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Archive for the ‘Privatization’ Category

There was a popular game about 40 years ago called “Whack-a-mole.” (For all I know, it may well still be around.) Anyway, the object of the game was for a player to “whack” a rodent with a rubber mallet each time it appeared out of one of five holes. The problem was each time a mole was “whacked”, it invariably popped up again from one of the remaining four holes.

So it is with certain news stories that just when you think you’ve written about all there is to say on the subject, up pops another angle to pursue.

This time though, two separate—and seemingly unrelated—stories that have been covered extensively in the past by LouisianaVoice have now converged to warrant a fresh look at old news.

Before I go any further, I should acknowledge the ever-sharp eyes of my bronchitis-infected friend and Ruston High School classmate John Sachs (Class of ’61). It is he, after all, that brought an otherwise routine local news story in the Farmerville Gazette to my attention. (I guess I’m going to have acquiesce and give him that honorary Deputy Ace Reporter badge he’s been clamoring for.)

Eagle-Eye John called me about efforts to hire a private prison management company to take over management of the 380-bed Union Parish Detention Center. You may recall that LouisianaVoice had a couple of stories about the facility last year, on MAY 10 and MAY 31 about a convicted rapist who was allowed out of his cell to rape a female prisoner. Twice.

That incident, deplorable as it certainly was, is not what this is about, however.

The Gazette story recounted the reason for the decision by LaSalle Corrections to decline Union Parish’s offer. Those reasons dealt with the potential shortage of prisoners if Gov. John Bel Edwards is successful in reducing the number of state inmates and the financial impact of such a move.

Another factor, said LaSalle Chief of Operations Johnny Creed, was the size of four other facilities in north Louisiana managed by LaSalle: Richwood Correctional Center (1,129 inmates), Jackson Parish Correctional Center (1,285), LaSalle Correctional Center (785) and Catahoula Correctional Center (835).

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(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

And then Creed said the thing that caught Sach’s eye, prompting him to call me with his croaking voice and rattling cough: “As small as (Union Parish Detention Center) is, we would need to bring our work release inmate that work for Foster Farms from our Richwood facility.”

Wait. What?

Foster Farms has 100 work release inmates working at its cotton-pickin’ chicken-pluckin’ plant in Farmerville?

Isn’t this the same plant that Bobby Jindal, with the support of State Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), gave $50 million to in order to get Foster Farms to take over the plant from Pilgrim’s Pride back in 2009?

Wasn’t Foster Farms supposed to provide up to 1,100 jobs with that $50 million?

Does Foster Farms get a $2,400 tax credit for each inmate it employs in the work release program?

And aren’t work release programs something of a cash cow for sheriffs and private prisons farming out prisoners to work for just a smidgen more than minimum wage?

Yes,

Uh-huh.

Yep.

Hell, yes.

You mean to tell me Foster Farms gets a $240,000 tax credit (that’s credit, not a deduction, meaning that’s $240,000 income on which Foster Farm pays no taxes) for hiring 100 prisoners at $7.75 per hour (about 60 percent of which goes to the local sheriff), jobs that should be going to local folks?

Very perceptive, Grasshopper.

This, folks, is yet another lingering smell that hits our olfactory like a pair of dirty socks but which we affectionately call the Jindal Legacy.

The work release program is such a golden egg that sheriffs all over the state, reading the tea leaves shaped like dollar signs, rushed to build their own programs, complete with barracks and vans for workers. And to make sure the beds stayed filled, which is the only way they can get the maximum state dollars, the accommodating Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association lobbied (read parties, booze, women and campaign contributions) Louisiana’s law and order legislators to be more law and order-oriented and pass stiffer penalties for even the most insignificant crimes.

To see just how lucrative this could be for a small parish like Union, let’s run the numbers.

State law allows the sheriff or operator of the private prison to take up to 62 percent of a prisoner’s earnings. One hundred prisoners working 40 hours per week for 50 weeks per year at $7.75 per hour. That comes to $1.55 million earned by the prisoner.

The Union Parish Detention Center is unique in that it is the only such facility in the state in which neither the sheriff nor a private company has operational controls. It is operated by committee comprised of a member of the Union Parish Police Jury, the district attorney and parish police chiefs. Lincoln Parish at one time was run in the same manner but it is now run by the sheriff.

If the parish takes “just” 60 percent, that’s $930,000 per year for the sheriff/operator. And that’s over and above the rate the state pays the sheriff/operator to house the prisoners. More than six years ago, LOUISIANA VOICE published a story that examined some of the housing contracts between the state and several Louisiana parishes.

Despite the money generated by the work release program, the Union Parish Detention Center has continued to lose money. That is the reason for the unsuccessful attempt to lure LaSalle into managing the center.

We followed our December 2010 post with a story in AUGUST 2015 that illustrated the abuses that can occur when someone with the right connections can use that advantage to manipulate a system like work release for his own monetary gain.

Jail operators, be they sheriffs or private corporations, love the money the work release program brings in to augment that paid by the state for housing the prisoners.

And businesses like Foster Farms love being able to hire 100 prisoners at near-minimum wage and receive a $240,000 tax credit in the process.

It’s a win-win for everyone but the taxpayers.

So, bottom line: Thar’s gold in them thar jails.

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In the parlance of the criminal justice system, money laundering is sometimes called “washing” or “scrubbing.”

But dirty money is always dirty money, no matter what efforts are taken to make it appear legitimate.

The same is true of politics. Having just gone through a gut-wrench senatorial campaign, we’ve seen up close and personal how political ads come in all manner of misleading half-truths and outright lies. Case in point: the absurd promises of State Sen. Bodi White (R-Central), who ran ads during his recent unsuccessful campaign for Mayor-President of Baton Rouge about how he was going to improve schools, cut the dropout rate, and attract better teachers.

The problem? Neither City Hall nor the mayor have squat to do with public education; that’s the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s turf. What’s more, White was fully aware of this, so his ads amounted to nothing more than pure B.S., or, to be more blunt: bald face lies.

And now, thanks to Stephen Winham, our human Early Warning System who often tips us off to interesting stories, we have the laundering of Bobby Jindal’s image by some groupie/writer for the National Review named Dan McLaughlin.

The scrubbing, however, comes a tad early; even in Louisiana, the citizens aren’t likely to forget the carnage wreaked by Jindal so quickly.

McLaughlin, it seems, is an attorney who practices securities and commercial litigation in New York City. He also is a contributing columnist at National Review Online (Go figure). He is a former contributing editor of RedState (No surprise there), a columnist at the Federalist and the New Ledger. During his spare time he is a baseball blogger at BaseballCrank.com.

McLaughlin has written at least a dozen or so insipid pro-Jindal pabulum-laden claptrap-filled columns, all of which could just as easily have been written by Timmy Teepell.

In his most recent contribution to National Review (the entire story is not contained at this link because I’m too cheap to subscribe), McLaughlin WRITES that “Jindal took on the enormous challenge of cutting government in a state that is culturally deep-red but economically populist, and he paid a great political cost for his efforts.”

Apparent, he wrote that garbage with a straight face.

There’s more from McLaughlin who wrote in an earlier column for RedState that Jindal was the BEST CANDIDATE for the Republican presidential nomination and that (get this) Jindal ruled in one of the presidential debates (never mind Jindal never got past the undercard debates in which all participants were weak also-runs).

McLaughlin wrote that Jindal’s low approval ratings “and the desperate wails of his Democratic successor over the condition of the state’s budget seem to support” the view that Jindal left the state in financial disarray.

Seriously? McLaughlin conveniently overlooks the fact that the “view” that Jindal’s leaving the state in disastrous shape took shape long before John Bel Edwards and long before Jindal abandoned his post for his delusional pursuit of the presidency.

McLaughlin made no mention of Jindal’s administration coming up with a contract to give away two of the state’s learning hospitals that contained 50 blank pages.

He ignores the matter of how Jindal doled out plum board and commission positions to big contributors to his campaign, how he rolled over anyone who disagreed with him by either firing or demoting them, how he took tainted campaign contributions from felons and refused to return the money, or how he gutted the reserve fund of the Office of Group Benefits in order to try to close gaping budget deficits that occurred every single year of his governorship.

“The path to smaller government requires persistence, backbone, and a willingness to accept compromises and a lot of defeats,” he wrote.

Correction, Mr. McLaughlin: the path to Bobby Jindal’s version of smaller government requires ruthlessness, vindictiveness, and unparalleled selfishness.

While one might justifiably think that Jindal’s political career is dead and buried, is it even remotely possible that he might be plotting a comeback?

Already, there are the first rumblings that Jindal is eying the 2019 gubernatorial campaign.

Just in case, perhaps someone should send McLaughlin a copy of my book, Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession. Not that he would change his mind, but at least he would have no excuse for not knowing.

And just in case you’ve not ordered your copy yet, click on the image of the book at upper right and place your order immediately.

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quid pro quo

ˌkwid ˌprō ˈkwō/

noun

A favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something.

Unless decisive action it taken over the next few days, our theory that nothing gets done about official chicanery, shady dealings and outright corruption will have been validated at the highest levels of state government.

And lest there are those who think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, let me assure them that I will keep pounding the keyboard as long as I am physically and mentally able to put the glare of the spotlight on them and their deeds.

At one point in 2015, someone said to me, “Once Bobby Jindal leaves office, you won’t have anything to write about.”

Not a chance.

Unfortunately, as long as politicians are intoxicated by money and power, there will be plenty to write about. And, as Johnny Mathis sang his song The Twelfth of Never, “that’s a long, long time.”

Take Kristy Nichols, for example. Someone, please. (Sorry, Henny Youngman.)

Or, just for fun, compare the strikingly similar cases of Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Kristy, as LouisianaVoice reported last September, jumped the Jindal ship to join Ochsner Health System as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs (read: lobbyist).

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/09/17/more-on-kristys-new-job-it-seems-ochsner-gets-17-6-million-for-running-chabert-hospital/

The only problem with that was that as Commissioner of Administration for Jindal, she presided over virtually every facet of state government except the legislative and judicial branches, but worked closely with those as well. State law prohibited her from lobbying the administrative and legislative branches but apparently there was nothing to prevent her from lobbying local governmental entities.

On November 5, 2015, less than two months following our story, Kimberly L. Robinson, an attorney with the Jones Walker law firm, acting on behalf of Ochsner, requested an advisory opinion on the question of whether or not Kristy could legally lobby the state.

A month later, Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards named Robinson as the new Secretary of the Department of Revenue, prompting her resignation from Jones Walker.

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/12/john_bel_edwards_appoints_kimb.html

Robinson was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Kristy.

Sexton was an obvious choice, given his years as Chief Administrator for the Louisiana Board of Ethics. His knowledge of the system was so keen that in 2007, he pulled his own end-run when he resigned and the board immediately rehired him in a new capacity which allowed him to skirt a requirement under a newly-passed ethics law that he disclose clients in his private law practice (how’s that for irony?).

http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/07/ethics_administrator_quits_the.html

But back to Kristy’s dilemma.

On December 16, Sexton submitted a request to the ethics board to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion. Then, on January 22, 2016, Sexton submitted an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Kristy. That was followed by a request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion on March 31. The board granted the request to withdraw at its April 15 meeting.

The chronology was provided to LouisianaVoice in an e-mail Tuesday (Aug. 2) from Deborah S. Grier, Executive Secretary for the Board of Ethics. Here is that email:

——– Original message ——–

From: Deborah Grier <Deborah.Grier@LA.GOV>

Date: 8/2/16 9:14 AM (GMT-06:00)

To: azspeak@cox.net

Subject: RE: Opinion on Kristy Nichols: Public Records Requests

Good morning, Mr. Aswell:

Pursuant to your public records request of July 29, 2016 regarding an opinion issued by the Board with respect to former Commission of Administration Kristy Nichols’ employment as a lobbyist by Ochsner Health System, please be advised of the following:

A request for an advisory opinion dated November 5, 2015 was submitted by Kimberly L. Robinson with the Jones Walker law firm on behalf of Ochsner Health System and Kristy Nichols.  Ms. Robinson subsequently left the private practice of law and was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Ms. Nichols as indicated in correspondence to our office from Mr. Sexton dated December 11, 2015.  On December 16, 2015, a request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion was submitted to our office.  The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion at its December 18, 2015 meeting.

 Mr. Sexton, by correspondence dated January 22, 2016, submitted to the Board an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Ms. Nichols.  A request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion was received by this office on March 31, 2016.  The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion at its April 15, 2016 meeting.
No opinion has been rendered by the Board with respect to this issue.
Should you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,
Deborah

Deborah S. Grier
Executive Secretary
Louisiana Board of Ethics

So, what does all that mean?

Could it be that Ochsner and Kristy have decided to let sleeping dogs lie? After all, if she proceeds with lobbying efforts and no one files an official complaint, then it’s no harm, no foul, right? That would certainly run true to form for Jindal’s Gold Standard of Ethics.

A quick check by LouisianaVoice, however, revealed that Kristy is not registered among any of Ochsner Health System’s 10 lobbyists. Sexton told LouisianaVoice today that Ochsner had apparently decided not to pursue the matter and it was his understanding that the company was pursuing “other plans” for Nichols. “Ochsner has a number of other lobbyists,” he said.

So if she is not a registered lobbyist, then just what is it that she does to earn her keep as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs?

Or was her employment simply some form of payback as we initially suggested in light of the $31 million Ochsner received in takeover of the Leonard Chabert Medical Center by Southern Regional Medical Corp. and Ochsner as part of Jindal’s haphazard state hospital privatization plan?

https://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/terms-of-the-ochsner-deal-at-leonard-chabert-medical-center.pdf

We’d no sooner received Ms. Grier’s email on Tuesday than the Baton Rouge Advocate posted a couple of stories, also on Tuesday, that caught our eye.

The first involved a claim by Gonzales City Council candidate Wayne Lawson that Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot attempted to bribe him not to seek a city council seat against incumbent Neal Bourque.

The Pelican Post news website first published the report that Matassa and Berthelot had offered Lawson $1,200 and a parish job if he would withdraw from the race. The deadline to withdraw was last Friday (July 29) at noon. Lawson, after posing for a photograph with the cash, a parish job application form and candidate withdrawal forms, returned the money and documents to Berthelot’s office without completing either of the forms.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/communities/ascension/article_d9fda80a-58df-11e6-884c-d3779607197c.html

Ricky Babin, District Attorney for the 23rd Judicial District, said his office would investigate Lawson’s claims. He said the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office are also investigating the allegations.

The Attorney General’s Office may be in something of a quandary as it embarks on that investigation, however.

The second Baton Rouge Advocate story, by reporter Gordon Russell, conjured up the ethics complained filed against Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_6f7a7990-58e9-11e6-9cd1-a36f0eb42bbf.html

https://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/ethics-complaint.pdf

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/03/between-beating-guilty-pleas-sexual-harassment-lawsuit-and-ethics-complaint-iberia-sheriff-louis-ackal-has-his-plate-full/

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/09/one-week-after-louisianavoice-story-feds-hand-down-three-count-indictment-of-iberia-parish-sheriff-ackal-top-deputy/

In his story, Russell said that Landry, after trailing incumbent Buddy Caldwell by two percentage points in the primary election for Attorney General last October, received the endorsement of third place finisher Geri Broussard Baloney of Garyville in St. John the Baptist Parish, who had polled 18 percent.

With her endorsement in his back pocket, Landry, a former U.S. Representative, easily won the November runoff over Caldwell (who can forget Caldwell’s concession speech?). Soon thereafter, Baloney’s daughter, Quendi Baloney, was given a $53,000-a-year job by Landry.

At the time of her hire, all would-be employees of the AG’s office were required to sign a form agreeing to background checks and were also asked, in writing, if they had any criminal record.

In her case, she did. In 1999, she was charged with 11 felony counts of credit card fraud and theft, eventually pleading guilty to three counts, according to court records from Henrico County, Virginia. She was sentenced to six years in prison, all of it suspended.

Her new job? Well, it’s in the AG’s fraud section. More irony.

But in the end, her background is of less interest, given that her conviction was 17 years ago, than the fact that she was given her job as apparent payback for her mom’s endorsement of Landry following the first primary election in October.

A spokesperson for the AG’s office, Russell wrote, did not respond to questions about whether other candidates had applied for Quendi Baloney’s job or whether Landry had hired any other convicted felons.

For her part, Quendi Baloney told The Advocate that her arrest and conviction were “devastating,” but had made her a “stronger, harder-working ethical adult…”

She forwarded to The Advocate a link to the state’s new “Ban the Box” law which prevents state agencies from asking applicants about their criminal records. That law, however, did not take effect until after she was hired.

It’s going to be more than a little interesting to see how Landry’s investigation of Matassa and Berthelot unfolds in light of the same day’s revelations about his own actions.

But we’re willing to wager that when the dust settles on the issues of Matassa, Berthelot, Nichols, Ackal (the state ethics complaint, not the federal indictment) and Baloney, we’ll still be able to say:

Nothing gets done.

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By Robert Burns

After Louisiana’s FYE books were closed on June 30, 2013, the Jindal administration touted the fact that 2,340 hospital employees had been laid off during that fiscal year. Nevertheless, one hospital, the Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville, was proving particularly vexing for Jindal’s administration.

With much fanfare, Jindal’s folks called a news conference to announce that the hospital’s operations would be transferred to England Airpark with an estimated $30 million required to renovate the facility which was closed in the early 1990s. The money was said to come from $5 million pledged by the England facility and the remainder from state-issued capital outlay bonds issued during FYE ’13.

Despite all of the hoopla associated with the announcement of the transfer, the proposal ended up fizzling out, and Jindal’s administration had to conjure up a “Plan B.”

That turned out to be another iteration of the public/private partnerships for which the Jindal administration essentially could have qualified for a patent on crafting such arrangements. In this instance, the public/private partnership would entail Rapides Regional Medical Center and Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital taking over much of the workload of Huey P. Long.

Of course, the whole proposal had the

gnawing obstacle that it needed approval from those darn folks at the Legislature, and that’s where things got interesting.

To accomplish the goal, Senator Gerald Long obediently introduced

Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 48 in the regular session of the 2014 Legislative Session. On March 31, 2014, the Senate Committee posted an agenda for its meeting of April 2, 2014; however, that agenda was devoid of any reference to SCR-48.

On April 1, 2014 at 4:07 p.m., a revised agenda was posted in which SCR

-48 was posted and itemized to include a notation entailing its subject matter: “creating a new model of health care delivery in the Alexandria and Pineville area.” Amendments were added to SCR-48, and it ultimately passed both the House (66-28) and Senate (26-11).

Baton Rouge attorney Arthur Smith, III,

filed litigation on behalf of affected employees of the hospital and others alleging violations of Senate Rules of Order 13.73 and 13.75.

Also alleged was a violation of Louisiana’s Open Meetings Laws

, and relief was sought to have SCR-48 declared null and void (a relief available under Louisiana’s Open Meetings laws) based on that violation and also an assertion that SCR-48 was unconstitutional. A preliminary injunction was also sought to block the closure of the hospital with the ultimate goal of obtaining a permanent injunction.

The trial court granted the preliminary injunction, but it simultaneously suspended enforcement of the

preliminary injunction upon the defendants (the Louisiana Senate, LSU, and the State of Louisiana) perfecting an appeal.

It was initially believed that the Louisiana Supreme Court (LSC) would decide the matter because of the issue raised of the constitutionality of SCR

-48. However, the Supreme Court quickly refused to hear the matter in stating that it was “not properly before this Court.” The Supremes (no, not the singing Supremes) elaborated by ruling that it could consider only matters which had been declared unconstitutional in a court of law.

Since the trial court’s reasons for judgment only made reference to the

potential unconstitutionality of SCR-48 without making a definitive declaration that it was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court denied writs.

Meanwhile, the hospital was closed, and Smith took his case to the First Circuit Court of Appeal. That appeal was dismissed based

upon the fact there was no active injunction to prevent the hospital from being closed. That was the case because, expecting (wrongly) the Supreme Court to rule on the matter, Judge Robert Downing suspended the preliminary injunction. With no injunction in place to prevent the closure, the hospital was padlocked.

The First Circuit issued its decision on September 15, 2015. That ruling notwithstanding, the

declaratory judgment aspect of the lawsuit could proceed forward, and that led to a hearing in 19th JDC Judge Don Johnson’s courtroom on Monday, June 13, 2016.

During that hearing, much of what has been elaborated above was rehashed, but then co-counsel for the day’s proceedings, Chris Roy, Sr., of Alexandria, took center stage and converted what had been basically a snooze fest into a fireworks display.

Prior to Roy beginning testimony, Judge Johnson interjected a few points of his own into the arguments. First, Johnson indicated that, while he was a student at Southern University, he experienced a significant health issue and went to Baton Rouge’s local charity hospital

, Earl K. Long, and he said, “I sure was glad it was there to treat me.”

Earl K. Long was also shut down by the Jindal administration and subsequently demolished. Emergency room treatment of indigent patients was initially taken over by Baton Rouge General Midtown. But Baton Rouge General closed its emergency room more than a year ago. That forced low-income charity patients in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish to travel a much further distance to Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in South Baton Rouge for treatment. That point was not lost on attorneys for the defendants who claimed that care would continue to be provided for the underprivileged, but such care would simply now take place under the new public/private venture.

Roy said that the closure of the

Huey Long Charity Hospital caused an enormous level of anxiety among the community’s population and also with the employees of the hospital. Johnson acknowledged that fact and said, “I’m aware of that fact. They didn’t like it at all.” Roy stressed that “125 employees lost their jobs and $11 million in wages were lost as a result of this episode.”

Roy focused most of his arguments on the fact that, contrary to defense attorney claims, the whole issue

of SCR-48 is not now “moot.” He emphasized that ordinary citizens are provided with only one mechanism for making their sentiments known about proposed legislation and that is through “showing up and testifying at committees and subcommittees of the Legislature.”

Roy then rhetorically asked how they were supposed to do that w

hen the Senate would engage in such a “flat-out violation” of posting an addition to the agenda at 4:07 p.m. the day before a hearing when the clearly-established deadline was 1 p.m. for such an addition. Roy then stressed his age, and even poked fun at the relative youth of one of his opposing counselors (who appeared to be in his late 20s at most), in indicating that he, Roy, was one of the participants in the formation of the present Louisiana Constitution.

Roy said, “One of our main objectives was to try and make everything as transparent as possible because there had been a prior governor, whom I won’t reference by name (a thinly veiled reference to Huey Long), who sought to keep the public from knowing

anything that was transpiring.” The irony of the subject matter of the suit being the closing of a hospital named for him seemed not to be lost on anybody in the room.

“Your Honor,” Roy continued, “the Senate basically said ‘to hell with the Constitution. We are the Senate of the State of Louisiana, and we decide what we will do and won’t do.’” Roy then emphasized that opposing counsel could not simply argue that the whole matter was “moot,” and assert a defense along the lines of “we won’t do it again.” Roy then emphasized that Louisiana Senate President John Alario is a good man with integrity and a close personal friend of his, but he then asserted that what Alario allowed to transpire in this instance was just “wrong.”

The State sought the granting of a Motion for Summary Judgment (MSJ) to dismiss the case, and the plaintiffs sought the granting of an MSJ declaring SCR-48 to be null and void. In the battle of the MSJs, Johnson ruled in favor of the plaintiffs: “SCR-48 of the 2014 Regular Session is declared to be Null and Void. The Plaintiff’s may seek attorney fees, costs, and expenses through post-hearing motion. The Joint Motion for Summary Judgment filed by defendants is denied.”

Now all that remains to be seen is whether the state will have to pay salaries and benefits retroactive to the hospital’s closing date to those 125 employees (the amount given was $11 million saved by closing the facility) or if there will be yet another appeal of a 19th JDC judge’s ruling to the First Circuit.

The smart money is on an appeal.

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By James C. Finney, Ph.D.

Guest Columnist

(Editor’s Note: James Finney is one of two Louisiana citizens (Mike Deshotels is the other) who was named as a defendant in a lawsuit by State Education Superintendent John White in an effort to thwart efforts by the pair to obtain public records from the Department of Education. White has defended his action by pointing out he is not seeking monetary damages from Finney or Deshotel. He failed to mention, however, that it will cost them money from their personal funds to defend the lawsuit while White has the financial resources of the State of Louisiana at his disposal.)

 

Much has been written about the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, otherwise known as the Louisiana Scholarship Program, or the voucher program. To summarize: The Department of Education allows vouchers for almost any private school that wants them (or so it seems) and then performs minimal oversight.

The students are tested, but the Department works hard to make sure taxpayers don’t get to see any useful data. The program is based on a premise that it helps poor kids access private schools. But “poor” is 2.5 times the poverty level which, for a family of four, means an annual income of $59,625 is low enough to put a kid in a private school at taxpayer expense. And, of course, the state refuses to release any data about how many children are at which ends of that range of income. And the point is, allegedly, to allow kids to escape failing public schools.

Never mind that the students may have never attended a public school. Ever.

But this post isn’t about that voucher program. It’s about the sneaky alternative that funds private schools by way of tax rebates. The Tuition Donation Rebate Program allows donors to fund private school tuition and recoup most of that donation as a tax rebate.

As might be expected, there are middlemen taking their cut of the money. At the beginning of the program, there was only one such organization—Arete Scholars Louisiana. The registered agent, Gene Mills, he of the Family Forum, has apparently neglected the paperwork required to keep charter 41200779N active with the Louisiana Secretary of State.

Mills, founder of Louisiana Family Forum, was the centerpiece of an extraordinary post by Jason France on his Crazy Crawfish blog in October 2012. https://thecrazycrawfish.com/tag/louisiana-family-fourm/

Founded in 1998, Louisiana Family Forum included as its “Independent Political Consultant” and “Grassroots Coordinator,” former State Sen. Dan Richey. http://www.lafamilyforum.org/about/

As an example of the family values for which Family Forum supposedly stands, Richey, while serving as a state senator from Ferriday in the 1980s, gave his allotted Tulane scholarship to a Caddo Parish legislator’s daughter in exchange for that legislator’s awarding of his scholarship to Richey’s brother as a means of circumventing the informal prohibition against giving the scholarships to immediate family members.

Superintendent John White’s Department of Education, with the approval of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), thought it was critical that there be multiple organizations available to help people support private education rather than pay taxes. So they gave grants of up to $499,750 to ACE Scholarships Louisiana (charter 41590796K) and up to$500,000 for New Schools for Baton Rouge Excellence Scholarship Fund (charter41726088K) so that these limited-liability corporations could each set up their business of accepting donations, funneling them to private schools, and providing the documentation required for the donors to get tax rebates from the Louisiana Department of Revenue.

According to the Louisiana Nonpublic School Choice 2015 Annual Report, which was submitted to BESE but not accepted, the tuition donation rebate program started in 2013-14 with Arete.

Arete’s 2013-14 Arete’s 2014 Annual Report indicates that the organization disbursed 14 scholarships, worth a total of $60,975.02, and all funded by the Atlanta Falcons.

No, that’s not a typo: Those Atlanta Falcons. That amount was confirmed by the Louisiana Department of Revenue: One unnamed taxpayer was issued a rebate in the amount of $60,975.02 in tax year 2014.

According to the state’s 2015 annual report cited above, there were two Student Tuition Organizations active in 2014-15: Arete and ACE. Arete’s 2015 Annual Report confirms the number of scholarships reported by the state, 50, at 24 schools, with a total value of $180,381, while ACE Scholarships Louisiana LLC’s 2015 Annual Report reports 13 scholarships, three schools, and a total of $40,780.67.

The donors of note on Arete’s annual report include the Atlanta Falcons, Chik-fil-A, James Garvey and several other individuals. ACE’s donors were David George and Edward Rispone. According to the Louisiana Department of Revenue, the total of rebates awarded in 2015 was $101,659.85, and they ranged in size from $950 to $47,105.

The numbers exploded in 2015-16, though, especially for ACE.  The state’s voucher report indicates that Arete awarded (as of March 2016) 205 scholarships at 50 schools, ACE awarded 558 scholarships at 77 schools, and New Schools awarded 13 scholarships at four schools. The names of the schools, donors and dollar amounts likely won’t be available for several months, however.

The targets for total scholarship awards (remember those half-million dollar contracts a few paragraphs above) were 1,000 for this year and 1,250 for 2016-17 (ACE) and 75 and 125, respectively for New Schools. So apparently New Schools aimed low and shot lower. Perhaps that’s a good thing, in that taxpayers will see less revenue diverted away from the state’s coffers. On the other hand, this spreadsheet indicates that, as of the end of 2015, New Schools had already collected $300,000 on its contract, and ACE had already collected $249,874.98.

It’s interesting what a person can learn from availing themselves of their rights under Louisiana’s public records law (Title 44).

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