write.

The new laws bestowed upon Wise, an unclassified employee serving at the pleasure of the governor, the responsibility of selecting administrative law judges who would hear and rule on future ethics cases. “She was, in fact, working with Tucker, Gallot, Kostelka, and one Jindal insider identified her as one of the first people Tucker brought aboard their operation,” Stonecipher said. “At the time all of this was going on, Bobby refused to meet with Hank Perret, Chairman of the Ethics Board, with whom I was working. Under pressure, Jindal finally agreed to a half-hour meeting but would not meet without Teepell there and (Jindal) ultimately used the thirty minutes to command the discussion—never allowing it to approach what Hank was there to tell him,” he said.

“The top players and designers (Tucker, Gallot, and Kostelka) had (at the time discussions were ongoing) active and serious ethics charges against them winding through the system,” Stonecipher said (emphasis added). “Tucker had two charges and Gallot had seven. When the smoke cleared after the new laws took effect, each of them beat the rap in all cases.” Stonecipher said the top political reporters in Louisiana were informed all those details. “None of them ever wrote a story,” he said. “My articles which went to them were never acknowledged.”

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2009/09/rep_rick_gallots_ethics_charge.html

http://www.thegramblinite.com/news/view.php/396049/Appeals-court-upholds-Gallot-ruling

So Gallot, Chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee and a key Jindal ally in pushing for changes in the state’s ethics laws, was the subject of seven conflict-of-interest charges involving his legal representation of a company in business dealings with Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors on which his mother was simultaneously serving.

Ethics Board Chairman at that time Frank Simoneaux of Baton Rouge (he was not re-appointed by Jindal when his term expired) called the Gallot case the first real test of state ethics laws since the Jindal reforms went into effect.

Another case pending at the time was that of Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre. He was charged with a conflict of interest because he was part-owner of Smart Start of Louisiana. He was accused of using his office for financial gain by selling ignition interlock devices to drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated.

It’s interesting to note that neither Webre nor Gallot denied the facts laid out in the charges. Instead, each invoking a statute of limitations in claiming that the board had only one year to file the charges while ethics board attorneys said the time limit for prescription was two years.

In November 2009, a panel of three administrative judges dismissed the charges against Webre.

So, to recap:

  • Jindal’s campaign paid his fine for him.
  • Webre was exonerated.
  • Kostelka, Tucker and Gallot all “beat the rap.”

Tucker was chosen Speaker of the House during Jindal’s first term.

And Gallot?

Well, he went on to be elected to the State Senate and on Tuesday (July 26), he was unanimously chosen by the University of Louisiana System as the new President of Grambling State University. To be fair, though, at least his mother no longer sits on the board.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/education/article_d8c82986-5350-11e6-b653-a7be43e9ff0c.html

Gallot even found the time to write an op-ed in the Baton Rouge Advocate in which he addressed his close relationship to the state’s movers and shakers and outlined his plans for Grambling. Oddly, he never got around to discussing ethics in his column.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/opinion/article_24c4f454-55a4-11e6-8f90-93862ea22176.html

For now, Louisiana appears to be stuck with a real albatross: A State Ethics Board that is powerless to collect more than $1 million ethics fines from those 248 candidates, some of them dating as far back as 25 years. The amount represents an average fine of $4,252 per candidate, though of that 248, there were 20 who had fines in excess of $10,000. Of that 20, six had fines of $20,000 or more; four were on the books for $30,000 or more and one was for $41,440.

Of the $1,054,487 in fines assess since 1991, only $57,665, or a scant 5 percent, has been paid, records show.

Court records show that in the majority of cases, fines assessed prior to 2015 that have gone unpaid have resulted in the filing of lawsuits by the Board of Ethics and in many of those cases, judgments against the individuals have resulted.

To be fair, the recipient of that $41,440 levy, James Fahrenholtz, has paid nearly half ($19,342) of his fine. That’s not to say Fahrenholtz, a former member of the Orleans Parish School Board doesn’t have other problems. In an unrelated matter, he was arrested in April 2015 for theft of a lobbyist’s iPad tablet.

Besides Fahrenyholtz, those owing $10,000 or more include:

  • Donald Pryor, former candidate for Orleans Parish Registrar (paid $1,757 to date);
  • Albert Donovan, former legal counsel to Gov. Edwin Edwards and a candidate for Secretary of State: $31,000 (paid $5,453 so far);
  • Gary Wainright, former candidate for Orleans Parish District Attorney: $30,200 (paid nothing on assessment);
  • Percy Marchand, former candidate for State Representative: $26,660 (paid nothing to date);
  • Thomas Robichaux, candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $20,060 (paid $800);
  • James Perry, candidate for State Representative: $18,060 (paid nothing);
  • Edward Scott, candidate for U.S. Representative: $17,380 (paid nothing);
  • Robert Murray, candidate for State Representative: $17,080 (paid $160);
  • Jason Wesley, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council: $16,000 (paid nothing);
  • Isaiah Marshall, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council; $14,600 (paid $1,240);
  • Patrick Tovrea, candidate for Jefferson Parish School Board: $14,220 (paid nothing);
  • Joel Miller, candidate for Washington Parish Sheriff: $12,360 (paid nothing);
  • Melva Vallery, office unknown: $12,000 (paid nothing);
  • Marvin Frazier, candidate for Sabine Parish Sheriff: $11,800 (paid $4,031);
  • Myron Lee, candidate for State Representative: $10,900 (paid nothing);
  • Sandra Hester, candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $10,660 (paid nothing);
  • Remic Darden, office unknown: $10,600 (paid $350);
  • Thelma Brown, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council: $10,000 (paid nothing);
  • Ali Moghimi, candidate for Monroe Mayor: $10,000 (paid nothing).

Other notable personalities hit with ethics fines and the amounts paid on their fine include:

  • State Rep. John Bagneris: $4,680 (nothing paid);
  • Livingston Parish Council Chairman Ricky Goff: $1,760 (nothing paid);
  • State Rep. Michael Jackson: $2,000 (nothing paid);
  • Former U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister: $1,260 (nothing paid);
  • Former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Ernest Wooton: $2,000 (nothing paid);
  • Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Kyra Orange Jones: $2,500 (nothing paid).

Here is a complete list of UNPAID fines assessed by the Board of Ethics

In January, the Ethics Board staff drafted an opinion on former Commission of Administration Kristy Nichols and her job as a lobbyist for Ochsner Health System which typically, was not adopted by the full board.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_22f710cd-dda5-5b79-9545-db933add8f6e.html

That opinion said state law would prohibit Nichols from advising Ochsner on any matter involving the Division of Administration (DOA) until October 2017. It also said she could not deal with legislators who handle the state budget (and that should include all 105 representatives and 39 senators because they all must vote on the state budget.

http://www.ethics.la.gov/AgendaAttachments/27389/PublicAgendaAttachment.pdf

Rather than making a definitive decision, which was—and is—its responsibility, the Louisiana Board of Ethics boldly postponed action—at the request of Ochsner—until February.

Well, February has come and gone and the Ethics Board has yet to post anything online and we are now back to our original lament: Nothing gets done.

 

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For the embodiment of what has happened to the newspaper industry and to erstwhile good, hard-hitting investigative reporting, one need look no further than the Alexandria Town Talk.

It’s not that The Town Talk, one of five Gannett-owned newspapers in Louisiana and one of 123 Gannett publications in the U.S., Guam, and the United Kingdom, is necessarily the poster child for the fast-food media genre. But when a newspaper ignores a major news story all but gift-wrapped and dropped in its lap, it unavoidably becomes a microcosm for all that’s ailing the once robust medium.

So, what’s this big story that The Town Talk and other area media were repeatedly called about but chose not to pursue?

That would be the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Alexandria.

It’s not that the problems of veterans obtaining medical treatment from the VA has been hiding under a rock. It’s a national disgrace and it’s well documented that while the rest of the country is politely offering an empty, robotic “Thank you for your service” to our military, it begins to take on a hollow ring as our nation’s leaders continue to send our young men and women into harm’s way only to discard them when they return with missing limbs, closed head injuries, psychological disorders and PTSD. They’re quietly shunted aside and forgotten. The Pentagon, it seems, has little use for damaged merchandise—unless it’s a billion-dollar aircraft that won’t fly built by a defense contractor (read: campaign contributor) favored by some powerful member of Congress.

When a friend, a career soldier, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few years ago, he was promptly discharged before he could qualify for his pension. Thank you for your service.

The horror stories of long waits for treatment and refusals of benefits and medication are by now well-known and it is no different at the Alexandria VA Medical Center.

But it is at that medical center that the stories become almost macabre in nature. And they all seem to revolve around a single doctor, Dr. Shivani Negi.

Here’s what we know about Dr. Negi:

  • The families of several patients have signed affidavits attesting to her callous treatment of patients and her insistence that family members allow patients to die without attempts at resuscitation;
  • Those same grief-laden affidavits describe in detail how abusive and non-communicative Dr. Negi becomes when families refused to sign “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) forms;
  • Some family members said in their affidavits that they believed Dr. Negi allowed their loved ones to die deliberately and that she purposely removed them from the intensive care unit (ICU) to a remote room on another floor without benefit of one-on-one care normally given critical patients;
  • Other doctors and nurses have provided written statements or testified in depositions as to her inappropriate remarks in the presence of family members and patients;
  • The same doctors and nurses describe her violent temper and her threats to “kick butts” of subordinates;

The Commonwealth of Virginia granted her license to practice medicine after she testified she had never been refused a license elsewhere and that she had withdrawn her application in Florida. The only problem was Florida had actually refused her application a full two months prior to Virginia’s awarding her a license. Her Florida application, however, was not withdrawn until 2006.

The minutes of the Florida Board of Medicine’s Credential Committee of Sept. 13, 2003, provide little insight as to the reasons for the  denial of her license application but do hint at some problem in Dr. Negi’s professional past.

“The applicant (Negi) was present and sworn in by the court reporters,” the minutes begin. “The applicant gave a brief history of events. The Committee discussed in length the seriousness of the issue. Dr. Tucker made a motion to deny the (application). The motion was seconded by Dr. Avila. The motion failed with Dr. Miguel, Dr. Davies and Mr. Dyches opposing. Dr. Davies made a new motion to deny the application…and allow 14 days to withdraw. The motion was seconded by Dr. Miguel. The motion passed unanimously.” REFUSED HER APPLICATION

The Florida statutes on which the application rejection was based were identical in both motions with only the provision to allow 14 days for Dr. Negi to withdraw added to the second motion.

There was no explanation of the “history of events” given by Negi, nor the circumstances of those “events.” Nor was there any explanation of the “issue” described deemed by the committee to be a serious sticking point in the consideration of her application.

The problem, however, could have been with the medical school she attended, Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) in the Caribbean island nation of Dominica which was not accredited by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the body that approves medical programs in the U.S. as of September 2013, according to a story by Bloomberg Markets. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-09-10/devry-lures-medical-school-rejects-as-taxpayers-fund-debt

RUSM has since been taken over by Illinois-based DeVry University which Bloomberg says accepts students rejected by U.S. medical colleges. And even though it is a for-profit school, U.S. taxpayers pick up the tab for about 34 to 48 percent of students who default on their student loans which average about $250,000 compared to $170,000 for graduates of U.S. medical schools.

On her Florida application, a copy of which was obtained by LouisianaVoice, there were a series of questions and blocks to check for the appropriate “yes” or “no” answers.

For the question “Have you ever been dropped, suspended, placed on probation, expelled or requested to resign from any school, college or university,” she first checked “Yes” but scratched that answer out and checked “No.”

On another page further into her Florida application, she also checked “No” to the question: “Have you had any application for professional license or any application to practice medicine denied by any state board or other governmental agency of any state, territory, or country?”

Virginia apparently asks a similar question on its application forms because Dr. Negi submitted an “Addendum to questions 14 and 15” which said, “I had applied for a Florida license but changed my mind and did withdraw my application.” APPLIED FOR A FLORIDA LICENSE

There is a problem with the timeline on that answer, however. LouisianaVoice has copies of a document from Florida Regulatory Specialist Cherise Davis which indicates Dr. Negi did not withdraw her application until June 8, 2006, nearly three years after her license was issued by Virginia.

In the case of Floyd Hamilton, Jr., a Bronze Star recipient who died in 2009, there are many questions but few answers.

Hamilton, 85 died at the hospital in 2009, nearly three years after Dr. Negi removed him from ICU to a room on another floor and far from the nurses’ station and without the ventilator support necessary, in the view of one physician who was involved in a verbal exchange with Dr. Negi when he attempted to treat Hamilton. Hamilton’s son claims his father suffered irreparable brain damage from the removal of the ventilator.

At least two other doctors at the VA hospital, as well as other staff members, have taken issue with both Dr. Negi’s medical decisions and her attitude toward patients and co-workers.

Dr. John Sams said he responded to a code for another patient on July 19, 2011, and found him “minimally breathing.” He initiated treatment and the patient’s pulse became stronger and he began to stabilize. SIGNED REPORT

“More than five minutes after I arrived, Dr. Negi made her appearance,” he wrote in his signed report. “With no assessment of the situation, she immediately ordered me to return to the (Express Treatment Unit) and rudely told me I was not to leave the ETU for CLC (Community Living Center, or VA nursing homes) codes. She was temporary Chief of Medicine at the time, my boss,” he wrote.

“I returned to ETU…and upon entering found that the patient was being rolled into a bay. He was unaccompanied by Dr. Negi, who was soon pounding on the ETU door for admission. He (Hamilton) had lost his pulse. Chest compressions were begun.

“No attempt at intubation was allowed by Dr. Negi. Finally, I reordered and received a laryngoscope tube and easily intubated the patient. During the mayhem by Dr. Negi, she verbally terrorized the ETU. While I was doing the chest compressions, Dr. Negi vulgarly stated to me, ‘Sams, you’re doing them too slow. Do them like a young married man—hard, deep and fast.’”

Dr. Sams wrote that Hamilton did not respond to resuscitative efforts and Dr. Negi “asked if anyone had any suggestions prior to ending the code.” Sams said he said he would like to obtain an arterial blood gas (ABG)—a procedure to determine how well the lungs are moving oxygen into the bloodstream. “She left the code to sit down, mocking the suggestion with a derogatory comment. She continued to shower us with her inappropriate comments until the ABG returned. The date was (sic) not helpful and resuscitative efforts were stopped. At that time, I informed Dr. Negi that never in the future would I tolerate her unacceptable behavior.”

Dr. Sams said he reported the incident in writing to his director supervisor who, instead of taking action against Dr. Negi, reprimanded Sams for responding to the CLC code.

Dr. Mark St. Cyr, an emergency room contract physician, testified in a deposition that he had a conflict with Dr. Negi from the first moment they met. He said Dr. Negi threatened to “kick my butt” after he sought permission to admit an ER patient into the hospital. His deposition was given in a lawsuit by Floyd Hamilton, III, the deceased patient’s son.

He said the younger Hamilton gave specific instructions that he wanted his father kept in ICU and that the family “wanted everything possible done” to keep his father alive—and that he did not wish to sign a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order.

Attorney Robert Evans, III, indicated in the deposition of Dr. St. Cyr that he had been in communication with the families of several patients of Dr. Negi “who believe that their family members have died from her treatment.” COMMUNICATION WITH FAMILIES

Floyd Hamilton, III, as did family members of other patients, said Dr. Negi became incensed and abusive when her requests for DNR orders were not signed by family members. Hamilton said she even stopped communicating with him and would not return his calls.

Documents showed that Dr. Negi even sent a $50 money order to one woman in Leesville so that she could travel to Alexandria to sign a DNR order.

Dr. St. Cyr said Dr. Negi’s decision to remove a tube protecting his airway was not consistent with the family’s wishes. Asked in his deposition of removing the tube was not consistent with the family’s request to do everything possible, Dr. St. Cyr responded, “That’s a fair statement.” THAT'S A FAIR STATEMENT

St. Cyr described Dr. Negi as “aggressive” in terms of “getting patients in and getting them out” of the hospital. “(If) she doesn’t feel like something is worth it, she may not be quite as aggressive medically in terms of performing certain actions,” he said.

When asked by attorney Evans if “she might put him somewhere and take out the tube to expedite his demise,” Dr. St. Cyr again replied, “It’s a fair statement.” EXPEDITE HIS DEMISE

That line of questioning developed over St. Cyr’s description of how Dr. Negi removed the elder Hamilton from ICU to another floor at the end of a hall furthest from the nurses’ station. “Why would he (Hamilton) go to the floor, the last room at the end of the hallway (when he) can’t press a button, can’t call a nurse, or anything, and he’s not even responsive?” he asked. “You’re literally putting the person out there to die.”

Asked if any other hospital personnel were involved in the removal of the intubation of Hamilton, Dr. St. Cyr said, “No, sir. That’s solely Dr. Negi. When a person’s in the intensive care unit, Dr. Negi was in charge and you don’t go against Dr. Negi.”

Two nurses also filed written reports of the confrontation involving Dr. Negi and Dr. Sams, both claiming that Dr. Negi was yelling, belligerent, unprofessional, and throwing her gloves. “…She stated, ‘You never stop CPR,’” one of the nurses quoted her as saying. “CPR was never stopped on the vet other than when Dr. Negi was doing CPR.” The same nurse said Dr. Negi “continued to berate Dr. Sams” because Dr. Sams wanted a blood gas. Dr. Negi made the comment to respiratory, ‘Well I guess you will get to practice your collection of blood gases.’”

The Calcasieu Parish District Attorney, in a letter to his counterpart in Rapides, intimated that had the events involving Hamilton occurred in Calcasieu, “I would certainly immediately provoke an investigation by law enforcement, or possibly a grand jury, to investigate allegations against this doctor.”

D.A. John Derosier, in his Dec. 23, 2014, letter to Rapides D.A. Phillip Terrell, Jr., wrote, “Please have someone…determine whether or not there is sufficient basis to move forward with a formal investigation.”

 

LETTER TO HIS COUNTERPART

D.A. LETTER PAGE 2

Terrell, claiming his office was not equipped for such an extensive investigation, asked for assistant from then-Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office and Assistant Attorney General Arthur Ogea of Lake Charles was given the assignment.

Jeff Landry, upon taking office as Caldwell’s successor, however, fired Ogea and seized all his records on the Hamilton case. Contacted by LouisianaVoice, Ogea agreed to talk in more detail about his thoughts in the coming days but did say he felt there was sufficient evidence for a grand jury investigation and possible charges of negligent homicide against Negi.

It will be interesting to see how Louisiana’s new attorney general proceeds with this investigation.

Floyd Hamilton, III, meanwhile, kept applying pressure by picketing the hospital and by notifying members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation and VA officials.

Because he took photographs of his father that showed the stark contrast between the elder Hamilton’s condition before and after being removed from ICU, there is now a sign posted at the VA Hospital in Alexandria proclaiming an absurd—and unenforceable—rule that photographs are no longer allowed at the facility.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, conducted an investigation of “suspicious deaths” at the Alexandria VA hospital. In its executive summary dated Feb. 14, 2008, the OIG repeatedly—and predictably—said that investigators “did not substantiate” any of the allegations involving Hamilton or any of several other patients who died while in the care of Dr. Negi.

Five days later, Christina Lavine, director of the VA’s Hotline Division, wrote Hamilton’s son, Floyd Hamilton, III to say that the VA OIG had closed his father’s case. “As we advised you when we opened this case, our decision to close a Hotline case is final, and there are no appeal rights,” she wrote.

Instead of definitive, meaningful action, all we’re received so far are insincere apologies and empty promises that conditions will improve. But they never do.

A congressional subcommittee held hearings on the Alexandria VA Hospital only last week. Even though subcommittee members were well aware of irregularities pointed out by Floyd Hamilton, III, and even though he was in attendance at the hearing, he was never allowed to testify. Perhaps, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, Hamilton’s claims constituted “an inconvenient truth” to officials who should be infuriated at the manner in which our veterans are treated upon their return from duty.

 

 

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Some things are difficult to understand.

Like, for instance, how voters returned State Rep. Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette) to the legislature for another term. Not only was she re-elected, but it was by a landslide. The only plausible explanation was that Bobby Jindal was running against her.

She received 85 percent of the vote in her district, which includes parts of Lafayette and Vermilion Parishes.

Public school teachers and their families alone, voting as a bloc in those two parishes, should have prevented that kind of mandate.

You see, Landry is on a one-person crusade to become Public Enemy Number One among school teachers. She has repeatedly pilloried teachers from her position in the legislature and now she has been named as chairperson of the House Education Committee. (Coincidentally, Denham Springs GOP Rep. Rogers Pope, a retired school superintendent and former Superintendent of the Year for Louisiana, stepped down from the committee about the same time Landry was elevated to the chairmanship.)

Why am I so critical of Landry?

Well, first, let’s go back to March 2012 when she opened proceedings by the committee by introducing a new rule that had never existed in House committee hearings. https://louisianavoice.com/2012/03/14/how-do-you-teague-a-legislator-ask-jindal-to-teague-a-teacher-just-change-the-committee-rules-for-witnesses/

The committee was hearing testimony on HB 976 by committee Chairman Stephen Carter (R-Baton Rouge) that would impose sweeping changes, including providing student scholarships for Jindal’s Educational Excellence Program, allow for parent petitions for certain schools to be transferred to the Recovery School District (RSD) and charter school authorization criteria.

Before debate began on the bill, Landry said she had received calls from “concerned constituents” to the effect that some teachers from districts that did not close schools for the day had taken a sick day in order to attend a rally of teachers opposed to Jindal’s education reform.

She neglected to mention, of course, that teachers are given 10 sick days per year, so if they want to use a sick day to attend a committee hearing in Baton Rouge, that’s their business and no one else’s. Moreover, if a teacher exceeds her 10 days during a school year, she is docked a full day’s pay at the teachers’s salary rate while the substitute teacher is paid a substitute’s salary, which is less.

Undaunted and undeterred by those facts, Landry made a motion that in addition to the customary practice of witnesses providing their names, where they are from and whom they represent, they be required to state if they were appearing before the committee in a “professional capacity or if they were on annual or sick leave.”

Democrats on the committee were livid. Then-Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) said he had never in his tenure in the House seen such a rule imposed on witnesses.

“This house (the Capitol) belongs to the people,” said Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge) “and now we’re going to put them in a compromising position? This is an atrocity!”

Committee member Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans) said, “I have one question: if we approve this motion and if a witness declines to provide that information, will that witness be prohibited from testifying?”

Carter, momentarily taken aback, held a hastily whispered conference before turning back to the microphone to say, “We cannot refuse anyone the opportunity to testify.”

That appeared to make Landry’s motion a moot point but she persisted and the committee ended up approving her motion by a 10-8 vote that was reflective of the 11-6 Republican-Democrat (with one Independent) makeup of the committee.

Edwards lost no time in getting in a parting shot on the passage of the new rule.

Then-Gov. Bobby Jindal was the first to testify and upon completion of his testimony, Edwards observed that no one on the committee appeared overly concerned of whether or not the governor was on annual or sick leave.

Jindal, who had entered the committee room late and knew nothing of the debate and subsequent vote on Landry’s motion, bristled at Edwards, saying, “I’m here as governor.”

Now fast-forward to yesterday (Tuesday, May 3) and once again we have Landry going for teachers’ jugulars. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=980632

A substitute bill for House Bill 392 by Landry cleared the committee without objection and will now move to the full House for consideration but there are a couple of points that need to be made about the provisions of the bill that committee members may have failed to consider—or simply ignored.

Landry wants to pile on the 2012 law, Act 1, under which pay for teachers and other employees may be cut. She wants to impose salary cuts when teachers’ and other employees’ working hours are reduced. She said that Lafayette Parish had cases in which educators successfully sued the school board over pay cuts when they were moved from 12-month jobs to nine-month jobs. http://theadvocate.com/news/15675829-64/new-provision-for-teacher-pay-cuts-clears-house-panel

Historically, teachers have had the option of being paid a lower monthly salary extended over 12 months or higher a monthly salary on nine months. The annual salary was the same either way.

In the Lafayette case, two teachers who were displaced by the closure of their charter school for high-risk students sued and won back pay when their schedules were reduced from 244 days to 182 days. One of the teachers saw her salary cut from $80,104 to $60,214 while the second was cut from $74,423 to $56,207. Both cuts of about 25 percent coincided with the fewer number of days. http://theadvocate.com/news/11060641-123/appeals-court-sides-with-teachers

On the surface, the bill makes perfect sense. As is the case most of the time, however, one needs to look beyond the obvious for answers.

And when you do, you will find that no teacher ever simply works 182 days. That is a myth and one that needs to be debunked once and for all.

Landry is an attorney specializing in family law. As such, she likely earns considerably more than the average teacher. But that’s okay; the teacher made a career choice, so that isn’t my sticking point. But like a teacher, she sees all manner of humanity parade through her office and while her hourly fee is the same for all, there are times I’m pretty sure that some clients should be charged significantly more per hour because of the difficulty in addressing their multitude of problems. An amicable divorce, for example, is a much easier case for Landry than one in which the parents fight over every child and every piece of property right down to the pet gerbil.

It’s the same for teachers. The child whose parents are attentive to his or her school work and who see to it that all homework assignments are completed correctly is a pleasure to teach.

The child who comes to school in clean cloths, on a full stomach, and well-rested after a good night’s sleep is not the problem.

The child whose lives in a two-parent household where the parents are not constantly fighting and screaming is generally a well-adjusted student who poses no problems in the classroom.

The child who is respectful to the teacher and who applies himself or herself in class work isn’t the one who causes disciplinary problems.

But that child whose parents are on crack or meth and who comes to school unprepared, unkempt, in filthy clothing, hungry, sleepy and angry at the world is a challenge to the teacher whose job it is to try and help that child keep up with the rest of the class—which, of course, only serves to slow the progress of the entire class.

If Rep. Landry would take the time to volunteer in an elementary or middle school classroom for one week, she would come away from the experience with an attitude adjustment. I guarantee it.

  • When she has to break up a schoolyard fight between middle school students who are just as likely to attack her physically, she will experience a world she has never known;
  • When she has to clean the behind of a first-grader in the restroom who is already wearing filthy underwear, she will get a taste of what elementary school teachers do—for 182 days a year;
  • When she has to attempt to explain the multiplication tables to a child who curses her, she will gain a new respect for teachers;
  • When she sees the hunger in the eyes of a malnourished child whose crack- and meth-addicted parents show up at parent-teacher conferences blaming the teacher for their own shortcomings, she will think about the difference—that abyss—between her fee and the salary paid a teacher;
  • When she has to stay up until midnight grading papers, she will wonder why the hell teachers aren’t paid more;
  • When she has to return to the classroom at the end of the school year to clean up her classroom, throw out old papers, prepare new lesson plans, prepare for the new school year and adjust to the constantly changing dictates of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, tasks that generally extend through most of the summer “vacation,” she will wonder why anyone would ever opt for teaching—without ever once considering that it is a calling, not a job, for those who have an unselfish desire to help children as they grow into adulthood;
  • When she must make that fateful decision, as did that teacher at Sandy Hook, to stand between an armed mentally deranged lunatic and a child so she can take the bullet that will end her life but spare the child in doing so, she will know what it’s like to enter the most honorable profession known to humanity.

When she does all that, maybe, just maybe, Rep. Nancy Landry will gain a new respect and appreciation for the sacrifice, dedication, hard work, and thankless job of educating our children.

Until then, she is just another politician with a kneejerk solution to perceived problems.

But as for me, I can honestly say that I struggled mightily in school and had it not been for at least a half-dozen of my high school teachers who took a direct interest in my well-being, nurtured my potential (what there was of it), and encouraged me to work a little harder, I truthfully do not know where I’d be today. I will carry my gratitude to those teachers to my grave.

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I have been accused of “intellectual laziness” by one of our readers.

That comment came after I posted my last story about Billy Nungesser’s negating 18 writs of mandamus filed over his failure to take certain actions and to produce public documents requested by the Plaquemines Parish Council in 2010 during the time he served as Parish President. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/26/insight-into-nungesser-disregard-for-laws-revealed-in-his-blatant-disregard-for-public-records-demands-other-actions/

“Must be a slow news week,” said the writer, who identified himself only as “Who Cares.” He went on to say, “Reporting on topics six years old is intellectual laziness.”

Well, Who Cares, or whatever your real name is (probably a political ally or even Nungesser himself), it really wasn’t intellectual laziness, but an effort to let readers know the type individual who now holds the second-highest elective office in state government.

The point of that story was to illustrate the past may well be prologue (to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s The Tempest…or was it that 1967 episode of Ironside?), i.e. if he was capable of such abuse of office then, who’s to say he won’t attempt the same type shenanigans as lieutenant governor?

Oops, sorry. We almost forgot: he already has. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/12/louisiana-has-a-new-clown-prince-but-its-egg-not-a-pie-all-over-lt-gov-nungessers-face-after-succession-of-blunders/

So, Who Cares, there was a relevance to the post and if you thought that was old news, read on.

Precisely five years ago today (April 28, 2011) Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell sent quite a testy letter to Nungesser who at the time was ramping up his first run for lieutenant governor barely six months after his October 2010 re-election as Parish President.

And lest anyone think our rehashing of Campbell’s five-year-old letter is an endorsement for his election to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter, it’s not. We have not and do not intend to make an endorsement in that race.

But Campbell took Nungesser to task for his political exploitation of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and for his failure to take the lead in coastal restoration prior to that disaster.

Here is Campbell’s letter in its entirety:

            I received your letter on your thoughts of running for Lieutenant Governor. You wrote that you have been busy helping Plaquemines Parish and our state to recover from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. You described “struggles with federal bureaucrats” and your amazement that a foreign company (British Petroleum) would be put in charge of cleaning up the spill.

            You’ve concluded that you can do the most good for Louisiana by leading the effort to rebuild our image as Lieutenant Governor. You asked for my opinion, so here it is:

            I wrote to you and all Louisiana elected officials after watching you and Gov. Jindal on national television following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil well. You and the governor were taking every media opportunity to express your anger at BP and the federal government.

            My question then, and now as well, was: Where have you been?

            You have been leader since 2007 of the parish that is Ground Zero for coastal erosion, and yet, I have heard not a word from you about the part played by other “foreign” and multinational oil companies in damaging Louisiana’s coast.

            Louisiana political leaders have known for years that oil and gas production has contributed heavily to the destruction of our marshes. It is also well-established that the force of Katrina which ravaged Plaquemines Parish and southeast Louisiana, was heightened by the loss of our barrier islands to erosion.

            The silence of you, Gov. Jindal and other elected officials from coastal Louisiana is deafening when it comes to asking major oil companies to pay for the damage they’ve caused. Your later father (William Nungesser), who (sic) I knew well, worked for the only statewide politician to make such a demand, Gov. Dave Treen. He was absolutely right.

            As destructive as it has been, the BP oil spill is minor compared to the devastation of coastal erosion which costs Louisiana a football field of land every hour. Maybe it is easier to go on CNN and rant about BP and a federal government perceived as unpopular in Louisiana than to stand up to powerful corporations doing harm to our coastline.

            I have written to you, Mr. Jindal, Mr. Vitter, Ms. (U.S. Sen. Mary) Landrieu, Mr. (U.S. Rep. Steve) Scalise, and others on this issue and I never get a reply. Maybe when you run for Lieutenant Governor, you can tell the rest of the story. I would welcome a frank discussion with you on Katrina, BP, coastal erosion and the oil industry. Let’s ask Tulane to host an event in New Orleans. Let’s determine who owes who (sic) for what. I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Foster Campbell

Public Service Commissioner

 C: Louisiana Elected Officials

     Prof. Oliver Houck (Tulane University Law School)

No further comment seems necessary.

 

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Regular readers of this site know our disdain for the undue influence of lobbyists and special interests over lawmakers to the exclusion of the very voters who elected those same lawmakers to represent them and their best interests.

Our opposition to political decisions made with priority given to campaign contributions over what is best for the state is well-known—and uncompromising. Money should have no place—repeat, no place—in political decisions.

Unfortunately, we know that is not the case. Politicians for the most part, are basically prostitutes for campaign funds and those who choose to remain chaste usually find themselves at a serious disadvantage come election time.

To that end, you can probably look for State Rep. Jay Morris (R-Monroe) to attract strong opposition when he comes up for re-election in 2019. And that opposition, whoever it might be, is likely to have a campaign well-lubricated by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the Louisiana Chemical Association, and the oil and gas industry.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, we have gone on record on numerous occasions as saying the voters are merely pawns to be moved about at will by big business in general and the banks, pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street and oil companies in particular. It is their money that inundates us with mind-numbing political ads that invade our living rooms every election year telling us why Candidate A is superior to Candidate B because B voted this way or that way and besides, good old Candidate A has always had the welfare of voters uppermost in mind.

The presence of that influence was never more clearly illustrated than in Tyler Bridges’ insightful story in Friday’s Baton Rouge Advocate. http://theadvocate.com/news/15225624-78/la-legislative-staffers-sort-out-changes-added-at-the-last-minute

In the very first paragraph of his story, Bridges wrote that a secret deal between Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) and lobbyists for LABI and the Louisiana Chemical Association.

We won’t bother to re-hash the details of that meeting and the agreement finally reached just before the closing minutes of the recent special session. You can read the details in the link to the Bridges story that we provided above.

But suffice it to say had it not been for Morris digging his heels in and threatening to kill his own bill when he learned of a manufacturing tax break that had been added to his bill, HB 61 that aimed at eliminating exemptions and exclusions on numerous sales tax breaks. Though a Republican, Morris feels that big business isn’t paying its fair share of taxes.

“I was not aware of the deal,” Bridges quoted Morris as saying. “I was not invited.”

Neither, apparently, were any spokespersons for consumers, organized labor, teachers, or the citizens of Louisiana.

Oh, but you can bet LABI President Steve Waguespack was invited to a meeting in Alario’s office earlier in the day, as was Louisiana Chemical Association chief lobbyist Greg Bowser.

Given that, we would like to ask Sen. Alario and Rep Barras why no one representing the people were invited to that little conclave. And don’t try to tell us that the Senate President and House Speaker were representing the people. You were not. You were representing the vested interests of the chemical industry and big business. Period.

Sen. Alario, Rep. Barras: the people of Louisiana are far more deserving of a place at the table in some furtive backroom meeting than LABI and the chemical association.

Either all factions are invited in or no one is. The playing field should be level.

By not excluding lobbyists or by not inviting those on whose shoulders are placed the greatest burden, the ones who placed you in office, you have not just failed at your job; you have failed miserably.

Our late friend C.B. Forgotston would have said of the meeting which produced that secret deal: “You can’t make this stuff up.”

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