Should the Louisiana Senate get to accept or reject university appointees to the board that will build and oversee the new $1.2 billion LSU teaching hospital in New Orleans? So far, a majority of the Senate and a unanimous House committee think so — but the governor and LSU are fighting Senate Bill 18 by Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, which would require Senate confirmation and financial disclosure by university appointees to the public hospital board. The measure is expected to generate a major floor fight when it comes up for final passage in the House this week.
The governing board of the new hospital has been the subject of much controversy. Last year, House Speaker Jim Tucker pushed a bill that forced LSU and Tulane to work out their differences over appointments to the board. Under a compromise approved by Gov. Bobby Jindal, the governor gets to appoint four members to the 11-member board — all of whom must be confirmed by the Senate under existing law. LSU also gets to appoint four members, along with one by Tulane, one by Xavier, and one rotating between Dillard, SUNO and Delgado. Murray's bill would extend the Senate confirmation requirement to the university appointees and subject them to minimum levels of financial disclosure.
"This is going to be the most expensive asset that the state has," Murray says of the teaching hospital in New Orleans. "Other state management boards — for the Superdome, LSU and many others — all require Senate confirmation. For some reason they don't want it for this board, but we need to make sure that we have competent people on this board as well as other boards."
Murray's measure passed the Senate on May 18 by a vote of 23-12 after much debate. Opponents (chiefly the Jindal administration) have argued that requiring Senate confirmation would delay building the hospital and could interfere with the sale of bonds needed to finance the project. Murray disputes both contentions, saying the governor often appoints people to boards between legislative sessions, and those appointees serve pending confirmation. As for the bonds, state Treasurer John Kennedy has said that requiring Senate confirmation would not transform the hospital's debt into state debt — a fear voiced by the bill's opponents. "There are several other state boards whose debt is not considered state debt and whose members must be confirmed by the Senate," Murray says.
As of late last week, Murray was lobbying several leading House members from New Orleans to handle the bill on the House floor. — Clancy DuBos