SADOW: Be Attentive, And The Opponents Of Reform Will Have One Less Weapon

The predictable passage of the contract to hire a third-party administrator for the state-run employee and retiree health care plan was unremarkable, but the maneuvering and recriminations before were not – and they are illustrative.

This contract, now estimated to save the state in administrative costs anywhere from $11 to 18.3 million (the back-of-the-envelope calculations done last year in this space predicted $17.3 million in savings), gained approval by a joint House Appropriations/Senate Finance Committees meeting a week after it appeared the House portion would reject it. Then, the House panel voted to bring the matter to a vote where it appeared it would be defeated, causing proponents to withdraw it for slight modifications.

Eight days later it passed, but with some wacky things happening in the interim.

Seven Republicans, six of whom might ordinarily be expected to vote for a conservative policy preference such as this privatization of administration, essentially voted against it then, as a symbol of other grievances against the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration. As a result, Jindal ally Speaker Chuck Kleckley moved against two of them and booted them off the committee. The two new members subsequently voted in favor and so did most of the remaining defectors, although state Rep. Brett Geymann didn’t bother to show up for the vote and state Rep. Rogers Pope, the least reliable of the Republicans, remained against.

However, the meeting itself was called apparently in violation of House Rule 14.24, as that requires 10 days advance notice to the House Clerk of such a vote coming onto the agenda, and only eight were possible. That brought the ire of state Rep. John Bel Edwards, who publicized a letter he sent to Kleckley saying to hold the meeting this way was a discredit to the Speaker’s position. Kleckley brushed that off, stating it was a continuation of a previous meeting and the topic was well-known.

In spirit, perhaps Kleckley was correct as noted even by Edwards in his communication, but, as Edwards pointed out, the rule was the rule. And the Nov. 1 meeting in fact had been adjourned without objection, not recessed. So by the letter of the law, Edwards was correct.

But Edwards’ problem here is by the rules there is no internal recourse to contesting a ruling like that of the Speaker. It falls outside the disciplinary measures in them, so the only action that could be taken is political: remove the speaker. But Edwards, loath has he might be to admit this, knows that a majority of the members and Jindal, representing a majority of public opinion, favor Kleckley and the mostly-conservative agenda he promotes. Kleckley isn’t going anywhere.

Past actions shows Edwards ought not care that much about those kinds of solutions anyway because his pattern, concerning matters where he has far weaker cases, is to file long-shot lawsuits instead. And he could here, except it would do no good, for the process to change from state to third party administrator began months ago and further will accelerate now with a specific provider contracted. This accomplished fate already will be in operation by the time a court could rule that the contract has to be reviewed again, which politically would make the plaintiff look bad trying to stop something for which there is obvious majority approval and already happening.

Nor does Edwards have much credibility in these actions anyway, because he and a few other members of the Legislature have done nothing, if not stonewalled, a legal action concerning them the conclusion of which might look very bad politically for them. Months ago, separately a lawyer and The Hayride filed a public records request regarding possible coordination of teacher labor union activities with Edwards and other legislators in their unsuccessful attempts to stop education reform. The Legislature, through the House clerk and Senate secretary, has refused to comply, far past the deadline the law permits for a response. For their trouble, they earned themselves a lawsuit on Nov. 2.

Technically, it is the House and Senate ignoring the law on this matter, not Edwards. But certainly the requests would have been fulfilled had these members given their assent to the officers in question, who wish not to alienate any members because they are elected by the members to their posts. Pursuing this current House rules matter beyond an angry letter that will produce no substantive change even if successful that also would provide an opportunity that leave him open to the charge that he doesn’t seem to willing to ensure another part of the law is upheld, if not stir activity to force releasing of what could be very politically damaging information probably doesn’t seem like a winning move to him.

While it’s understandable that, given the collapsing time frame, that Kleckley wanted to move things along their inevitable path, waiting a week to be in full rules compliance probably would not have been too costly. At the same time, it illustrates the depths to which reform opponents’ agenda has fallen: knowing they cannot win in the marketplace of ideas, they are reduced to trying to gig reformers on procedure. Thus, even if the history of Louisiana government has shown a bit of laxity regarding the dotting of every “i” and crossing of every “t,” now might be a good time for reformers to start paying more attention to these issues.

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