A blow — and a decisive one — for Gov. Bobby Jindal's attempt to remake the Louisiana public education system:
Louisiana's Supreme Court has ruled that the funding method for a private school tuition voucher program pushed through the Legislature last year by Gov. Bobby Jindal is unconstitutional.
Tuesday's 6-1 decision upholds a state district court ruling that the state constitution forbids using money earmarked for public schools in the state's Minimum Foundation Program to pay for private school tuition.
There will be plenty of reaction soon. Scott McKay at The Hayride weighs in early:
This is hardly the victory the teacher unions will make it out to be, because Jindal can merely create a new line item in the general fund covering the voucher program and then cut MFP funding by a commensurate amount. Obviously he’s going to need to have a majority vote at the Legislature to make that happen, and it seems they’re a bit cheesed off at him at present, so that’s one more fight the governor probably doesn’t need.
But while the decision is more of an additional obstacle than a substantive defeat, its timing is atrocious for Jindal — and it will add to the perception that nobody’s minding the store — a perception that the current budget chaos is injecting jet fuel into.
Louisiana's House Committee on House and Governmental Affairs failed to pass a bill which would "prohibit discrimination in state employment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression."
Authored by State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, who in 2011 introduced a bill to protect gay students from bullying, House Bill 85 would allow gay state employees who were discriminated against to appeal to the state Civil Service Commission. Current law allows discrimination appeals based on discrimination of political beliefs, sex or race and, provides for hearings and decisions in those cases. Current law does not include provisions for gay employees.
The Louisiana Family Forum argued the bill would create "a target-rich environment for lawsuits" and afford "special" rights to gay employees.
The committee voted 6-3 against the bill.
Four years ago, Gov. Bobby Jindal hoodwinked lawmakers, the public and most of the Louisiana Press Association into supporting legislation that he uses to keep virtually all his administration’s records from public view. He also uses his enormous power to prevent that law from being overturned or narrowed.
The 2009 law, which Jindal cynically proclaimed a “transparency bill,” is a prime example of the old wisdom that the devil is in the details. It contains an Orwellian provision that allows anything deemed part of the governor’s “deliberative process” to remain secret. Under the law, Team Jindal gets to “deem” as liberally as it pleases.
Turns out Jindal loves to keep lots of things secret, particularly details about himself and his policies.
Since 2009, the Jindal Administration, including departments that are not even part of “the governor’s office,” have hidden behind the “deliberative process” scrim every time someone files a bothersome public records request. It’s why Jindal is widely known as the least transparent governor in America. More important, it makes it next to impossible for an average citizen, or even a news organization, to pry public information out of Louisiana’s executive branch.
Now that the feds are investigating the Jindal Administration for possible criminal violations relating to the hiring of a Maryland contractor, CNSI, to process the state’s Medicaid claims, it’s becoming clear why Bobby Jindal likes to keep things secret. Former state Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein, who previously worked for CNSI, pushed through changes to the bid solicitation that helped his former employer win the state contract.
Surprised? Don’t be.
Details about those rule changes, how they came about, and when, are precisely the kind of things that Team Jindal typically deems “part of the governor’s deliberative process.”
Lucky for us, that dodge doesn’t cut it with the feds. They have subpoenas. The rest of us, sadly, have to rely on Louisiana’s public records laws, which, thanks to Jindal, have been eviscerated.
That could change. State lawmakers are considering at least two bills to remove the “deliberative process” loophole. You can bet the governor will once again pull out all the stops to kill both measures — but there’s hope this year. Because Jindal is now even less popular in Louisiana than President Barack Obama, perhaps lawmakers will muster the courage to correct the grave error they committed in 2009.
Over the past several weeks, conservative lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee have questioned if, not when, the budget will be passed during the ongoing session that adjourns June 6. That means, not long after Gov. Bobby Jindal has “parked” his controversial tax swap plan, his budget could be stalling.
More recently, a few have even looked farther down the road in case there’s actually a head-on collision. “There’s more talk in the hallways about coming back for a special session on the budget than anything else,” says Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, chairman of the Budget Reform Coalition and a founding “fiscal hawk.”
Originally published 11:15 a.m. Updated with responses from Rep. Neil Abramson 3:30 p.m.
Children's Hospital is still interested in purchasing the shuttered New Orleans Adolescent Hospital (NOAH), but meeting demands that it be used only for psychiatric services — as mandated by a law passed last year — would be too expensive, Children's spokesman Brian Landry told the New Orleans City Council today. Landry's appearance before the City Council was a rebuttal to state Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, who announced last month that Children's had signed a lease for the NOAH property. The lease required that the hospital reopen NOAH for adolescent mental health treatment.
Today, Landry said Children's only signed the lease in order to continue talks to purchase the property.
"Last year, we approached the state and said we would like to purchase the NOAH property," Landry said, adding that Sen. David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, sponsored a bill allowing for the sale, without conditions. "When it got to the House, an [Abramson-sponsored] amendment was added that would only allow a lease" and provide that the property must be used for mental health services. That version passed.
“Sen. Heitmeier was not apprised by my prior involvement with this piece of property, that I’ve been working on bringing mental health to for the past five years," said Abramson, who represents the district that includes NOAH, in a phone interview. “Once I apprised him, he quickly worked with me.”
The law, he added, was passed unanimously by both the House and the Senate and signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“This was a collective thing done by everybody. We were all in agreement.”
The law also required that Children's would have to agree to a lease by Jan. 31 of this year, or the property would be offered to the highest bigger. The hospital signed a lease on Jan. 25.
"We made it clear we were not intending to lease the property to provide those services," but were hoping to continue negotiations, Landry said.
(More after the jump)
Restore Our Republic, which Politico calls a "hard-core PAC for hard-right Republicans," aims to raise money to support fiscal and social conservatives in races for the U.S. House of Representatives, though it hasn't announced formal support of any candidates yet.
Landry, who expressed his disgust with Washington on his way out the door (some of his fellow legislators say the feeling was entirely mutual), told the media his first priority upon returning to Acadiana was getting back to duck hunting. That didn't stop speculation that Landry might stand against Sen. Mary Landrieu in the 2014 election, a notion that Landry himself has never quite discouraged. But Politico speculates the establishment of the SuperPAC makes a Landry candidacy less likely:
Louisiana science activist Zack Kopplin — just out of high school — was a panelist on tonight's episode of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher, discuss social issues that included climate change and same-sex marriage with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others. Watch a segment of the show:
Last month, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu addressed her position on same sex marriage as the U.S Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. U.S. Senate Democrats had only a handful of marriage equality opponents — Landrieu among them. Today, Indiana's Joe Donnelly and North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp came forward in support.
Donnelly wrote the following on Facebook: "With the recent Supreme Court arguments and accompanying public discussion of same-sex marriage, I have been thinking about my past positions and votes. In doing so, I have concluded that the right thing to do is to support marriage equality for all."
"After speaking with North Dakotans from every corner of our great state, and much personal reflection, I have concluded the federal government should no longer discriminate against people who want to make lifelong, loving commitments to each other or interfere in personal, private, and intimate relationships," Heitkamp wrote. "The makeup of families is changing, but the importance of family is enduring."
Landrieu has not outright opposed the concept — she even has acknowledged the "progression" of public opinion and its influence. Last month, Landrieu told Buzzfeed that she feels "very strongly that people should be allowed to love who they love," but added, "unfortunately my state has a very strong ban against gay marriage constitutionally."
Kopplin, who's proven to be as media savvy as he is bright (exhibit A, B, C), will surely be embraced by Maher, and good on him. That said, it's worth remembering that Maher has been something of a dick when it comes to Louisiana issues. (He was more polite to Gambit when Noah Bonaparte Pais interviewed him in 2009.)
State Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, filed legislation today that would allow the state to lease New Orleans Adolescent Hospital (NOAH) to Ochsner Health Systems in June should Children's Hospital does not agree to reopen NOAH for child and adolescent mental health services.
The bill follows last week's dispute after the lawmaker announced to the New Orleans City Council that Children's signed a lease and agreed to reopen the hospital, which Children's denied.
Children's spokesman Brian Landry confirmed the hospital signed the lease in order to meet the deadline and continue negotiations with the state, adding that Abramson was "accurate with the current lease agreement requirements, but what's also in that lease is our ability to cancel the lease. He knew we were intending to cancel the lease if we're unsuccessful in lifting the restrictions.
The lease requires Children's to reopen NOAH and provide services similar to those it provided before its closure, pursuant to a 2012 law that authorized the lease.
“If [Children's] fail to exercise the agreement under their right of first refusal, the bill provides that we can move on to the next person," Abramson said in a phone interview today. And the next person is Ochsner.
(More after the jump)
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