Thirty-nine members of the Louisiana House put their support Tuesday behind a longshot bid for an unprecedented special session to review Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent decisions.
The signatures of 31 Democrats, seven Republicans and one legislator without a party affiliation are enough for the House to poll members on whether to hold a November session.
However, several steps remain before a session can be held.
A majority of both chambers must sign a petition and return it in order for a session to be called. Before the petition even can go into the mail, at least 13 members of the state Senate must join the 39 House members in agreeing to send it.
Legislators backing the special session said Jindal unfurled massive health care cuts and a Lake Charles area prison closure without consulting them.
About 1,500 public hospital workers likely will lose their jobs as hospitals are being downsized and services reduced because of cuts the Jindal administration made when Congress lowered the amount the federal government would pay toward the state’s Medicaid expenses.
State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, said he is less concerned about irritating the governor than he is about retaining jobs and a doctor training program at a public hospital in his district.
“I’m more worried about irritating my constituents in my district and not doing the job they sent me there to do,” Harrison said of backing the push for a special session.
Jindal declined to be interviewed by phone about whether he could have been more inclusive in his recent decisions.
Instead, he issued a prepared statement calling a special session unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money.
“The last legislative session just ended four months ago ... After the legislative session finished, the federal government unexpectedly handed down over $800 million in Medicaid funding reductions that forced LSU to make tough decisions,” the governor said. “LSU put together a plan that does not close hospitals, protects and strengthens graduate medical education, and maximizes public-private partnerships. LSU and DHH are working with legislators as they put together their community by community plans.”
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, was at a retreat Tuesday in the fishing community of Venice discussing health care, education and committee oversight with legislative leaders. He did not respond to a request for comment.
House Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Cameron Henry, R-New Orleans, added his signature to the special session drive before joining other House leaders in Venice.
Henry said he is frustrated by the Jindal administration failing to share information with legislators on where the poor and uninsured will receive medical services after the cuts.
He said he is not worried about losing his leadership role.
“I’m going to do what I feel is best for my district,” he said.
Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said unraveling the governor’s health care cuts would throw the state budget out of balance. He said he cannot find any senators who support doing that.
“They would be willing to go into session if someone had a solution to the problem. Mr. Richard and those who support him haven’t come forward with a solution,” Alario said, referring to state Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard, who is driving the push for a special session.
Richard, No Party-Thibodaux, said he is working on a budget plan.
“We’re going to have a plan in place if we get to session,” he said.
Richard said it will be a challenge to convince the Senate to go along with the House in seeking a petition on a special session.
State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said he backs a special session because he wants a full debate on the governor’s recent decisions.
He said the Legislature might reach the same conclusions the governor did.
The important thing, he said, is to engage legislators in decisions that impact their constituents.
“It’s our job to be involved in those critical decisions,” Geymann said.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said the governor’s decisions affect people she and other members of the Legislative Black Caucus represent.
“We represent — in the Black Caucus — the most vulnerable people and the poorest people,” Smith said. “We know all the cuts that have happened have impacted our folks.”