Jindal's First Veto
Gov. Bobby Jindal's first veto came just under 90 minutes after Gambit Weekly asked his administration to respond to criticism that House Bill No. 90 would have a "chilling effect" on state ethics investigations. Co-authored by Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria, and House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown (a Jindal floor leader), the legislation would have required the state Board of Ethics to give a person accused of misconduct both the name of the complainant and anyone providing information to the investigation. We were alerted (anonymously) by a concerned state employee who told us that lawmakers had sent the bill to Jindal on Feb. 26.
C.B. Forgotston, a former general counsel of the House Appropriations Committee, panned the bill. "This is another step backward on ethics. By adding the requirement that the complainant's name be revealed to the accused, it will, of course, have a chilling effect on citizens coming forward."
Shortly after 12:30 p.m. last Wednesday, we emailed a request to Jindal's press secretary for an administration response. Meanwhile, Jim Brandt, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, supported HB90. "We at PAR are kind of torn," Brandt said. "Some staffers feel it would have a chilling effect on people coming forward. On the other hand, I think there is tremendous value in making the entire process more transparent."
Jindal apparently sided with the critics. In a letter to House Clerk "Butch" Speer, the governor wrote: "While I understand and support the right of an accused public servant to defend him/herself from formal charges, I am concerned that portions of the bill would have the unintended consequence of potentially impeding legitimate complaints." Speer told us his office received the governor's letter, which was "time-stamped" at exactly 3 p.m. Johnson
Leges Short Colleges
The battle over cash to repair damaged structures at state colleges and universities grew touchy quickly as the latest special legislative session kicked off last week. As usual, it's all about the numbers. Even if the Legislature appropriated the state's entire $1.1 billion surplus to cover the backlog of overdue maintenance projects at Louisiana's colleges and universities, it wouldn't come close to covering the tab, which is fast approaching $2 billion. Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, threw higher education a bone via an $80 million line item, but lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee nipped $5 million from it last week for a rural roads fund. It was a last-minute change, offered by Rep. Jim Fannin, a Democrat from Jonesboro who chairs the panel, as a way to appease rural lawmakers who felt left out of the session's spending bonanza. The administration did not oppose the amendment. "We just found out about it last night," Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis said following the hearing. Many lawmakers wanted to know which projects were on the deferred maintenance list, but Davis and others told them the official catalog wasn't ready for viewing.
Queries to the Board of Regents revealed the 2008 list was still being updated into last weekend, which Davis confirmed. So, where did the $80 million figure come from? "It's all just a balancing act," Davis said, adding that this year's surplus was split up as evenly as possible. While some of the needed repairs are minor leaky roofs, new windows the total backlog has some $300 million worth of "currently critical" maintenance projects. Southern University in New Orleans is one example. Crescent City lawmakers rallied behind a push to channel $30 million of Jindal's proposal to the school, which is still operating in post-Katrina trailers. "That is a travesty," says Rep. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, whose district includes SUNO. Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, a fellow New Orleans Democrat, added that the issue wouldn't be able to escape more scrutiny when it's debated this week on the House floor. "The facilities we count on for our students to learn in are failing us," she says. Alford
Mental Health Deadline
March 31 is the deadline for those affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita to apply for a $2,000 mental health grant from the American Red Cross Access to Care program (1-866-794-4673 or www.a2care.org), which on that day will change its name to the Emotional Support Program. Both the Orleans Parish Recovery School District and a critic of the RSD system are urging parents of school children to contact the Red Cross program, which funds counseling needs associated with the storms that devastated south Louisiana in 2005.
'There is not a comprehensive PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) screening/referral program for students in the RSD schools two-and-a-half years after Katrina," says Tulane University historian Lance Hill, a community activist. But Siona LaFrance, communications director for the RSD, says help is available for the students and more is on the way. "The Recovery School District is collaborating with the LSU Health Sciences Center Department of Psychiatry, which developed a screening instrument for post-traumatic stress disorder," LaFrance says. "We hope to begin using this screening tool in our schools soon."
Until then, RSD social workers and counselors have established policies and procedures for "crisis intervention, assessment and referrals" to the appropriate behavioral health and social services agencies, she says. In addition, School Health Connections, a coalition of community-based agencies, offers students services in "crisis intervention, violence prevention, conflict resolution, psychosocial counseling, grief counseling and positive social skills development," LaFrance says. Johnson
"Obam-icans' and "Jind-ocrats'
As Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama continues to encourage the defections of Republicans (so-called "Obam-icans"), newly elected Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is apparently winning over some traditional Democrats in Louisiana. "I just left a roomful of 1,000 black educators who stood up and cheered him," local media consultant Cheron Brylski said after a meeting of the Black Alliance for Educational Options earlier this month. The crowd applauded Jindal's victories from the recent special session on ethics as well as his strong advocacy of charter schools and public education, she said. "There is also an overwhelming pride about having a minority governor." (Jindal won 15 percent of the black vote last fall, more than any Republican candidate for governor of Louisiana in recent memory.) In addition, New Orleans Democrats have been buoyed by Jindal's announced initiatives to jump-start the state's economy and to end the Katrina-fueled mental health crisis. A self-described "liberal," Brylski says she is actively campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (after receiving a personal phone call from former President Bill Clinton). Nevertheless, Brylski also says that Jindal represents Louisiana's "last hope" for turning the state around. "I am as (strong) for Bobby Jindal as I am for Hillary Clinton," Brylski says. Johnson
Jindal's Rising Star
By late last week, no polls were available to measure Gov. Bobby Jindal's crossover appeal to Hillary Clinton Democrats but there is anecdotal evidence the 36-year-old conservative Republican is appealing to some traditional Democrats. "I hear it all the time "I'm for Hillary, but I'm also for Jindal,'" says Roger Villere Jr. , state chair of the Louisiana Republican Party and a Metairie businessman. Meanwhile, Louisiana conservatives (including the governor himself) are trying to tamp down speculation fueled by conservative radio icon Rush Limbaugh that Jindal is a rising star destined for the White House. "He is too young and too inexperienced" to be president or vice president, says Jeff Crouere, a local conservative talk show host and former state GOP official. Jindal barely exceeds the constitutional requirement to serve as president (age 35). Prior to his election as governor last fall, his only elected political experience was a three-year stint in Congress representing the First Congressional District. "And he spent most of that time campaigning for governor," Crouere says. "There is a point where you have to accomplish more and get the job done the job that you are currently in." Johnson
Another Great Communicator?
While Gov. Bobby Jindal may have set the bar high for ethics and transparency in his administration, it was already set low for oratory prowess when he took office. That's because his Democratic predecessor, Kathleen Blanco, was known for her lack of rhetorical and oratorical skills. In Jindal's speech to open his second special session last week, the Republican governor was interrupted no less than a dozen times by applause and one quasi-standing ovation. When he told lawmakers that Louisiana's good-government rankings had risen as a result of last month's ethics session, his cabinet, seated at the back of the House chamber, jumped to its feet in unison, clapping enthusiastically even as representatives and senators kept their seats. Nonetheless, the speech was tightly written and welcomed warmly by lawmakers. Perhaps in a nod to the recent comparison drawn by conservative maven Rush Limbaugh, Jindal also sounded Reaganesque in his address, declaring that "state government is in the way" of economic development and prompting cheers with repetitive one-liners. Reading from a teleprompter, Jindal noted obvious problems, then exhorted lawmakers, "That must change." The phrase was uttered seven times during his speech. In his last special session address, delivered last month, Jindal used another clarion call: "Be bold." Jindal's pattern mirrors the rhythm used to perfection by former President Ronald Reagan, who was known as "The Great Communicator" by his GOP faithful. Alford
McCain's Zulu Coconut
U.S. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, made a "commitment" to help top GOP leaders with Louisiana's recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita during his recent campaign swing through New Orleans, one insider says. McCain was in town to mend fences with social conservatives by addressing a meeting of the Council of National Policy at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. He also met with top Louisiana Republicans, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, U.S. Sen. David Vitter and U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander. "McCain made a commitment to help us with the recovery," says Roger Villere Jr. , GOP state chair. "I can't really get into that, but it was an excellent commitment." En route to the airport in a van, McCain asked questions about the recovery and the March 8 primary election campaigns in the First and Sixth congressional districts, Villere says. "He has a plan to win," says Villere, who endorsed McCain in January. Meanwhile, during a stop at the Airport Hilton Hotel, a local African-American Republican (whose name was not made available) presented McCain with one of the treasured "throws" of Carnival a Zulu coconut. "He didn't understand the significance," Villere says. "I told him how special it was." Johnson
Pay Your Way!
The regular legislative session will convene March 31 and must end no later than June 23, but lawmakers already are filing some interesting bills. Rep. Damon Baldone, a Houma Democrat, will push legislation to force state prison inmates to use all or part of their wages earned through work-release programs to cover the entire cost of their boarding. His House Bill 35 would direct the money to the local sheriff's office or the appropriate agency responsible for housing the inmate even if it's on the state level. Under current law, money that inmates earn through work-release programs can be used to pay for their "room, board, clothing and other necessary expenses," but there's no threshold provided in the law. Baldone's proposal would require that the money "cover the entire expenses" of boarding the inmate. Presently, part of the cash inmates earn can be directed toward paying off any legal judgments that might be pending against them, or it can be sent off to family to support an inmate's dependant, whether it's a child or an aging parent. The program usually allows low-level offenders to hold real jobs providing realistic wages. In some cases, if there is any money left when an inmate is released, it goes with him. Baldone's bill has been assigned to the House Criminal Justice Committee. Alford
Politics of the Past
Our continuing search of state Treasury records (www.latreasury.com) has found more unclaimed property refunds from the "politics of the past" in Louisiana. The New York-based John Kerry for President campaign can claim $1,332 in state tax refunds. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, lost Louisiana to Republican President George W. Bush. Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas also lost a presidential bid here and closed his old Louisiana campaign headquarters in Metairie without claiming a $78 utility deposit. Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco's Inauguration and Transition headquarters can collect at least $38 in state tax refunds and deposits, records show. Finally, Avis M. Russell, former city attorney during Mayor Marc Morial's administration, can reclaim a $165 utility deposit for her 2000 campaign for a Civil District Court judgeship. Russell now practices law in Washington, D.C. Johnson